The Beautiful City of Fez


Credit for this train map of Morocco goes to the Marrakech Ticket Blog at

As you can see from the map, there really isn’t a direct route from Marrakech to Fez.  We had to backtrack the three hours to Casablanca and then head north through Rabat and eventually east towards Fez.  It was about a 7 hour train ride….at one point, the arid landscape gave way to some wooded areas.  img_2554

It was late in the afternoon when we arrived.  Fortunately for us, the owner of the apartment we had rented, offered to have his driver meet us.  It was very much welcomed as Fez is a very big city of approximately 1.2 million people.


Idris ibn Abdullah, the first Arab ruler in Morocco and head of the Idrisid dynasty, ruled from 788-791.  In 789,  on the bank of the Jawhar river Idris I, found the city of Fez as the capital of his dynasty.  In 808, his son, Idriss II, built another city on the opposite side of the river.  Soon, there were two walled and independent cities that often were in conflict with one another.  In 1070, under the Almoravid dynasty, the walls of the city were torn down, bridges were built and the two medina became united. It is called Medina el Bali.

In 1276, a “new” town, Fez Jedid, was established west of the Medina el Bali.  The palace, army fortification and mellah (Jewish neighborhood) are located in Fez Jedid.  Today, Medina el Bali is considered an excellent example of a medieval city and is a UNESCO Heritage site. It has one of the largest pedestrian zones (car free) in the world.  There are 200,000 people, 300 mosque and 9,500 streets or walkways within the walls of el Bali.  As you can imagine, it is very, very easy to get “lost” and turned around there but we discovered, that was the fun of it.  You never quite knew what was around the corner.

Mohammed, the manager of the apartment, met us at one of the many gates of Fez and walked us to the apartment.  Unlike, Marrakech, there are no motorized vehicles allowed inside the medina.  We were so grateful for this.  It was nerve-wracking in Marrakech to be constantly looking over your shoulder so we wouldn’t get hit by a scooter or cyclist!  Also, the streets of Fez were much narrower than those of Marrakech.


This is an example of the streets in Fez and how much narrower they are compared to those of Marrekech.

Our apartment was off of Rue Talaa Sghira, one of the two major streets in the medina.  The route that Mohammed took us was pretty straight forward but I feared that we would get so twisted around and never be able to find our apartment for the whole time we had it rented!!!!  That wasn’t to be the case but I suggested that we drop breadcrumbs on our first time out!


The last door on the right, was the entrance to our apartment.


The kitchen was on the ground floor.


This stairway took us up to the second floor and the living quarters.

As you can see, the first step is a “doozie!!”  With my 25 lb backpack strapped to my back, I gained a whole new appreciation for the Himalayan sherpas as I climbed those very uneven steps.


This is looking from the living room out to the dining area and bedroom.


The living room.


More stairs…to the left is the living area on the second floor.  To the right and to the door on the left, is the bathroom.  If you continued right, it would take you to another bedroom and all the way up, to the rooftop.

I just loved this cosy apartment.  I appreciated the tile work and the “artistic” touches throughout…for example, this window – img_3724

and right below this window was a little nook holding this lovely Moroccan container.img_3723The first couple of nights, the neighborhood children were very vivacious!  I kept thinking/hoping that they would have to go to bed soon…the day after our arrival was their Independence day, a holiday and no school….they stayed outside and played until 10:00!  At one point, I went down and said, “s’il vous plaît” (“please” in French) and put my finger to my lips – the universal “quiet” sign, right?  One little boy looked at me and said “no”….so much for asking!  LOL!

We arranged for a tour of the Medina, which was interesting. Our guide grew up among the streets of Medina el Bali and therefore, he knew his way around and took us to some places that we would have totally missed.  Our first stop was at:

Bou Inanian Madrasaimg_3727

This Madrasa was built from 1351-58 by the reigning Marinid era sultan Abu Inan Faris.  It is believed that the religious leaders of the Karaouine Mosque encouraged him to build it in order to have his sins forgiven.  He was quite a tyrant ordering the death of his father and brutally murdering his rivals.

