Medina of Fez

City of Fez
N34 3 39.996 W4 58 40.008
Date of Inscription: 1981
Criteria: (ii)(v)
Property : 280 ha
Ref: 170
News Links/Travelogues: Morocco;

Founded in the 9th century and home to the oldest university in the world, Fez reached its height in the 13th–14th centuries under the Marinids, when it replaced Marrakesh as the capital of the kingdom. The urban fabric and the principal monuments in the medina – madrasas, fondouks, palaces, residences, mosques and fountains – date from this period. Although the political capital of Morocco was transferred to Rabat in 1912, Fez has retained its status as the country’s cultural and spiritual centre.

Brief synthesis

The Medina of Fez preserves, in an ancient part comprising numerous monumental buildings, the memory of the capital founded by the Idrisid dynasty between 789 and 808 A.D. The original town was comprised of two large fortified quarters separated by the Fez wadi: the banks of the Andalous and those of the Kaïrouanais. In the 11th century, the Almoravids reunited the town within a sole rampart and, under the dynasty of the Almohads (12th and 13th centuries), the original town (Fez el-bali) already grew to its present-day size. Under the Merinids (13th to 15th centuries), a new town (Fez Jedid) was founded (in 1276) to the west of the ancient one (Fez El-Bali). It contains the royal palace, the army headquarters, fortifications and residential areas. At that time, the two entities of the Medina of Fez evolve in symbiosis forming one of the largest Islamic metropolis’s representing a great variety of architectural forms and urban landscapes. They include a considerable number of religious, civil and military monuments that brought about a multi-cultural society. This architecture is characterised by construction techniques and decoration developed over a period of more than ten centuries, and where local knowledge and skills are interwoven with diverse outside inspiration (Andalousian, Oriental and African). The Medina of Fez is considered as one of the most extensive and best conserved historic towns of the Arab-Muslim world. The unpaved urban space conserves the majority of its original functions and attribute. It not only represents an outstanding architectural, archaeological and urban heritage, but also transmits a life style, skills and a culture that persist and are renewed despite the diverse effects of the evolving modern societies.

Criterion (ii): The Medina of Fez bears a living witness to a flourishing city of the eastern Mediterranean having exercised considerable influence mainly from the 12th to the 15th centuries, on the development of architecture, monumental arts and town-planning, notably in North Africa, Andalousia and in Sub-Saharan Africa. Fez Jedid (the new town), was inspired from the earlier town-planning model of Marrakesh.

Criterion (v): The Medina of Fez constitutes an outstanding example of a medieval town created during the very first centuries of Islamisation of Morocco and presenting an original type of human settlement and traditional occupation of the land representative of Moroccan urban culture over a long historical period (from the 9th to the beginning of the 20th centuries). The ancient fragmented district of the medina with its high density of monuments of religious, civil and military character, are outstanding examples of this culture and the resulting  interaction with the diverse stratas of the population that have influenced the wide variety of architectural forms and urban landscapes.

Suggested bases:

Fez is a city in Morocco famous for being home to the world’s oldest university (Qarawiyyin University), dating to 859, and the world’s oldest continuously-operating library, dating to 1359. It has an ancient World Heritage listed walled city, which many compare to the walled city of Jerusalem. Fez is the medieval capital of Morocco, and a great city of high Islamic civilization. Fez has the best-preserved old city in the Arab world, the sprawling, labyrinthine medina of Fes el-Bali, which is incidentally also the world’s largest car-free urban zone. Transport of goods is provided by donkeys, carriages, and motorbikes. The city has just over 1 million inhabitants. The main street is the Talaa Kbira, which runs from Bab Boujeloud to the Kairouine mosque in the heart of the medina. The Talaa Sghira also begins at Bab Boujeloud and eventually merges back into the Talaa Kbira. Once you get into the narrow, windy heart… [read more].

Meknes is a city in the Middle Atlas region of Morocco. Fez driving you nuts? Nearby Meknes is a vibrant, modern city bustling with nightlife, restaurants and an impressive imperial city created in the 17th century by King Moulay Ismaïl, with numerous historical monuments and natural sites; it is also the nearest city to the Roman ruins of Volubilis (Oualili). Since it’s relatively ignored by most tourists, it’s also free of the usual hassles (touts, faux guides, etc.) that plague the other tourist centers. The prices in Meknes are among the most reasonable in Morocco and the people are much more polite and nicer than in the other cities. It is also one of the more liberal places in the country: unveiled women are much more often to be seen on the streets and female solo travelers especially enjoy Meknes as a welcome break from the permanent unwanted attention they get… [read more].

