Fez Tourist Attractions: A guide to sights in Fez
The Medina, the source of much of Fez attraction, is comprised of two separate cities: Fes el Bali and Fes el Djedid.
Fes el Djedid is the new Fes, built by the Merenides in the 13th century. Most of the area was occupied by a royal palace, one of the most sumptuous and complex in Morocco, surrounded by beautiful gardens. Unfortunately, access to the palace is now restricted to special guests.
Fes el Bali is the old Fes, a labyrinth of lanes and blind alleys dominated by a vast enclosure of royal palaces, gardens and souks. It is here that you want to spend most of your time exploring the Imperial City of Fez. There are enough sights here to fill a few days of rambling exploration just trying to locate them!
Fes el Bali
If you’re a first-time visitor to Fes el Bali, it’s a good idea to pay for a guide to show you around as the Medina is fairly complex and you could easily get lost in its intricate web of alleys. That said, you could always make your own way and enjoy the fascination of stumbling across the innumerable sights. The Medina is not dangerous at all and you could always ask people to lead you out towards its monuments.
Bab Boujloud is considered the most beautiful gate entrance to Fes el Bali. Its surrounding area is a place packed with stalls and cafes where locals meet and talk.
The gate itself is comparatively recent compared to the surrounding area. In fact, it is some 1000 years younger than the rest of the medina. It was only built in 1913 by General Hubert Lyautey, Moroccan commander under the French protectorate.
Bab Boujloud has beautiful blue tiled facades facing the ramparts on the outside and green in the interior, facing the Medina.
Dar Batha / Museum of Moroccan Arts and Crafts
Dar Batha is an elegant late nineteenth-century palace designed for the reception of foreign ambassadors and now serving as a Museum of Moroccan Arts and Crafts.
The Museum has a one of the finest handicraft collections in Morocco. The focus is very much on local crafts: carved wood, much of which is rescued from local medersas, Berber carpets from the Middle Atlas, embroidery stitched with real gold and illuminated Korans.
The pottery rooms are the main attraction in the Museum. Fez is famous for its ceramics and the exhibits showcase local pieces dating from the 16th century to the 1930s. Particularly interesting are the ornate and colourful china painted with intricate geometrical patterns.
Bou Inania Medersa
The Bou Inania Medersa is one of the most beautiful and extravagant monuments in Fez. This Merenid monument is infinitely splendid and almost perfect in every aspect – its carved cedar is a masterpiece of handcrafted sculpture involving endless hours of pinpoint concentration.
The Medersa shares its name with the powerful first ruler of the Merenid Dynasty, Sultan Abu Inane. The Sultan completed – although he did not initiate – the building of the medersa between 1351 and 1358 and its twin sister by the same name in Meknes.
The layout of the medersa is similar in design to many mansions in Fez: a large courtyard opening into an oratory and surrounded by halls. The courtyard holds much of the extravagant decoration that covers every possible surface. Cedar eaves and the upper patio walls are carved in floral and geometrical motifs, mid-level walls carved in stucco and the lower walls covered with geometrical designs and an elegant Kufi script praising the Sultan.
The Bou Inania Medersa is open daily from 8:30 to 17:00. There is a standard admission entrance fee of 10dh.
The Zaouia of Moulay Idriss II
The Zaouia of Moulay Idriss is one of the holiest shrines in Fez. Originally built by the Idrissi Dynasty in the 6th century to honour their founder, it has been restored by the Merenid rulers in the 13th century.
Moulay Idriss II is considered a saint and has a particularly large following among women seeking fertility and pilgrims hoping for good luck. They burn candles and proceed to touch the tomb of the saint to get some of his baraka, the magical blessing.
Although non-Muslims are not allowed to enter, you can walk around the outside of the zaouia, get a glimpse inside and see the tomb of the saint.
The Kairaouine Mosque
Until the building of the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, the Kairaouine Mosque was the largest mosque in Morocco and along with Al Azhar in Cairo one of the oldest Islamic universities in the world. .
The mosque dates back to 857 but its current dimensions – 16 aisles and a room for 20 000 worshippers - are largely the work of 13th century Almoravids.
