This week’s post is dedicated to the religious capital of the country. We’ll be talking about what to see in Fez and, as we’ve done on previous occasions, instead of reducing it to a simple list, we’ll make it more interesting by making it into a tour of Fez.
Fez being so big, I recommend first a small panoramic tour of the city to get an idea of its layout. In addition, you will have the opportunity to observe the delightfully chaotic urban fabric of the medina at a glance.
The viewpoint is located just above the bus station, and I have to warn you that there is hardly any shade there and it is usually very hot, which is all the more reason for it to be our first visit. To get there, the best way is to take a small taxi, which will cost approximately 20 dirhams, and for a little more you can ask the taxi driver to wait to take us to the door of the Royal Palace, when the visit will start on foot.
The Royal Palace of Fez, Jewish Quarter and Bab Bou Jeloud Gate
More than one of you may have wondered why most of the important cities in Morocco have a Royal Palace: the reason is that the King does not have a fixed residence, changing his house every few months, so he has a royal palace at his disposal in every important city.
As it is in use, unfortunately it can only be visited from the outside (in fact, there is a good chance that when you go there the Monarch will be there, as it is one of the most visited palaces by the Monarch). However, just to admire its large golden doors full of details will make it worth the visit. If you’re are lucky, you will be able to see the workers cleaning them with lemon juice.
Once you have taken enough pictures, you should continue towards the door of the medina. Taking the street to the right of the palace, you will pass through the Jewish quarter, a very peculiar place where it is worth getting lost for a while admire its unique architecture and the striking use of wood.
Crossing the Jewish quarter and finishing the street you will come across the Bab Bou Jeloud Gate, also known as the Blue Gate and the main access to the medina. In addition to its three characteristic gates and its mosaic of tiles, you will be struck by the incessant activity that takes place around it throughout the day, largely due to its funnel effect as it is the last void before the medina.
The Fez Medina
Before wandering around the medina of Fez, I would like to warn you that it is not my intention to say what directions you should take inside because, although there are some indications not to get lost at any given time (we will talk about that in due course), taking into account its complexity I think the best thing to do is to hire the services of a guide, indicating the places you would be interested in visiting which I detail below in order.
Once you have passed through the blue door you will feel like you have travelled to the past: when you cross the threshold of the door you will inevitably feel overwhelmed by its narrow streets, by the incessant and saturated traffic of people and donkeys (the only possible means of transport in the medina due to its configuration), by the parade of shops and, in short, by the collection of unique prints that define this extraordinary space.
Our first visit will be to the goldsmiths’ quarter which, architecturally does not have much to highlight, will be worthwhile to at least enter some of the shops and observe how the craftsmen make designs on brass trays.
Bou Inania Madrasa
Our next stop will be the Madrasa of Bou Inania, one of the most representative Koranic schools in Morocco and a perfect example of how to combine different materials, taste for detail, and elegance. And while you will probably only be allowed to visit the central courtyard, you will not get distracted and imagine the very special community of students to which this building bears witness.
Once you visit the madrassa, and before continuing towards Seffarine Square, you will pass by the Mausoleum of Mulay Idris, the second founder of the city of Fez and a place of great religious and pilgrimage importance, and the Al Karaouine Mosque, founded in 859 and continuously enlarged throughout its history, also functioning as a university since 1947. Unfortunately, both are active religious places, so that all of us who do not practice the religion of Islam will have to be satisfied with admiring the spaces that are shown from the entrance door.
Morocco’s handicraft culture is known worldwide, the handicrafts from the city of Fez even more outstanding. The Seffarine Square is a perfect example where you’ll be able to find diverse objects of copper made by hand, like pots, trays or pans. So much so that, far from being displayed only in the shop windows and interiors, all these items take over the square, forming an indissoluble part of the urban landscape.
And finally you arrive at the last part of the tour and, in my opinion, the most representative place of all Fez, if you understand the city as a place frozen in time.
The Chouara Tannery or tanners’ square is no more and no less than the testimony of one of the hardest (if not the most) jobs performed today all over the world. The first warning that you are approaching will be the smell, which gets more and more intense, and the second will be the guides who will approach to invite us to view the square from one of the balconies of the shops that surround it.
Opinions regarding this trade and this place are usually very extreme: some people think it is a fundamental requirement and some people do not understand how it can be a reason to visit seeing workers dipping their feet and hands in jars full of lime, pigeon droppings, ashes and cow urine while the smell produced by the fermentation makes it difficult to endure, even at more than ten metres of height accompanied by a branch of mint.
Be that as it may, it will be something that, in one way or another, will remain marked forever in your mind. It is up to you whether this is a good reason to visit or just the opposite.
And now, with the tanners’ square, our tour of the places to visit in Fez ends. At the end of the visit to the square, if you continue, you will reach the southern end of the medina, where you can see an esplanade where there are usually many people selling crafts, an ideal place to take a taxi back.