Do you have a curiosity for cultural history? Perhaps you have a refined taste for art. Are you looking for spiritual inspiration? Fes el Jdid, or the ‘New Old Medina,’ is essential to your vacation in Morocco. It is part of a historically, culturally, and artistically rich city. It is also recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Fez el Jdid is part of a city you must visit. If it is already on your travel itinerary, then this comprehensive guide will certainly help you make the most of your trip! Amongst other things, Fes el Jdid is an attraction for its spectacular architecture. It is home to some of the finest specimens of Islamic architecture in the world.
From marvelous mosques to traditional riads, and from majestic palaces to sublime centers of religious study, Fes el Jdid has the most exquisite architectural experience to offer.
Fes el Jdid is visually stimulating- there is no doubt about that. In this city, your eyes will not be the only ones finding exhilaration. Fes el Jdid’s tasteful, spice-laden cuisine is definitely going to take your palette out for a ride! Pastilla, harira, bissara, and a whole range of authentic Moroccan dishes can be enjoyed at various food joints in the city.
Fes el Jdid is a friendly and hospitable place always looking out for tourists. For this, you must maintain a degree of respect and adherence to the local culture as well.
Take a walk in the sunbathed streets of Fes el Jdid and bask in the glory of an admirable city and empire. Emanating the aura of historical and spiritual grandeur, this city is bound to leave a lasting impression on all visitors.
This guide will give you all the knowledge you need to reap the best benefits from your time in Fes el Jdid. It is always important to familiarize yourself with a place while planning your trip. This leads to a smooth and unforgettable experience. Read on to find out more.
Items you must always carry
There are some items that you must always have with you whenever you are traveling. Even though the city is well-connected and can provide the most essentials, some personal items are crucial to have. Here is a list of items to carry with you while you tour the incredible Fes el Jdid:
- Proof of identity
- Water bottle
- City map
- Health insurance
- Cellphone, charger, and power bank
- Basic first aid
- A convenient backpack
- A change of clothes for emergency situations where you cannot return to your hotel immediately
About Fes el Jdid
Fes el Jdid is one of the three parts of the city of Fes or Fez. Fes is the second-largest city of Morocco. The other two parts constituting the city are Fes el Bali and Ville Nouvelle.
Fes was once just a small village located on the right bank of the River of Fes, which flows from west to east. It was established by Idris I, the ‘Founder of Morocco,’ in the year 789. Idris I is given credit for founding the dynasty that defined Moroccan statehood. Idris II, his son, established another settlement on the opposite bank of the same river.
These two settlements were the places of refuge for Arab immigrants on more than one occasion. This gave them their Arab character.
Following the downfall of the Idrisid dynasty, the twin but rival settlements were ruled over by various empires until the 11th century. Sultan Yusuf ibn Tashfin of the Almoravid dynasty established a city by uniting the two settlements in the 11th century. This rebuilt city came to be known as today’s Fes el Bali quarter.
Fes el Jdid was founded later in 1276, under the rule of Marinid sultans. It was meant to be an extension of Fes El Bali and function as a royal citadel and capital.
Here are some Fun Facts about the city of Fes:
- Fes is called the ‘Mecca of the West’ and ‘Athens of Africa’
- It is also home to the University of Al Quaraouiyine, founded in 859, the oldest continuously functioning institution of higher education.
- The medina of Fes is one of the world’s largest contiguous car-free urban areas.
- Fes was formerly the capital of the Moroccan empire.
Fes functioned at the heart of the Moroccan empire for almost five centuries. It was and still is, a prominent educational, intellectual, and spiritual hotspot.
Fes el Jdid is a part of this magnificent city, rift with the elements that make all of Fes the unique location that it is.
Basic layout of Fes el Jdid
The layout of Fes el Jdid may strike as rather complicated at first glance. This can be owed to the fact that it has undergone multiple modifications and expansions over time. The districts and the Royal Palace, known as the Dar al-Makhzen, have also been modified throughout the years. The Dar al-Makhzen stands in an area of about 80 hectares and constitutes the largest division of the city.
If you approach the city from the west, that is, from the side of Ville Nouvelle, you will reach the city’s main entrance at Bab al-Amer. This is located on the western edge of the Jewish Mellah. This location is shared by the modern Place des Alaouites and the well-known Gates of the Royal Palace.