The madrasa was both a school and place of worship.  It is the only madrasa, in Fez, that has a minaret. img_3730

It has been restored a few times and today remains open as a mosque.  It is one of the few mosque that a non-believer may enter.  It is the last madrasa built during the Merenid era and is one of the best examples of Merenid architecture in the world.

Here are a couple of photos to share with you showing the exquisite details in the carved designs on the wood and walls.


This is the mosque with the mihrab in the center. The mihrab is a niche that faces the Kaaba, the building inside the most sacred mosque, in Mecca. It indicates the direction of Mecca, where the people are supposed to face when praying. (On a side note, in some hotels that I have stayed in Arab countries, there is a little arrow on the ceiling indicating the direction of Mecca for their prayer time.) Our guide said that mihrabs were shaped like doors and that “prayers unlocked the doors of heaven.”img_3733

The mosque is to the back of the courtyard and on either side were the classrooms.  Also, off to the side was the prayer room for the women, who are required to pray separately from the men.  I thought this was a beautiful space, especially with the stain glass windows.img_3736img_3737

As we were leaving the Bou Inania Madrasa, our guide pointed out the large bronze doors and said that they were engraved by Jewish people who lived in the medina during the time it was built.



Dar al-Magana

Almost opposite the madrasa is the famous water clock, Dar al-Magana.  It was finished in May, 1357.  img_3741

There are 13 windows and on the wooden platforms, under the 13 doors, would have been brass bowls.  The rafters above the window had a roof that protected the windows and bowls.  Evidently, there was a small cart behind the doors that ran from left to right. My non-mechanical mind cannot understand how it worked so I will take the liberty to quote from Wikipedia (  “The motion of the clock was presumably maintained by a kind of small cart which ran from left to right behind the twelve doors. At one end, the cart was attached to a rope with a hanging weight; at the other end to a rope with a weight that floated on the surface of a water reservoir that was drained at a regular pace. Each hour one of the doors opened; at the same time a metal ball was dropped into one of the twelve brass bowls.”  I hope that makes more sense to you, who is reading this, than it did to me.  I think I will have my husband, the engineer, try to explain it to me!  (Update:  after rereading it a couple of times and discussing it with David, I have a better understanding!)

Anyway, it was very impressive to me that in 1357, someone invented and built a time piece so accurate it was used to tell the muezzin the correct time to call the people to their daily prayer.  It would be nice if someone could restore it.

Nearby this clock is the Clock Cafe.  If you are in Fez, I highly recommend that you stop by for a coffee or something to eat.  It is a quaint place with very friendly staff and excellent food.  We liked it so much that we went back a second time.  There were nooks and crannies where you could sit in privacy and quiet for a visit with friends or a special someone!

The first meal I had was hummus, falafel and tabouli.  I had been looking everywhere for hummus thinking that it would be standard fare in an Arabic country.  Not so!  I was so excited and it was soooo good!  I asked for some to take back to our apartment.  Not only did they give me a good amount but they wouldn’t let me pay for it!  What a treat!

The second time we went back, we both had the grilled veggie and goat cheese sandwich that was just as delicious.  Along with wonderful meals, they offer movies, concerts, lectures on the culture, art exhibits and cooking classes!  This place reminded me of the “Pudding Shop” in Istanbul, Turkey that I discovered when I was there 40 years ago.  It was just a great place to hang out if you were an expat wanting to connect with other expats and mingle with the locals.  I wish we had more time to spend at this cafe.

OK, enough of a “plug” for the Clock Cafe and back to the sites of Fez!!

The Blue Gate

In Arabic, it is known as the Bab Bou Jeloud.  It was built in 1913 by the French and is considered the main entrance to Fez el Bali.  Since the development of heavy artillery the effectiveness of gates as a defense is no longer needed.  Today, the gates to the city, are ceremonial.  img_3747

Here you can see the minaret of the Bou Inanian Madrasa through the gate.  On this side of the gate, the tiles are blue which is the color for the city of Fez.  Blue is often found on embroidery, carpet and ceramics throughout the city.

The other side of the gate is done in green tile, which is the color of Islam.img_3830

Walking outside of this gate will take you to the new medina, Fez el-Jedid.  We spent no time in that medina….so much to see and so little time!

