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A Small Tour in Fez

An 'unfinished' visit to the captivating Fez.

“I can’t forget my journey in Fes,” those were the words of “Granada Orchestra” (Gharnata Orchestre). The sentiment is this magnificent city fascinates me, it looks like a city of fairy tales. The town was built in the 9th century by Sultan Moulay Driss I, establishing the first Muslim state independent of the Eastern Caliphate, and Fes was the capital of this new monarchy. 

From Zina’s Riad, the place where I spent my weekend, began one of the best adventures I have had in my life. First, the owner of the Riad showed me some treasures that were from the beginning of the last century, a legacy from his ancestors. Ceramic pots were used to store and cool water and also for decoration. He told me that they were made in 1939. From the discovery of his heritage began a semblance of a treasure hunt. Here I am listening to the story of copper utensils intended to be filled with water and used to wash the hands of guests and elders, which is considered a sign of generosity, kindness, respect, and appreciation.



The rooms of the Riad are full of details such as large wooden boxes and copper boxes with many colored stones, and others made of palm fronds. The floor is made of Moroccan “Zellij” (ceramic), and the wooden door is ornate with traditional motifs, while the ceiling is decorated with gypsum and wood.

To get to this Riad, you have to pass through the “rcif” square, the place where the old medina begins with a large Souk (a traditional open market), divided into different sectors. On the adjacent walkway, you will find a small canal that will make you feel as if you were in the streets of Venice, minus the boats. Suddenly you will come across dozens of stores selling handmade copper decorations and utensils.  Just after, a sound of metal will reach your ears. It is the sound of craftsmen at work making the wonders you have just seen on your way. 

Fez, the city of narrow streets, will also make you smell the Moroccan bread from the traditional ovens, the homemade coffee from all over, and the pottery while taking you back to the 9th century to tell you about the glory and beauty of authentic Morocco.

Not far from the Riad, you will find the oldest university in the world, the University of Al Qarawiyyin, built in 859 by a woman named Fatima Al Fihria. Legend has it that she stayed fasting until the work was completed.

It was built from the mud of the mosque and water. It is recognized as the first university to have awarded a degree in human and animal medicine in 1207 to Abdellah Ben Saleh Koutami.


As you leave this beautiful university, you can smell the Fassi incense that leads you to the mosque and the Marabout of Moulay Driss, the tomb of the city’s founder, covered with green and red sheets. This sultan is known as one of the grandsons of the Prophet Mohammed. There are also the tombs of his successors of the Idrissi dynasty. 


A small fountain is standing in the uncovered part of the mosque, which gives a special charm to the building, the latter being made of Greek marble and large pillars. The walls of the uncovered space fascinate the visitor’s egg by the beauty of the “Zellij”, the breathtaking colors and patterns immerse visitors in a special feeling of spirituality.

As soon as we head for the exit, the scent of incense catches up with us again, where several stores sell it, with different aromas, traditional and contemporary, next to others that offer the candy of Moulay Driss, which is a kind of nougat. Opposite the door, there is the wood museum, “Nejarine” square. The latter brings together the best carpenters of Fez. It was built at the beginning of the 18th century to develop trade and store goods. In 1944, it was transformed into a police station of the French protectorate, where several nationalists and resistance fighters were arrested. In 1955, it became a refuge for non-Moroccan students who were studying in Al Qarawayiin. To the left of the place, in 1870, a post office was opened, but it was transformed into a leather goods store. 

Next to it, there is a school named Bouanania school (Medrasa), which dates back to the Merinide dynasty, Sultan Abu Inan Al Marini era built between 1350 and 1355. It was the only school with a minaret in Fes, and open to non-Muslims. The main entrance leads to a large central courtyard, on which open two smaller halls, a marble fountain in the center, and surmounted by wooden domes decorated with verses from the Qoran or proses from poems of that time. At the back of the courtyard, there is a prayer hall composed of two naves parallel to the qibla. This room is covered by two wooden vaults. Around this main complex are student cells, accessible from the entrance vestibule via narrow corridors. The facade of the “Medrasa” has preserved an exceptional and very complex example of a water clock, a system that allowed us to know with precision the hours of prayers. on the first floor, there are several small rooms, which were considered dormitories for the pupils of the “Medrasa”.

All along the way, there are many stores, on the left and on the right, selling local handicrafts, made of iron, copper, wood, ceramics, clay, leather, and other materials, as well as delicacies from Fez, such as “Khlii”, “Fakkas”, dried plums, “Chebakia”. … other monuments each more beautiful than the next, continue to embellish the city tour as the blue door, named Bab Boujloud, one of the most famous doors of the city or the North Tower.

The North Tower, or the house of arms, was founded in 1582 by Sultan Saadian Ahmed Al Mansour; the plan was inspired by the architecture of the Portuguese fortresses of the sixteenth century. It was one of the largest surveillance posts in the city of Fez and also served as a cannon factory. The four corners have a square plan and four bastions in the shape of spearheads. The terrace is designed to withstand the weight and fire of the cannons.

Having served as a barracks and then as a prison during the time of the French Protectorate, the monument has been home to the “Musée des Armes” since 1963, coming from “Dar Snah” near Castle Al Batha. Rehabilitated in 2003 this fort has become a museum that exhibits the weapons that Man had used since the beginning of civilizations, such as the Roman and Pharaonic civilizations, Persian, Asian, European, and Levantic Arabs, of several epochs of history, until the time of colonization. Morocco and its weapons are the most present, with many exhibitions and even illustrations of the operation of the industrial arms firm of the Saadian era, under the name Makina.

On the other side of the city, an exceptional place awaits book lovers: a paradise called “Al Hafra”, which means the pit, is a place that looks very dull from the outside but contains many treasures inside. It houses dozens of small bookstores, built with pieces of sheet metal and wood. Its roof is made of tin, but its floor is bare, except for a few pieces of cardboard on winter days when it rains. You can find books from the 20th century, with leaves yellowed with age, which have a very particular smell. Some are first editions others are original versions and antiques. All at a very low price, sometimes reaching 5 dirhams or less (less than a dollar).

After a long tour in Fez, I came back home with books, “Khlii” (dry meat) bought in the square of Bab Boujloud, Nougat of Moulay Driss, incense, “Nila” and “Aker Fassi”, natural beauty products essential for Fassi women for skin care: treasures of a great consolation since I could not finish the visit of the city in two days. I’ll tell you the rest of the story of Fez another time …