Salé is a city in north-western Morocco, on the right bank of the Bou Regreg river, opposite the national capital Rabat, for which it serves as a commuter town. Founded in about 1030 by Arabic-speaking Berbers, the Banu Ifran, it later became a haven for pirates in the 17th century as an independent republic before being incorporated into Alaouite Morocco. The city’s name is sometimes transliterated as Salli or Sallee. The National Route 6 connects it to Fez and Meknes in the east and the N1 to Kénitra in the north-east. It recorded a population of 890,403 in the 2014 Moroccan census. Salé has played a rich and important part in Moroccan history. The first demonstrations for independence against the French, for example, began in Salé. Numerous government officials, decision makers, and royal advisers of Morocco have been from Salé. Salé people, the Slawis, have always had a “tribal” sense of belonging…[read more].


4 replies »

  1. We start our day high above the Medina at the Borj Sud viewpoint, looking out on the Medina below. From here it looks like a silent, peaceful place. The maze of streets is shielded by rooftops and mosque towers. You’d never know there’s a maze of life and around 12,000 alleyways to discover. Our next stop is a mosaic workshop. Mosaic artwork is big business all around Morocco and is something the country is known for all around the world. Here we see how it’s made and sculpted into the many bowls, plates and fountains you see in the Medina below.

    Now it’s time to get lost. We ramble past donkeys and tanneries, are entertained by a man in a famous Fes hat playing local music before we reach a viewpoint over the cities tanneries. Below us, the pools of gold, red and white dye create a perfect picture. Yet for the men who tightrope across the pool edges carrying bundles of animal skins, you can see this is a hard life. Leather shoes are available to purchase in the shop behind in every imaginable colour.

    Heading around the rest of the Fes Medina, bowls of Harira soup are served with dates and thick fresh bread. The food market near the Bab Boujeloud gate is a must explore for every visitor, and head down the Talaa Kbira, the medina’s main street for fresh orange juice, intricate mosques and souvenirs galore. At sunset, join local families and young people at the Tombeaux Des Mérinides as the city fades into night and the sun sinks over the lush green hills surrounding the city.


  2. The fascinating city of Fez is surrounded by olive groves and gorgeous golden farmland, framed by the Atlas Mountains, giving the backdrop of a biblical landscape — but the Medina remains the beating heart of this unique destination. Morocco is a magical place; it’s quite a large country. There’s such a lot to see and do that it has to be on my repeat destination list. In May, the temperature is a perfect 25 degrees C (77 degrees F), although things get much hotter in the summer months. Colourful, vibrant, full of life and character, a trip through Fez’s Medina is like live street theatre every day, and you are both the audience and a player on the stage. I heartily recommend it as an antidote to the ordinary.


  3. Undoubtedly, one of the biggest attractions here is shopping. This is heaven for souk and market aficionados, even those of a less retail-inclined persuasion will find hunting for bargains infectious. From brightly coloured woven textiles and ornately glazed ceramics, to handmade “zellige” tiles and silver, Fes is where the country’s master craftsmen make their wares and there’s a souk for everything. Perfumes, incense and spices abound at the Souk el Attarine. In Souk el Henna, traditional Moroccan cosmetics and beauty products – including the famous Argan oil – entice locals and visitors alike. No matter what you’re after, bargaining is essential and if you’re keen to cover multiple souks then hiring a guide is advisable.


  4. Have fun wandering the streets and haggling with merchants in the medina of Fez.

    I decided I wanted an antique metal Moroccan teapot with an elaborate design, and I scoped out teapots in numerous stalls before picking one. The merchant wanted 600 dirhams, but I told him I had seen similar pots for 200 dirhams. He countered with 400 dirhams, at which point I started to walk away. He instantly dropped the price to 200 dirhams and started wrapping the pot.

    But when we visited an old man we had heard about who is known to scour the Berber lands and far-off mountains for antiques he sells at a fair price, I did not haggle. I wanted three items from him — but he wouldn’t charge me anything for the third piece. He said it was a gift because “friends are more important than money.”


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