Moving on from this point, you will find the main road running eastwards between the walls of the Royal Palace and the Mellah. The Mellah sports its own large Jewish cemetery in the southwestern corner. The Mellah’s main street gate falls here as well.
Bab Semmarine is a mighty gate that forms the southern entrance to Fes el Jdid. Rue des Mérinides, the Main Street for vehicles, passes in front of it.
Bab Semmarine is the starting point of a street known as the Grande Rue se Fès ek Jdid. This street is dotted with markets, shops, and stores, and runs from the north to the northwest. It ultimately reaches the Old Mechouar, which is the fortified square area in front of the entrance to the Dar al-Makhzen.
The Grande Rue sees residential buildings on either side, centered around historical mosques such as the Lalla Ghibra Mosque.
The eastern part is outlined by the old, crumbling walls of Fes el Jdid. Major sections of these walls have survived and been preserved. Several Saadian era bastions have also been preserved.
Upon reaching the Old Mechouar, you will notice the convergence of several roads. This forms a square. On its south side, the entrance to the Royal Palace is located. The north side boasts of the monumental gate of Bab Dekkakin. This leads to New Mechouar.
On the east side of the square, you will see entrances from the Grande Rue. There will also be a different opening for the road, which leads to Place Bou Jeloud and Fes el Bali.
The west side of the square holds a little gateway, which gives access to the Moulay Abdallah quarter. A winding road leads there, and it also passes the Grand Mosque of Fes el Jdid.
Fes el Jdid is home to a lot of noteworthy historic landmarks. Did you know that Islamic architecture is regarded as perhaps the most genius form of architecture?
Do you want to know more about these monuments? Read on to get an idea about the buildings and historic wonders you will get to see while touring the city!
The gates and fortifications of Fes el Jdid
Fes el Jdid is an entirely fortified location. Do you recollect the fact that it was built to function as a citadel? This is why it is so heavily fortified!
There are various gates in the city walls of the historic Fes in Morocco. Several bastions can also be found along these walls. All of them have spectacular facades and intricate designs.
Bab Semmarine is the southern gate of Fes el Jdid. It literally means ‘Gate of the Farriers.’ This gate was part of the original constructions in 1276 when Fes el Jdid was built as a royal capital for the Marinid empire.
Bab Semmarine was initially a gate to enter the city from the south, but at some point, a new district was created on its southern side. This gave it the location it currently has, within the city perimeter. The Grande Rue starts at this gate.
Architecturally, Bab Semmarine holds great importance as a defensive building. It originally had a bent entrance. However, the gate was renovated and modified in the 20th century to make room for more traffic and straighten out the flow.
Bab Dekkakin, literally meaning the ‘Gate of the Benches,’ is a ceremonial gate. This gate is situated on the northern edge of the city, between the Old Mechouar and New Mechouar.
Bab Dekkakin is also an element of the original construction of Fes el Jdid. The Gate was originally called the ‘Gate of the Lion’, which was perhaps with reference to a Lion motif, which subsequently disappeared. It got renamed when the Royal Palace was extended up to that point.
Similar to Bab Semmarine, Bab Dekkakin was also originally a bent gate but modified to allow ease of travel. The gate stands mightily between two massive towers that flank it.
The Gate’s inner side is towards the Old Mechouar, and the outer side is towards the New Mechouar. It is made of masonry stone and brick, with richly decorated facades. Striking arabesque patterns on the outer facade bring out the gate’s individuality and soothe the eyes in a way you will never have experienced before!
There are carved motifs on the gate as well. You can also spot elaborate inscriptions on a panel of tiles above the central archway.
Bab al-Amer is the historic southwestern entrance into Fes el Jdid. Its name means the ‘Gate of Order,’ and it is located to the west of Fes el Bali.
An aqueduct bringing water into the city was built near the gate. However, it was demolished during the French colonial period to increase the circulation of traffic. The gate is rather simple yet elegant. Adorned with arabesque patterns, the facades are bound to leave you in wonder with their ability to look extravagant in their simplicity.
