The Ultimate Fez Insiders Guide, Learn about Travel Tips & Secrets of the Ancient Medina
Fez el Bali was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1981. Built during the Idrisid dynasty (789 – 808 AD), the ancient walled city of Fez is one of the oldest in the world. Fez was designed on a slope using historic traditions of Islamic architecture to prevent rainwater from flooding it. The sprawling medina boasts over eight kilometers of city walls and is one of the planet’s largest, urban contiguous free zones. Fez has an estimated population of 200,000. Each living area of Fez affords its inhabitants with a mosque, Koranic school, a fountain, hammam, and a traditional bread oven.
The ancient walled city of Fez is one of the oldest in the world.
Fez el Bali is referred to as the intellectual and spiritual capital of Fez and Morocco. The city has a rich history which includes being twice the capital of Morocco. When Idris ibn Abdallah acquired Fes in 789, he made it Morocco’s most important city.
Refugees from Cordoba, Spain and later Kairouan (Tunisia) shaped the look of present day Fez El Bali. A Tunisian refugee is even credited with building the University of Al Quaraouiyine. Dating back to 859 CE, it is recognized as the world’s oldest university and one of the finest example of Islamic design.
Fez el Bali is known for its extraordinary Islamic design and architecture. Andalusian gardens and museums, lively souks and markets, two leather tanneries, madrasas, and other spiritual centers.
Our Fez Insider’s Guide Fez Insiders Guide offers travel tips and secrets of the ancient medina.
Exploring Fes el Bali’s 10,000 Unnamed Alley’s
Part of exploring Fez el Bali is getting lost in its 10,000 unnamed alleys which lead to new discoveries of the city’s gates, citadels, and landmarks; to relive the history of the city.
Under the rule of the Almoravids, Fez was divided into two cities. Abdallah’s son used the Fes River as a city border, destroyed many buildings in Fes el Bali, eventually moving Morocco’s capital to Marrakech. It stayed this way until 1276 when Fes’ second district, Fes Jdid, was created, reunited Fez, and returned it to its former capital status. There are 13 gates divided between the two medinas. Hammad Berrada is the author of a book published in Morocco in 2004, Fez From Bab to Bab: Walks in the Medina which lays out paths for travelers to discover all 13 gates.
The Blue Gate (Bab Bou Jeloud) is located inside the old part of the Fez Medina and the main entrance to the city. Built in 1913, during the beginning of the French protectorate, it is the first entrance after the Fez El Jdid and served as an extension of the ancient UNESCO certified walls. Bab Bou Jeloud can be recognized from afar with its mesmerizing, blue mosaic zellige tiles and hidden underneath its arch, are green mosaics, a famous Fassie green color of which is revealed upon entering the city of Fez. Bab Bou Jelad’s triple arched gates lead onto the popular Talaa Kebira, from which many cafes, shops, and prominent architectural buildings can be accessed.
From Bab to Bab
From Bab Bou Jeloud, the Blue gate, the perimeter of Fez El Bali runs west towards Bab Chorba. The ancient Kasbah wall moves along route 501 – from where the Marinid tombs can be accessed – snakes around Bab Guissa and El Jamai Place, where it turns onto Tour de Fes N road and wraps the Jnane Bou Taa area, past Bab Khouka where it turns southwest into the Quartier des Potiers. Fes el Bali continues along N6, passing the Bab Ftouah region, crossing the Oued El Mehraz then maneuvering into the prestigious Palais Faraj Hotel, then the Batha area, until reaching the Blue Gate again.
Sacred Sites in Fez Not to Miss
Zaouia Moulay Idriss – wedged between Souk Attarine and the Nejjarine Square, the 10th-century Zaouia houses the tomb of Fes’ founding father, Moulay Idriss II (793 – 828). The mausoleum is part of a religious Islamic school that spreads over 2,548 m2. Although the entrance is forbidden to non-muslim visitors, travelers can stop to admire the exquisitely carved cedar wood ceiling. There are seven doors, and the one with women entering into the mosque courtyard houses the tomb of Moulay Idriss.
Marinid Tombs – these tombs date back to the 14th century during the reign of the Marinid dynasty. The hill they sit on is known as al-Qula, or the “Hill of the Marinids” and offers some of the best panoramic views of Fez el Bali.
