Medina of Fez
The Medina of Fez is a walled city with madrasas, fondouks, mosques and palaces dating from Marinid rule in the 13th–14th centuries. At that period, Fez replaced Marrakesh as the capital of the kingdom.
The most important monuments in the medina are:
- Bou Inania Madrasa (1351-1356)
- Al-Attarine Madrasa (1323-1325)
- University of Al-Karaouine (859)
- Zaouia Moulay Idriss II (shrine)
- Dar al-Magana, a clockhouse which holds a weight powered water clock (1357)
Visit December 2009
The medina of Fez is notoriously difficult to navigate. I got stranded in a residential area at my first approach, but then developed a trick: I shadowed a small group of French with an official guide. When they stopped to hear him talk, I suddenly became very busy taking photos on the spot so that I didn’t have to overtake them. They finally led me to the Bab Boujloud gate, from where I dared to go on alone (guided by the coloured signs of the designated walking routes).
It is tempting to compare this medina to the one in Marrakech. The differences are clear though: the walls of Fez are yellow instead of pinkish, the streets are even narrower in Fez and there are less tourists. On the other side: Fez lacks the single great monuments that Marrakech has, though the Bou Inania Madrasa is well worth the few dirhams entrance fee. Its splendour is hidden behind a wooden door in the middle of the souks.
My route crossed the medina from west to northeast. That way, I ended up at the leather souk with its famous tanneries. The bowls of dye, with workers up to their knees into it, are the trademark of the Fez medina. To watch them, one has to go inside one of the leathershops that have terraces. I followed another group of French inside, and could get in and leave without being hassled into buying something.
The tanneries are the most vivid example of all the crafts that once were common in this medina. They reminded me of my visit earlier this month to the dhobi ghats in Mumbai, where the laundry of thousands is done by men slaving away in water and soap. Both are relics of times that otherwise seem to have long gone.
More photos can be found in the Picture Gallery
|stewart ayu (canada):|
Fez retains much of it's medieval way of life. I first visited Fez in 1985 and again in 2007. Fez 1985 was somewhat intimidating as the souk was a huge labyrinth and uncharted. Fez 2007 is much more user friendly as there are discreet colour coded directions so that visitors can have a chance of finding what they were looking for! The Medina remains fascinating and Moroccans seem to take great pride in maintaining their traditions down to every detail.
Of the monuments , in old Fez , not to be missed would be the great medieval universities which anyone can enter. The fortunate if you can find it , 'Sarija' madrassa , named after it's mystical reflecting pool , was a gem. The Moroccan people and cuisine contributes greatly to it's charm.
| Date posted: March 2009|
|Paul Tanner (UK):|
It is with a degree of shock that I calculate it to be 40 years since I visited Fez. Even now I can remember the “magic” of the labyrinthine Medina of Fes-el-Bali (the old walled city) – by then I already had souks etc in Istanbul, Damascus and Jerusalem “under my belt” but Fez did not pale by comparison so it wasn’t just the “shock of the new”. No doubt it will have become a great deal more touristy and “homogenised” since those days but movies and photos I see indicate that the Souk is as much of a motorised traffic-free “maze” as ever and has retained its wonderful “working” atmosphere. A particular joy were the specialised areas for e.g. Dyeing (see photo), Pottery, Tanning, Metalwork, Carpet and Tile making etc etc. Back in 1965 toursim did not really seem be the raison d'etre for their existance. They were noisy, smelly and, yes even dirty, places making things primarily for locals. I wonder if the area given over to turning old car tyres into sandals etc still operates, or perhaps such transformations only have economic justification in the markets of sub-Saharan Africa now (It was a trade still practiced in Omdurman when I was there earlier this year - 2006)! Morocco may not have achieved European levels of GDP but thankfully has made good strides economically so perhaps some of the recycling trades have been despatched to history and no doubt the shops have their full share of imported Chinese articles! Hopefully, however, the quality of workmanship on locally-produced goods hasn’t been sacrificed.
Morocco, so tolerant and “unextreme” in many respects, still (as far as I know) operates a policy of non-entry to its mosques by non-muslims (An interesting cultural comparison with e.g. Syria). As a result some of the main buildings are likely to be closed to many visitors to this Web site. There are, however, some madrasas which can be visited. But Fez is not really a "city of monuments" – rather a single "monumental city" whose atmosphere is generated by countless examples of vernacular architecture and and a multitude of human activities. It size really is amazing - this is no preserved corner of a modern city. Fez does have a modern quarter but the old Medina is of "full size" in its own right.
In the, too many, years which have passed since I visited Fez I have been lucky enough to visit most of other “medieval” cities of Africa and Asia. Fez has not been surpassed in my memory. However, the old saying “Never go back” makes me reluctant to visit again. Last year I revisited Istanbul’s covered market area and was gravely disappointed by the tourist-based commercialisation. I don’t criticise these developments but I don’t want my memory of Fez to be similarly downgraded! However, anyone who hasn’t already been should definitely go – the atmosphere may (or may not?) have changed but the fabric remains largely in place (though I read of some concerns in that respect for the future) of what is one of the world’s great destinations.
(PS. I have recently been criticised in several places on this site for not recognising the supposed worth of WHS which I have reviewed and of unfairly "criticising" them or damning them with "faint praise". I do not apologise and would reply that reviews should not be uncritical panegyrics and that merely having had a "good time" at a place is not (or should not be) recommendation enough. Most of us are "time poor" when travelling and the decison to visit any WHS carries an "opportunity cost" of not visiting somewhere else perhaps more significant. The "bar" for inscription is supposed to be set at a very high "world class" of its type/subject based on objective criteria - yet many sites struggle to justify this cachet in comparison with other places which those seeking truly world class sites might be better advised to spend their time and money on visiting. In fairness to people deciding whther to visit a site a "review" should identify the potential weaknesses in its justification. However, my opinion is that Fez, whatever changes its atmosphere has undergone in those years since I visited it, fully justifies its place on the list. Its size and "completeness" together with its continuation as a "living city" does not overstretch the word "unique". Indeed I am amazed that this should be its first review on this site.)
| Date posted: April 2006|
Have you been to Medina of Fez? Share your experiences!
Add your own review