It is time to delve into some history! The Saadian dynasty ruled Morocco from 1549 to 1659. They were one of the most architecturally active rulers of the area and constructed a lot of monuments and structures as you see them today. These included a multitude of remarkable bastions in the fort of Fes.
A bastion is an element of military architecture. It is a projection that points outward from the curtain wall, usually located at the corners of the fort.
The three bastions constructed during the Saadian reign are some of the finest examples of the same. They were built along the southeastern and eastern sides of the fort’s walls.
Are you curious about the Saadian bastions? Here’s some more information:
Borj Sheikh Ahmed
This 16th-century bastion is the northernmost and the easternmost. It is located closest to Fes el Bali. It stands proudly overlooking the Jnan Sbil Gardens.
Borj Twil, dating back to the same period as the Borj Sheikh Ahmed, is the southeastern bastion.
Borj Sidi Bou Nafa’
Borj Sidi Bou Nafa’ is the southernmost bastion of the three great Saadian-era bastions located in Fes el Jdid.
You may be visiting Fes el Jdid solely for the spectacular architecture, or you may have other reasons. The intent behind your visit will play no role when it comes to being enchanted by the monumental grandeur of Fes el Jdid!
You must already be aware of Fes el Jdid’s status as a spiritual and religious hub. This is reflected in the impeccable mosques located all around the city of Fes. You can see some of the most wonderful mosques while touring Fes el Jdid.
Grand Mosque of Fes el Jdid
The Grand Mosque of Fes el Jdid is the main Friday mosque of the royal city. The title says it all! It is also the oldest mosque in Fes el Jdid.
The Grand Mosque dates back to the founding of the royal city itself, in 1276.
The mosque’s overall layout follows a ‘T-plan,’ and includes a large rectangular floor plan with a vast courtyard. The prayer hall is heavily decorated.
The main entrance to the mosque is situated towards the north. There is another gate to the left of the main gate. The southern wall also has doorways leading into an annex space occupied by the imam. From this place, you could have directly accessed one of the courtyards of the Dar al-Makhzen at some point.
The mosque has a main courtyard, which makes up the northern half of the whole structure. It has a central water basin. The prayer hall is an admirable hypostyle space split by rows of arches.
All the arches are elaborate, some more so than others, but you will find all of them equally pleasing to witness. You can be sure of spotting wooden carvings, intricate stucco screens, and more elaborate architectural patterns in the structure.
An ornate dome characterized by its ribs forming a star pattern is located at the northern end of the central aisle. The western side of the mosque has a library and a mausoleum, decorated with beautiful mosaic designs.
The minaret of the mosque stems from the northwestern corner and boasts of typical Moroccan darj wa ktaf motifs. They are decorative rhombus-like patterns carved into the brick.
The al-Hamra Mosque
The al-Hamra Mosque is also a noteworthy mosque in Fes el Jdid. It is located on the Grande Rue and is a local Friday mosque.
The al-Hamra mosque has a layout similar to the Grand Mosque. The name of the mosque means ‘Mosque of the Red One’ or the ‘Red Mosque.’
The mosque’s sloped wooden roofs are covered by green tiles. This is typical of Moroccan mosques. You will notice this as well once you spend some time in the streets of Morocco!
The mosque’s courtyard features a sundial on one of the pillars situated in the northern arcade. The mosque is a specimen of Moroccan mosque architecture, with geometric patterns, mosaics, darj wa ktaf, and star patterns.
Lalla ez-Zhar Mosque
The Lalla ez-Zhar Mosque was completed in 1357. It means the ‘Mosque of the Lady of the Orange Tree’s Flower’ and is also known by the name of the ‘Mosque of Stone,’ which is owed to its stone portal entrance.
Unlike the Grand Mosque and the Red Mosque, the Lalla ez-Zhar Mosque consists of a square layout. It is recognized for its exquisite decoration and embellishments, even though it is relatively small in size. Its entrance is made of carved stone displaying muqarnas and geometric patterns. The minaret of this mosque is similar to those of the others. A rich stucco decoration characterizes the entire structure.
Moulay Abdallah Mosque
The Moulay Abdallah Mosque stands apart from the other mosques because of its status as a necropolis complex. Royal members of the Alaouite dynasty are buried in the necropolis.