The Mellah of Fez

We walked briefly through the Jewish neighborhood as we continued our tour.  Again, you can notice the difference of the neighborhoods by the balconies.  The Jewish had balconies on the outside of their homes.  The Arab neighborhoods have no outside decoration and are very plain on the facade.  Unlike the Arabs, the Jewish had larger doors on the outside.  The Arabs have their large doors on the inside.  The Arabs consider this to be more humbling and not ostentatious.


A Jewish Balcony


Another example of a Jewish balcony.


This is an example of an Arab window that the woman could look out of and not be seen.

The Andalusian District

Our guide took us to this area which was much less touristy and the streets were even narrower!  This district was established at the beginning of the 9th century when the Muslim families, from the Andalusia region in southern Spain, emigrated to Fez.   This district is noted for its craft activities.  The government is investing money into this district to maintain the character of the souks by restoring them.


One of the many narrow streets in the Andalusia District!


Some of them, we had to walk sideways!


This is a replica of the Blue Gate in the Andalusia District that, according to our guide, was built 4 years ago.


This is one of the souks that has been recently renovated.  It was one dedicated to woven goods as indicated by the colorful hanging threads over the doorway.  They prepare the silk threads by dying them in the workshops, weave the various items and then sell them in the storefronts.  It was Independence Day and a Friday, (which is considered like our Sunday) so not much was happening in this area.


One of my favorite photos.  Normally, I would never consider taking a picture of this man but I had my guide as an interpreter.  He asked the man if I could take his photo, which he agreed to and then I gave him a tip as a thank you.

Artisan Centers

Our guide treated us to some of the high end craft centers or fundouks.  We visited one where metal craft was being created.  The work was exquisite and very time consuming.  img_3749

The plates are made from bronze and are cleaned with lemon.  It is a craft that is primarily done by the Jewish population.  The covered dishes or tajines are made from different materials…The one in the foreground is from the Berber Tribe and made of camel bone and cedar wood.  I am not 100% certain about the materials used on the tajine next to it…my notes say alpaca bones (are there alpacas in Morocco?)  and copper.  The teapots behind are made from silver.


The owner? The manager? He was very proud to show us around and explain about the process of creating these lovely pieces.


The designs are hand-stamped onto the plates.  There is no pattern, it is all done free-hand with a small nail and hammer.  A plate this size would take about 35 hours to complete.


More items that were for sale in the shop.  All handmade, all beautiful!

The famous Chouara Tannery of Fez.

The smell was overload for the nose.  To combat that, we were given sprigs of mint wrapped in a small bundle to hold to our nose, which did help.  This is the oldest art in Morocco.


I didn’t realize when I took this picture, but you can see the various phases of the process.  At the bottom are the hides with the fur still on them, midway up the building are the treated hides and at the very top, hanging from the porch area, are leather bags.


This river ran right next to the tannery.  I believe that this farmer was cleaning the hides he had brought in to be sold to the tannery.


This is the large vats used to process and dye the hides.


The first process, is to soak the hides for a couple of days in a mixture of cow urine, quicklime, water and salt.  This mixture helps remove the fur and soften the hide.  Once removed from the mixture, the tanners scrape away the fur and fat.  The next part of the process is to soak the hides in a mixture of water and pigeon guano (poop).  They soak the hides, in this mixture, to make them softer.  The guano has an ammonia agent that helps the hides become softer and more absorbent for the dyeing process.


The hides are then placed in the dyeing vats.  These vats contain different colors from natural vegetables, flowers and herbs.  For example, red comes from using poppy flowers, light green from the mint plant, yellow is from saffron, brown from cedar wood and henna for orange.


Here is some of the final product that will be made into a variety of items…leather jackets, purses, vest, etc.  All of which are sold at the shops located at the tannery.  Our guide told us that the best leather comes from the hides of goat and camels.

Being a vegetarian, I had real mixed feelings about seeing the tannery.  I must say that the finished products were beautiful and if I wasn’t a vegetarian, would have loved to have had a leather jacket.  They looked so very, very soft.  Another reason I am glad to have seen this is that it is the about the same process that has been done since medieval times.  There is no machinery and it is all done by hand.  It just makes you appreciate the process and final results even more.