Non-Muslims cannot enter the mosque’s prayer halls but you can get a partial view from its four main gates leading to the courtyard. The overall layout of the mosque is similar to the Great Mosque in Cordoba, with a courtyard open to the sky and a large fountain at its centre. Two smaller fountains stand at each side, based on originals in the Alhambra in Granada.
Invisible to non-Muslims is the inside of the prayer hall. The inner praying area is decorated with stucco stalactites and kufi calligraphy. The aisle is hung with a number of brass lumps dating as back as the 13th century. The beautiful mirhab – alcove used to lead prayers – dates back to 1144 and the rounded arches painted in plain white go back to 956.
The Medersa el Attarin
After the Bou Inania Medersa, The Medersa el Attarin is the most accomplished of Fez medieval Islamic schools. It was completed by the Medernid Sultan Abou Said in 1325 and thus one of the most ancient in town.
The layout of the medersa is very similar to the Bou Inania, with an entrance hall opening onto a courtyard with a fountain and further ahead a prayer hall. Surrounding the courtyard, around the second floor, are student cells.
The medersa has profusion and variety of pattering that makes it one of the most complex in Fez. Stop at the entrance hall and enjoy the unique zellij decoration, a complex circular pattern that combines pentagons and five-pointed stars. In the courtyard, you will notice a change to a combination of eight and ten-pointed stars, a testament to the work of different master craftsmen.
The Medersa el Attarin is open to the public daily from 8:30 to 17:00. Admission fee is 10dh.
The Medersa es Seffarine
The Medersa es Seffarine is the most ancient of Fez many medersas. It was built in 1285, forty-two years before the more prestigious Bou Inania Medersa.
Unlike other Medersas in the medina, the es Seffarine is essentially a traditional Fassi house: it opens onto a courtyard with an arched balcony above and a grand prayer hall further ahead.
The medersa is still used to house students of the Kairaouine college but you’re always welcome to have a look at any time without a charge.
The Medersa Cherratine
The Medersa Cherratine dates back from 1670, built by the founder of the Alaouite dynasty Moulay Rachid.
This medersa differs from all other medersas in Fez with its functional style. The design is based on four courtyards, with student cells based round three corners and the latrines round the fourth. The craftsmanship is also significantly less complex and varied than the Bou Inania or el Attarin.
The Medersa Cherratine is open daily to the public from 6:00 to 20:00. Admission entrance fee is 10dh.
The dyers’ souk
The dyers’ souk - or Souk es Sebbaghin in Arabic, Rue des Tanneries in French - is just below the Seffarine Medersa.
This is a short and narrow street, draped with beautifully colour yarn used to dry cloth in the heat. Below, workers clad in grey chimney-looking clothes toil over ancient cauldrons of multi-coloured dyes.
This is one of the most picturesque sights in Fez el Bali, both colourful and mysterious.
The tanneries Chouwara
The tanneries quarter is one of the most striking sites in the Medina. Here, medieval tanneries are used to treat leather with little change from the process used in the sixteenth-century, when Fez took over from Cordoba as the leading leather producer.
There is a fascinating rotation of colours in enormous honeycombed vats – yellow for turmeric, red for puppy, blue for indigo, green for mint and black for antimony. Barefoot workers in shorts pick up skins from the bottom of the dying vats and then work them manually. Skins are then spread out to dry on the rooftops.
The tanneries are open for tourists, with an admission fee of 10dh. The best time to visit is during the morning as there is most activity. To get the best view of the whole process, and avoid the terrible stench, get a view from the terraces overlooking the vats.
Medersa es Sahrija
The Medersa es Sahrija is the most interesting monument in the Andalous Quarter in Fes el Bali. In fact, it is regarded as the third finest medersa in Fez, behind the Bou Inania and el Attarin.
Medersa es Sahrija was built in 1321 by Sultan Abou el Hassan, the temporary of the medersa in Meknes which it resembles to a great extent.
The medersa is named for the pool (or sahrij) on which its patio is centred. There is a great variety and range of the original decoration still intact. The zellij work is one of the oldest in the country, and the cedar carvings, a particularly rich chocolate colour late, dates back to the Almohads and Almoravids.