The al-Beida Mosque is yet another mosque in Fes el Jdid. It was built around the same time as the al-Hamra Mosque. It is believed that the mosque was established as a small interior space but later expanded. The mosque’s name means ‘White Mosque.’
The mosque is located on the Grande Rue. The gateway consists of the typical horseshoe arch of the mosques of Fes. Intricate tile work, a marble basin, and arches are the features of this monument, as seen in other mosques. The minaret is whitewashed and covered in simple patterns and outlines.
Lalla Ghibra Mosque
The Lalla Ghibra Mosque was founded in 1408. The neighborhood which has developed around the mosque is named after it. It is situated in the Far East and northeast of Fed el Jdid.
Historically, the area was originally an open space used by troop camps and occupied by grain silos. A distinguishing feature of this mosque is that its minaret is slimmer and more talented as opposed to other mosques of the same era and period.
The Jewish Mellah
If you are visiting Fes el Jdid, you must be aware of the great significance of the Mellah of Fes. It is the historic Jewish quarter of the city of Fes.
It dates back to the 15th century. The district does not harbor a major Jewish population anymore, but the landmarks and monuments from its zenith still continue to stand out and emphasize the Jewish heritage of the region.
You may have caught up to the fact that modifications are a major part of Fes el Jdid’s history. The same applies to the Mellah, which was modified on more than one occasion in the past.
The Mellah can be entered from the official entrance, which is marked by the Bab el-Mellah, a gate set inside a borj. This can be reached via a street descending south and west from the Bab Semmarine, through the neighborhood of Sidi Bou Nafa’.
On the west side of the Bab el-Mellah, the street continues and forms the main market area of the Mellah. It was also called Derb al-Souq.
The Upper Mellah
The Upper Mellah is lined with ornate Jewish houses and boutiques. It was meant to be a solely residential neighborhood centered around Derb al-Fouqi, a street that branched off from the main Derb al-Souq. It is also known as High Street.
The Lower Mellah
While the Upper Mellah housed the Jewish bourgeoisie, the Lower Mellah was relatively poorer and more thickly populated. It is to the south of Main Street. This area had more public amenities as opposed to the Upper Mellah.
Ibn Danan Synagogue
The Ibn Danan synagogue is one of the main components of the historic medina of Fes. It was built by an affluent and wealthy merchant, Mimoun Ben Sidan, in the 17th century.
There was a time when the synagogue was a fairly mundane building, indistinguishable from any simple houses on the street. The door was incredibly simplistic, leading to a short flight of stairs that went directly to the rectangular space of the synagogue.
The construction comprises of simple masonry coated with plaster, and the ceiling is made of painted wooden beams. The walls are covered in wooden panels along their bottoms with blue Moroccan tiles. This is known as wainscoting.
The Torah Ark, occupying the width of an entire wall, is built from carved wood, and the wall above is embellished with detailed plaster work.
The synagogue also reflects Islamic architecture in its arches and floral designs and forms.
Spending some time admiring the brilliance of this humble yet rich synagogue is bound to be a rather different experience for you!
The Jewish Cemetery
The Jewish cemetery is located in the southwest corner of the Mellah. It was possibly built in the early 19th century. The main Jewish cemetery was originally located near the Royal Palace’s northwestern walls but was forced to move either by order of the Sultan in 1894 or the French colonialists after 1912.
The Royal Palace: Dar al-Makhzen
Royalty always captures the eye. The Royal Palace in Fes el Jdid is an exquisite structure that may awaken a deep appreciation for the region’s culture and history in you.
The Dar al-Makhzen is the Royal Palace of the King of Morocco. Historically, it harbored administrative offices and government tribunals. Apart from that, it is home to numerous patios, gardens, private buildings, and more monuments. The ornate gates to the palace are the most publicly visible features.
The palace covers an area of almost 80 hectares. The layout of the palace is complicated and irregular, caused due to unplanned modifications over the years. The palace has three mechouars. A mechouar is a courtyard which is located at the entrance of a royal palace.
The palace grounds are dotted with patio courtyards, gardens, fountains, pavilions, and other such structures. The Lalla Mina Gardens are a remarkable feature of the palace grounds. The Patio of Moulay Rashid is also another such feature.