University Al Qarawiyyin Mosque & University – many Muslim students from Morocco, West Africa, Muslim Central Asia, and even parts of Andalucia Spain attend this University. Founded in 859 by Fatima al-Fihri , the daughter of a Tunisian refugee, the University was introduced into Morocco‘s university system in 1963. Quaraouiyine University focuses its studies on Islam, legal sciences, and classical Arabic. The school attracts visitors from around the world for its extraordinary Islamic architecture. University Al Qarawiyyin is one of the leading spiritual and educational centers of the Muslim world and is considered the oldest continuously operating institution of higher learning.
Mosque and Zaoui Sheikh Ahmad al-Tijani – an 18th-century mosque and religious school dedicated to Sheikh Ahmad al-Tijani. It sits in the Al Blida neighborhood and is distinguished by its ornamental facades and turquoise colored minaret. Located close to the Al Qarawiyyin Mosque & University, this sacred space contains the tomb of an 18th century Sufi Shaykh, founder of the Tijaniyya order. The Zaouia presents a street facade highly ornamented with carved wood, stucco, and glazed tile.
Madrasa El Bouanania Fes – renovated in the 18th century by Sultan Moulay Slimane who is known for ending piracy on Morocco’s coasts, the madrasa gained the status of a Grand Mosque and educational center. It became one of Morocco’s most important religious centers. In the 20th century, a major restoration combining wood and tile decoration has made it one of the most extraordinary places to see examples of Islamic architecture. It is the only madrasa in Fes with a minaret and one of the few religious places that allow entrance to non-Muslims. Opposite the Madrasa is Dar al Magana, a wall with a hydraulic water clock.
Dar al-Magana – the clock house was built by Marinid Sultan Abu Inan Faris in 1357 to communicate the correct times of prayers to the Muezzin. It has 12 doors behind which are 12 brass bowls. Historically, a door would open on the hour and a metal ball would drop into the brass bowl. Since 2004, the bowls have been removed and the clock has been put under reconstruction by ADER, part of the major Fes Medina renovation initiated by King Mohammed VI.
Al-Attarine Madrasa – The 14th-century al-Attarine Madrasa “ of the perfume makers” is the setting for a historic perfume and spice market. The interior of the madrasa is composed of a courtyard surrounded by the finest examples of traditional Marinid craftsmanship. Visitors are advised to pay attention to the exquisite details on the floors and walls.
The Fes Jewish Mellah and it’s Fortified Gateway
The Jewish Mellah is the name of the Jewish quarters in Fes. They are surrounded by a wall and fortified gateway. Located near the royal residences, this enabled its inhabitants to be protected from the wrath of the Muslim populace. The Fes Mellah was once solely inhabited by Jews. This was the first Mellah in Morocco and originated in 1438. In the early 14th century, it was founded by the Merinids. In contrast with the young Mellah of Casablanca, the Mellah of Fes is over 650 years old. This picturesque neighborhood adjoins the royal palace, noted for its recently constructed bright brass doors. The Ibn Danan Synagogue is one of the oldest and most intact synagogues in Morocco. This synagogue, located in the heart of the Mellah (Jewish quarter), is a rare survivor of a pivotal time in Moroccan Jewish history.
Discover Traditional Crafts of Fes
Embroidery Cooperative – watch Fassie women utilize mathematical calculations and geometric shapes to create beautiful patterns on fabric. In this area, seventy-nine-year-old Abdelkader Ouazzani is the last brocade master in Fes, Morocco. Brocading is a 13th-century art learned from the Merinid Sultans era. On a private tour, you can watch Ouazzani puppeteer the orchestra of thread.
Pottery Cooperative – Fes is famous for it’s enameled polychrome blue-green ceramics decorated with geometric motifs and floral patterns. This style of pottery was developed in the eleventh century under the Almohad dynasty. The Potter’s Quarter (Ain Nkobi) is located on Sidi Harazem road, near the clay quarries in Ain Nokbi; the area is just outside the medina due to the smoke from the kilns.
Tanneries – Fes has two tanneries where you can witness the historic tradition of leather dying. Chouara Tannery is the larger more popular tannery and located by the far north end of the Oued Bou Khrareb River. Of the two tanneries, Sidi Moussa is lesser known, however as it is less visited, offering a more intimate experience. It is advisable to visit either location in the morning to experience the leather process.