Weaver’s Center

This was by far my favorite craft center that we visited.  I had resisted buying from the other places we had visited but this one, I couldn’t wait to see what they had to offer.  Sadly, it was the holiday and Friday so no weavers were working.  I would have loved to have seen them weaving.


This shows a loom all threaded.  The manager told us that it was going to be a tablecloth.


This is a leaf from an aloe vera plant.  They pound the leaf, soak it in water to separate the fibers.  The fibers are washed and dried and spun to make silk thread.  Once the thread is made, it is then dyed by using natural products, like vegetables.  The colors are so vibrant as you can see by the next few photos.


Sorry this is so blurry!  I don’t know what happened but it shows the table cloth that is being woven.


The process is timely but the results is beautiful.  I purchased about 5 scarfs to bring back as gifts….and one for myself!  They were about $15 each.


Do you think I could pass as a Muslim woman or a member of the Berber tribe?


These are foot stools.


The colors reminded me of a field of wild flowers!


This was a tapestry that was hanging on the wall.

I have always been fascinated by weaving…whether it be on a loom or a basket.  I would love to study weaving one day but don’t know if that will ever happen…

Rug Artisansimg_3818

Our last stop was the where they made rugs. The workshops are in rooms on the upper floors of the building.  Some were woven and other were made from tying knots for the design.  Very meticulous but the results are stunning.

We had been to a shop in Merrekech so were familiar with the “drill.”  They invite you to sit down and usually offer you mint tea.  Then, they proceed to bring out rug after rug to show you the different designs and explain what tribe they originated from.

We had no intentions of buying and felt kind of badly for the workers who were bringing out one rug after another.


They are beautiful, aren’t they?  Just didn’t fit with my “cottage decor.”  Notice the blue rug on the bottom.  Blue is the “color” of the city of Fez….remember the Blue Gate?

All of this was fine and like I said, I really had no intentions of buying a carpet until they brought out this beautiful Berber design of the sand dunes……


I fell in love with it and decided that it would look lovely in the living room…it does, doesn’t it?


The rug was paid for and wrapped to take back to the states.  It fit perfectly in my backpack!

al-Karaouine Mosque and University

This learning center is believed to be the oldest in the world.  It was founded in 859 by Fatima al-Fihri, the daughter of a wealthy merchant.  Fatima had migrated, with her family, from Kairouan, Tunisia, therefore the name of the mosque.

Fatima and her sister were very well educated and when their father died, they were left a considerable amount of money.  Fatima vowed to spend all of her money towards the construction of a mosque suitable for the community.

In the madrasa affiliated with the mosque, students were taught the Qur’an and other religious studies as well as mathematics, medicine and astronomy.  In 1940, this learning center was merged with the state education system and became a modern university.

Unfortunately, non-Muslims are not allowed inside.  It is acceptable, though, to look inside for a brief peek of life inside the mosque and the world’s oldest center of learning.


One peek….showing men performing ablution preparing for prayer.


My second “peek”.  Another area for ablution and behind the screen, is the mosque.

Exploring on our own we discovered:

Nejjarine (Carpenter) Museum of Wood Arts and Crafts

Our guide took us past this museum but it was closed.  So, the next day, as we wandered through the medina on our own, we stopped to visit it.  It was highly recommended on Trip Advisor and in my guide book.

This is the entrance to one of the most beautiful complexes in Fez.  Originally, it was used as an inn for traveling craftsmen. They would stored and sell their goods on the ground floor and stay in the rooms on the upper levels.


The entrance to Nejjarine Complex, now a museum.


A close-up to show you the beautiful detail of the carvings around the door.


I just wonder how long it would take to carve a panel like this.


This is looking down on Nejjarine (Carpenter’s) Square.  Nearby is a souk where carpenters still create objects from cedar wood. Also, they were building silver furniture, like thrones,  that were used in wedding ceremonies.


This is the most well-known fountain in the medina, located in the Nejjarine Square.