Did you know that the palace grounds once had a menagerie, housing exotic animals such as lions? That must have been an exciting time to live in!
The Old Mechouar
You must have come across this name quite a bit by now. It is time to finally see what it is all about! The Old Mechouar is a courtyard which precedes that main entrance to the royal palace of Fes el Jdid. It is the smallest of all the mechouars of Fes.
It is speculated that the Old Mechouar was originally a fortified bridge constructed over the Fes River. It had fortified gates at either end. The northern side of the square harbors the Bab Dekkakin, the gate which leads the way into the New Mechouar.
The southern opening is connected to the Grande Rue, the western opening leads to Moulay Abdallah district, and the eastern side has two other openings. The northern opening leads towards the entrance to Fes el Bali.
The Old Mechouar is perhaps the busiest square in all of Fes el Jdid. You can hope to see a lot of the hustle and bustle here, and you will never be bored!
The New Mechouar
The New Mechouar is located to the north of the Old Mechouar. The western side of this square boasts of a hybrid gateway in the Italianate architectural style. It stands out from amongst the other typical gateways. It was constructed in 1886 with the consultation of Italian officers.
The western wall was an aqueduct, remains, and traces of which can be seen even today.
The Dar al-Makina is another location in Fes el Jdid that is worthy of your attention. It is a former arms factory. It, too, was established in 1885-86 with the help of Italian officers. ‘Makina’ is the Arabic word for the machine.
The Dar al-Makina is situated on the western side of the New Mechouar square. You can enter it through a gate called the Bab Makina on the west side of the square. The building consists of vaulted chambers and rooms in a series.
Hotels and places to stay in when visiting Fes el Jdid
In such a unique and ornate city, you would certainly want to find a comfortable and relaxing place to stay in. The best option is to settle down in Fes el Bali for the duration of your visit. Fes el Jdid is not far from there, and you can easily travel to all the destinations by car or even on foot if you are up for that!
Here are some hotels you could check out in Fes el Bali:
- Riad Mazar Fes
- Dar D’or Fes
- Riad Taryana
- Ryad Alya
- Riad Fes Maya
- Riad Jamaï
Visit this website to book hotels.
Traveling to Fes
There are multiple ways to get to the city of Fes. The nearest airport to the city is Fes airport. It takes 40 mins to reach the main city there. Moroccan Railways operates a train service from Tangier to Fes thrice a day. The duration of the journey is about 4 hours 20 mins. You can also take a bus from Nador to Fes via Casablanca. The journey will take around 16 hours 50 mins. You will also get a glimpse of the largest city of Morocco, Casablanca!
Touring Fes el Jdid
Fes el Jdid has a lot to offer to you. There is a spectacular monument or building on almost every street and corner. This place is so enchanting, it may prompt you to visit as many sites as possible! You can opt for various options while touring the royal city.
Guided Tour Packages
There are many full-day sightseeing tours available in Fes. Here’s what you can expect from such tour packages:
- Pick up from your hotel
- Interaction with locals
- Visits to all major sightseeing locations
- Guided tour
- The tour guide who will provide information about the sites, history, and culture
Usually, the prices depend upon the package you choose. All guided tours have varying features, but on average, most of them offer the features listed above. Food may or may not be catered to; you will have to enquire about that.
Visit this website to explore the available tours in Fes el Jdid.
Scooter or Bike Rentals
Alternatively, if you like to march to the beat of your own drum, you can choose to rent a scooter or a bike in the city. There are many local rentals that will offer cost-effective solutions. Make sure you have all the necessary documents, and you inspect the bike before accepting it. The costs differ from one rental service to another. You can ask the resident people to guide you for this.
To sum up
Visiting a new place can be very exciting. When it comes to a culturally and historically important place like Fes el Jdid, it is also crucial to have a knowledge of the rich past harbored by it. The majestic monuments of the royal city are bound to reflect it. You will certainly have an enriching experience.
Fes el Jdid is the cultural and spiritual epicenter of Morocco. The Old Medina is one of the most revered locations in the region. The city of Fes is an amalgamation of various cultures, empires, and dynasties. You must always be respectful of the local traditions and population.
Fes el Jdid is almost a magical place. You must plan your trip accounting for everything in detail so that you lose not even a second of your precious time in the royal city.
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