Where to Eat in Fez
The Ruined Garden – Robert Johnstone, has created a beautiful garden in the ruin at Riad Idrissy which was once a merchant’s house. Johnstone describes it as “half garden, half allotment.” In it, he grows gardenias, a jacaranda, papyrus, and a mix of edibles that are used in the riad’s kitchen, such as verbena, mint, chilies, sorrel, rosemary, parsley and tomatoes. The Ruined Garden Garden is also a cafe and restaurant that serves local Moroccan cuisine with a modern flair. Specialties include couscous appetizer (seffa), harira soup, lamb tajine, and chicken bastilla.
Address:5 Derb Idrissy Sidi Ahmed Chaoui Medina 30110، Siaj, Fes Phone: +212-649-191410
Cafe Clock – established in 2006 by Mike Richardson with the aim of promoting cross-cultural exchanges and giving back to the local community. Cafe Clock is known for its camel burgers whose purchase yields a 1% donation to select Moroccan charities along with its reasonably priced menu of Moroccan and vegetarian fare. Cafe Clock offers cooking classes and weekly storytelling along with traditional live music. Cafe Clock as three locations, Fez el Bali, the Marrakech Medina and the Blue Pearl, Chefcahouen.
Address: 7 Derb el Magana Phone: +212-5356-37855
Nur – named the World’s Best Moroccan Restaurant in 2017, this gastronomic restaurant is located in a small refurbished riad. Nur is Chef Najat Kaanache’s tribute to the proud cultural and agricultural diversity of Morocco. She affectionately refers to her country as “the mouth of Europe”, forged through its unique confluence of colonial cultures. Najat offers innovative flavors of the Middle Atlas through a creative lens. The tasting menu at Nur draws from the rich and flavorful cuisine of the Middle East. The dining room at Nur has a chic contemporary feel, but the design elements actually date back to Byzantine times, simultaneously offering a sanctuary and time capsule. For approximately 2 1/2 hours, and through about 10 creations, Chef Najat invites you to experience a brave new Morocco. Each morning the team sources the best available produce from within the Medina and constructs a largely improvisational menu around the seasonal seafood and offerings from our local, specialty purveyors. Address: 7 Zkak Rouah, Medina, Fes Phone: +212-694-277849
Restaurant Riad Nejjarine – Dating back to the 1800s, the Riad serves authentic Moroccan fare where diners eat surrounded by majestic Arab-Andalucian architecture. Their dishes feature the famous Fassie pigeon pastilla, tagines, and prunes with meat. The cuisine is refined offering gastronomic Moroccan tables which have become original Fez benchmarks all over Morocco. Address: 20 Lablida Sagha, Fès Phone: +212 =212-5356-34106
Dar Roumana – Dine in a traditional Moroccan riad framed by lush olive groves and the ancient medina walls. Head Chef Younes Idrissi’s dishes are made using local produce to reflect the seasons of the Fes Medina. Sunset cocktails on the roof terrace are recommended. Address: Rue Roumana Phone: +212-553741737
Where to Stay in Fez
Riad Fes – is a Relais & Châteaux property owned by Moroccan architect and one of the most sought after places to stay in Fes. It is decorated in the traditional style of Fes with the keen combination of Baroque and Moorish design in its four courtyards. The terrace at Riad Fes is lined with Atlas Mountain views. There are a wine bar and an onsite on-site gastronomic restaurant famous for fusing Mediterranean and local flavors. It is conveniently located near the Palais Royal and the Batha Museum and gardens. A stay at Riad Fes will allow you to travel back in time and enjoy the splendor of the lifestyle of Fassi nobility. The garden offers moments of freshness under the shade of orange, lemon and bay trees.
Address: 5 Derb Zerbtana, Fès Phone: +212-5357-41206
Dar Roumana – “ house of the pomegranate,” dates back to the late 1800s when it was built by the Arfaouis, a family of olive merchants. Until it was renovated in 2002 and became Dar Roumana, it was home to livestock. The owner Jen, was the first American to open a riad in Fes. The traditional Fassie home has a terrace with views of the medina and notable architecture with stained. Framed by lush olive groves and the ancient ruins of the medina walls, Dar Roumana invites you to experience the richness and comfort of a traditional Fassi guesthouse. Relax with a book and a glass of Moroccan mint tea on the spacious sun-drenched roof terrace with a spectacular view of the entire medina and Atlas Mountains. After dinner prepared by their Cordon Bleu chef, retire to the library for a fire-side game of chess or choose a movie from our video and DVD collection. Each of Dar Romana’s suites contains the work of local artisans: original mosaic tile floors, intricately carved plaster, rich cedar ceilings and doors, and hand-crafted furnishings. Address: Rue Roumana Phone: +212-553741737
Le Jardin des Biehn – formerly the house of a Pacha, this luxurious riad was restored by a French family ten years ago. It is set in a peaceful garden with aromatic herbs and surrounded by palm and olive trees. The riad has a cafe and restaurant that overlooks the garden along with a boutique filled with textiles and exotic items from India and the Far East.