Another view of the Nejjarine Square.  The door to the museum and part of the nearby fountain.

The entrance fee was worth seeing the inside of the building, which is now used as a museum.  The displays are of craftsmen tools, Berber locks, musical instruments, furniture, etc.  Unfortunately, only photos of the courtyard could be taken and not of the displays.


It is very well preserved today. The carvings on the balconies are lovely.


Looking down into the courtyard of the museum.

There are three floors of displays and on the rooftop is a cafe that affords views of the rooftops of the medinaimg_3851


This view is looking over the Merenid Tombs in the distance.

Souk al Henna

It was amazing just to wander through the medina on our own.  We never quite knew what was around a corner.  At one point, we were in the middle of what appeared to be a local “flea market.”  We were the only foreigners in the place, vendors had piles of clothes and odds and ends of used appliances scattered in a plaza area.  It was very, very crowded. There was hardly any room to step.

Then, around another corner, we came upon this tranquil setting of Souk al Henna that offered organic beauty products… of the well known creams in Morocco is made from a little nut found in the argan fruit.  For centuries, the oil has been extracted from this small nut and used as a moisturizer on skin and hair. It comes in many forms of cream for hands and face.  The oil, in its true form, is used for healing skin rashes, infections and bug bites.  This was a common product for sale in the souk area.  There were herbs offered, as well, for medicinal purposes.


The history of medicine being sold in this souk goes way back when the building at the end of the souk was built for a hospital.  The Maristan Sidi Frej was built about 1286 by the Merinid king, Abu Yakoub (1286-1307).  Maristan in the Persian language means hospital.  This hospital was used both to heal and to teach.  According to the Rough Guide to Morocco guide book, this was an asylum for people with mental health illnesses and was one of the first places in the world to try music therapy for healing.  This hospital remained open until 1944.  It is also believed that Maristan Sidi Frej was a model for the first psychiatric hospital that was established in the western world in Valencia, Spain in 1410.


What tales would these walls tell, if they could talk?

Merenid Tombs

The guide books said that this was the best place to see the extent of Median el-Bali, especially at sunset.  Then, there was a sidebar of a warning not to pass through a particular neighborhood at night for safety reasons.  We decided to take a taxi to the hilltop to be on the safe side.  Once there, we realized that we didn’t have to pass through the neighborhood but could just walk back along the main road, which we did.


As for the tombs, very little is known about them  except that they were built around the 14th century, which was the time frame for the Merenid dynasty.  Who was buried here or why, remains a mystery.

The guide book was right about the views!  This view is behind the tomb ruins….img_3904

This is the view of Fez –


The white on the hillsides are cemeteries.


This was the walk home.  You can see the ancient wall that we followed and eventually, came to a gate to enter back into the medina.

Odds and Ends

I always seem to have a few photos that I would like to share but don’t really have a special category to put them under.  So, the “Odds and Ends” at the end of each posting gives me the opportunity to share these photos.


I am not quite certain if this is saying “no donkeys” in this part of the medina or if it is saying “donkeys only!”  Your thoughts?


Anyway…this donkey was allowed and patiently waiting for his owner.


This one was tied next to a mosque.  Was the owner at prayer?

We walked past this building and peeked in through the open doors.  A couple of very friendly men were standing nearby and invited us in to see the “Donkey Park.”  The what????  Well, it is where people “parked” their donkeys after they had made the deliveries or while they did their shopping.  A place for the donkeys to rest.  img_3901img_3900

We watched these donkeys make their way up a street.  They knew exactly where they were going.  img_3884


The lead donkey went right to this entrance and the rest followed, without the owner guiding them.

We didn’t have an opportunity to see a Moroccan wedding.  I believe they can be quite elaborate. I saw one blog post of the groom riding in on an elaborately decorated horse.  When we arrived in Fez, there was a dignified, rugged horse; like a Belgium, with a gold threaded saddle blanket and highly decorated saddle.  It was similar to this one that we saw in the souk.img_3863

Later in the day, we saw this wedding chair, to carry the bride into the ceremony, be transported through the street.img_3883

In the medina, we came upon this bakery.  People were carrying trays of unbaked loaves of bread into the bakery and dropping them off.  Many Moroccan homes do not have ovens.  They carry their unbaked loaves of bread to the community oven to be baked.  This is  similar to the fountains found throughout the medinas.  In the beginning of time, the homes had no running water so people would get their water from the local fountain and carry it back to their homes to use.


