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About city Gallery Where to stay

Every Moroccan city has its own peculiar features. While Casablanca is hailed as the country’s cosmopolitan financial centre, Fes is considered to be its polar opposite – an ancient, royal city and centre of the Arab part of Morocco, sometimes also called the Athens of Africa because of its cultural and historical heritage.

Fes was built by Idris ibn Abdullah – the first ruler of Morocco and founder of the Idrisid dynasty around 1200 years ago when Islam was only a few years old. According to myth, Fes was built with no tools except a gardening hoe. Once Abdullah received the hoe made from pure silver and gold, he used it to mark the limits of the first Moroccan dynasty’s fortress-to-be.

It is thought that by 1180 Fes was already home to around half a million people and one of the largest cities in the world. During the Middle Ages, the city went through its golden age – it became the capital of trade and exchange. It was also the endpoint of the gold trade route beginning in Timbuktu.

The old town of Fez is a UNESCO World heritage Site. It is the largest remaining medieval city in the world
Photo taken by 123rf.com.  The old town of Fez is a UNESCO World heritage Site. It is the largest remaining medieval city in the world

The splendid old town of Fes is protected by UNESCO. The streets of the oldest part of it are so narrow that you can touch the walls of the surrounding houses with your elbows, and the city has around 10,000 of such streets. It’s also one of the world’s largest urban car-free zones.

In the 13th century, as the government of Fes changed and the city started to grow, the old town became too small. A large royal palace with golden doors, a garden and a market were built around it, giving birth to the new part of the city.

Fes is also famous for the world’s oldest, still-running university – the religious University of al-Qarawiyyin was built in 859 by Fatima Muhammad Al-Fihiri, daughter of a wealthy businessman. Over the years, the university became ever stronger, eventually becoming one of the leading scientific and spiritual centres in the Muslim world. In 1963, the religious school became a state university and is a very important Muslim educational institution to this day.

The children of Fez are also preparing for the festival, during which sheep will be butchered and food will be shared
Photo taken by 123rf.com.  The children of Fez are also preparing for the festival, during which sheep will be butchered and food will be shared

All of that notwithstanding, Fes became popular with tourists only less than 10 years ago. Along with the visitors, the old, authentic and provincial city saw an influx of money and the city is now building new hotels, restoring old ones, and building new parks and fountains. Fes, the centre of trade and crafts, and a religious sanctuary, is gaining on Marrakesh – the other royal city, which has become the main tourist hotspot in Morocco.

On the other hand, the locals know their city’s worth and believe that it will retain its face despite touristic tendencies. Over the ages, Fes has guarded its elegance and traditional values regardless of historic epoch.

All of this experience has been recorded in the old town walls. The best thing you can do upon arrival here is to simply go wandering in the labyrinth of the narrow local streets and see where they take you.

A traditional food snack bar, Fez
Photo taken by 123rf.com.  A traditional food snack bar, Fez

As regards Moroccan cuisine, Fes has it all – stalls bursting with spices, and little Moroccan restaurants and diners will draw you into the world of myriad tastes and smells. Those who are interested can not only taste Moroccan food, but also learn to make it.

Even though it’s easy to stay put in Morocco – it’s fantastically varied and invariably fascinating – make sure you set enough time aside for Fes and get lost in the labyrinth of North African authenticity.

Where to stay

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