Address:13 Akbat Sbaa Douh, Fes Phone: +212-535741036
Palais Amani – Palais Amani is a fourteen bedroomed opulent Riad in Fes provides refined dining and spacious accommodation. With a salon and library, a rooftop bar, extensive terraces, a traditional hammam and spa, impeccable service and all of this close to the Golden Triangle in the ancient medina in Fez. Traditional Moroccan breakfast is served to guests in the dining room or on the dining terrace overlooking the Riad’s central garden. At lunch and dinner time Palais Amani offer a cosmopolitan a la Carte menu for light or more elaborate meal.
Address: 12 Derb El Miter، Fes Phone +212-5356-33209
Karawan Riad – this 17th-century riad is located in the Andalous quarter of the Fez Medina. It is one of the most lavish boutique hotels with an open-air courtyard perfect for cocktails on a starry night. Karawan Riad has seven chic suites decorated with Islamic and Moroccan furniture. Texture, motif, and artifacts makeup, unique hand curated interiors at this one-of-a-kind Fes Riad. It is the ideal place to stay for architecture buffs. All Suites are lavishly decorated with Moroccan and Islamic furniture. The Leelah hammam offers delightful scrubs, with the option of rose or oranger water and a spice bath. Trickling fountains are surrounded by flora and fauna for cozy dinners that of local Fes cuisine offered up by Chef Outhmane. This boutique riad has the amenities of a hotel and design that sings the name of Architectural Digest.
Address: 21 Derb Ourbia Makhfiya، Fes Phone +212-5356-37878
Each one of Palais Faraj’ suites was designed in compliance with this distinguished art of secret alchemy.
Palais Faraj – Palais Faraj is a boutique hotel with a spectacular panoramic view of the Fes Medina. Designed by the famous architect and interior designer Jean-Baptiste Barian, Palais Faraj boasts stunning Arab Andalusia architecture with magnificent arches, columns and moucharabiehs, carved wood, plaster and brass, stucco laces, marble floors, and sacred geometry wall Zellig tilework. Each one of the 25 suites was designed in compliance with this distinguished art of secret alchemy and then outfitted with the latest luxury facilities. Address: Derb Ziat, Fes Phone +212-5356-35356
Shopping Secrets of the Fes Medina Reveal Morocco’s Last Brocade Master & the Ancient Art of Comb Making
Abdelkader Ouazzani – Seventy-nine-year-old Abdelkader Ouazzani is the last brocade master in Fes. Brocading is an artistic profession requiring the participation of the entire body; feet glide over the wooden pedals and arms and shoulders are engaged in a manner that looks like a conductor puppeteering an orchestra. Brocading is a process requiring deep concentration, meticulousness, and know-how; the original teachers were from the 13th century Merinid Sultans era. Ouzzani works on a commission bassic only for the elite in Morocco. His rare, complex fabrics cost in the range of $500 – $600 per meter to make.
Mohamed Saili – Sadly, the art of comb making is a dying trade and Mr. Saili is one of only few craftsmen still alive. Once seated on the ground, Mr. Saili uses his feet to chisel the tines of the fine combs made from horns to perfection. It’s an absolutely fascinating process to watch and a unique souvenir to take home from your travels to Fes! Address: 39 Rue Mechatine
Serghini Poterie –
Master artisan Moulay Ahmed Serghini is of a big deal on the Moroccan pottery scene – his work has been displayed at
the British Museum and he has three workshops throughout the Kingdom. Tajines, vases, tableware, and even decorative pieces are all hand-made and using traditional Fasis methods from start to finish. It’s best to stop by the workshop to see the artisans at work before visiting the showroom. The entire process from raw clay to the finished product can be viewed on the property. Ready to ship at a moments notice, Serghini makes Fassis creations available worldwide.
Address: 32 Ain Nokbi Phone: +212-661-63-07-58 or +212-535-76-16-29