The trays of unbaked bread on the floor brought in by the local people.


The baker!


Moroccan bread is the best!


We didn’t know what these were.  Do you?


They are fresh figs.  I had always seen dried ones.  I didn’t find the fresh ones as tasty.

On the smaller streets of the medina, we discovered individual crafters….looking into partly opened doors, there might be a couple of looms with weavers working.  Or, passing a storefront, the loom was the focal point, with a small display area of the finished product, off to the side.  This gentleman was weaving away when we stopped in.img_3877

A couple of storefronts down, we discovered this room full of wool.  img_3878


We had met this man when we were, at one point, just resting and watching life go by.  He was quite entertaining.  He recognized us as we walked past his shop and he invited us in to look at it.  He is holding a photo of the King of Morocco. Again, with so little luggage space, I had no intentions of buying anything but did buy a few small bowls.  


This was the workshop next to the showroom.  This artisan is decorating a plate with silver wire.  It was lovely but too large to carry and also, I don’t want anything that requires cleaning!


This is inside an herbalist shop.  The walls were filled with jars of spices and herbs with explanations of various uses and remedies.  


Everywhere you looked, there was a design….even on the sidewalk!

Finally, everywhere in Morocco, there are the cats….img_3761

The locals appeared to take care of them by putting food out.  We were told that they like the cats around because they keep the rodent population at bay. For the most part, all the cats we saw looked healthy.

So, there you have it….Fez through my eyes.  Our next visit will be to my favorite spot of all of our Moroccan trip, Chefchaouen.  Until then, I wish you blessings.

3 thoughts on “The Beautiful City of Fez

  1. Shar, did you have to wear a scarf while you were there? When they are called to pray, does very thing close down? Is Morocco the place where princess Grace Kelly lived? Sorry I’m asking so many questions. But it’s so interesting. I don’t know how you buy one of the plates. So Beautiful. Sorry Max wanted to go out. Your apartment was Beautiful. The history that you see on your trips is wonderful. I live trips like that through you. Thank you so much. Did you see lady’s that live there? Do they work? I love the rug you got it going to go great in you living room. I think the sign of the donkeys means they can go on that rode or walk way. So no cars in the city or are they just on the outside of the city? I can’t wait for your next blog. Love Sis

    • Hello Sis! Lots of questions…which is a great thing! Thanks…I will see if I can answer them in order. No, I didn’t have to wear a scarf. Morocco is one of the more liberal Arab countries. I don’t know if it has to do with the French occupation in the 1912-56 but non-Muslim women don’t have to wear a scarf. When we were in Casablanca and visited the mosque, I did out of respect. They are called to prayer five times a day starting around 5:30 AM. Things do not close down. Some go to the nearby mosque but if they can’t, they pray wherever they are…like the man in Marrakech praying on the sidewalk. That wasn’t a very common site, by the way. The prayers take about 15 minutes and if they can’t pray at that exact time, they do it eventually. Morocco isn’t where Princess Kelly lived…that is Monaco, the independent city-state in the south of France on the Mediterranean coast. That seems to be a common misunderstanding for most people who have talked/asked about Morocco and is understandable as they sound so much alike. Morocco is located on the northwest part of Africa, right below Spain. The plates were absolutely beautiful but at this point in my life, I am trying not to accumulate anymore “stuff”….so photos will have to do fine. I did get a couple of very small bowls that I like very much. The women do work. I saw some in banks, hotels, stores, restaurants. I am certain there are women in every profession in Morocco. There are cars allowed outside of the city walls in the newer section of the city that was built during the French occupation. They designed roads that were much wider and could accommodate cars. The walled-city was built during the 700 and there was no need for wider roads/passageways, except for a donkey with possibly as small wagon to pass through. I think that is all the questions…they were great. So glad that you are enjoying it. Makes the toil of it all well worth it! Hugs….

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