Fez was founded under Idrisid rule
during the 8th-9th centuries CE
. It initially consisted of two autonomous and competing settlements. Successive waves of mainly Arab immigrants from Ifriqiya
) and al-Andalus
) in the early 9th century gave the nascent city its Arab character. After the downfall of the Idrisid dynasty, other empires came and went until the 11th century when the AlmoravidSultan Yusuf ibn Tashfin
united the two settlements into what is today's Fes el-Bali
quarter. Under Almoravid rule, the city gained a reputation for religious scholarship and mercantile activity. Fez reached its zenith in the Marinid
era (13th-15th centuries), regaining its status as political capital. Numerous new madrasas
were constructed, many of which survive today, while other structures were restored. These buildings are counted among the hallmarks of Moorish
and Moroccan architectural styles
. In 1276 the Marinid sultan Abu Yusuf Yaqub
also founded the royal administrative district of Fes el-Jdid
, where the royal palace
is still located today, to which extensive gardens
were later added. During this period the Jewish population of the city grew and the Mellah
(Jewish quarter) was formed on the south side of this new district. After the overthrow of the Marinid dynasty, Fez largely declined and subsequently competed with Marrakesh for political and cultural influence, but remained as the capital under the Wattasids
and in modern times up until 1912.
Fez or Fas was derived from the Arabic word فأس
which means pickaxe
. Legends say Idris I of Morocco
used a silver and gold pickaxe to create the lines of the city.
During the rule of the Idrisid dynasty
, Fez consisted of two cities: Fas
, founded by Idris I,
, founded by his son, Idris II
. During Idrisid rule the capital city was known as al-ʿĀliyá, with the name Fas being reserved for the separate site on the other side of the river; no Idrisid coins have been found with the name Fez, only al-ʿĀliyá and al-ʿĀliyá Madinat Idris
. It is not known whether the name al-ʿĀliyá ever referred to both urban areas. It wasn't until 1070 that the two agglomerations were united and the name Fas was used for the combined site.
Foundation and the Idrisids
The city was first founded in 789 as Madinat Fas
on the southeast bank of the Jawhar River (now known as the Fez River
) by Idris I
, founder of the Idrisid dynasty
. His son, Idris II
built a settlement called Al-'Aliya
on the opposing river bank in 809 and moved his capital here from Walili (Volubilis)
These settlements (Madinat Fas
) would soon develop into two walled and largely autonomous sites, often in conflict with one another. The early population was composed mostly of Berbers
, along with hundreds of Arab warriors from Kairouan
who made up Idris II's entourage.
Arab emigration to Fez increased afterwards, including Andalusi families of mixed Arab
who were expelled from Córdoba
in 817–818 after a rebellion against the Al-Hakam I:46
as well as Arab families banned from Kairouan
(modern Tunisia) after another rebellion in 824. The Andalusians mainly settled in Madinat Fas
, while the Tunisians found their home in Al-'Aliya
. These two waves of immigrants gave the city its Arabic character and would subsequently give their name to the districts of 'Adwat Al-Andalus
and 'Adwat al-Qarawiyyin
With the influx of Arabic
-speaking Andalusians and Tunisians, the majority of the population was Arab, but rural Berbers from the surrounding countryside settled there throughout this early period, mainly in Madinat Fas
(the Andalusian quarter) and later in Fes Jdid
during the Marinid period.
The city also had a strong Jewish community
, probably consisting of Zenata
Berbers who had previously converted to Judaism
, as well as a small remaining Christian
population for a time. The Jews were especially concentrated in a northeastern district of Al-'Aliya
known as Funduq el-Yihoudi
(near the later Bab Guissa
Each city had its great mosque, its markets, and currency. The area was blessed with water flowing everywhere. Water was diverted from the Oued Fes
along channels into homes. The streets were paved and, according to the tenth-century geographer, Ibn Hawqal
, water was flushed into the suqs every summer night to clean the ground. The water was also transported to public baths and 300 mills. The city grew quickly and by the late 900s, it had about 100,000 inhabitants.
Upon the death of Idris II in 828, the dynasty's territory was divided among his sons. The eldest, Muhammad
, received Fez, but some of his brothers attempted to break away from his leadership, resulting in an internecine conflict. Although the Idrisid realm was eventually reunified and enjoyed a period of peace under Ali ibn Muhammad
and Yahya ibn Muhammad
, it fell into decline again in the late 9th century.
According to one of the major early sources on this period, the Rawd al-Qirtas
by Ibn Abi Zar
, in this period the Al-Qarawiyyin Mosque was founded in 859 by Fatima al-Fihri
, the daughter of a wealthy merchant. Her sister, Mariam, is likewise reputed to have founded the Al-Andalusiyyin Mosque
the same year.
Comparatively little is known about Idrisid Fez, owing to the lack of comprehensive historical narratives and that little has survived of the architecture and infrastructure of early Fez. The sources that mention Idrisid Fez, describe a rather rural one, not having the cultural sophistication of the important cities of Al-Andalus
In the 10th century, the city was contested by the Umayyad Caliphate
and the Fatimid Caliphate
(Tunisia), who ruled the city through a host of Zenata
The Fatimids took the city in 927 and expelled the Idrisids definitively, after which their Miknasa
(one of the Zenata tribes) were installed there. The city, along with much of northern Morocco, continued to change hands between the proxies of Córdoba and the proxies of the Fatimids for many decades. Following another successful but ephemeral Fatimid takeover of Morocco in 979 by Buluggin ibn Ziri
, the forces of Al-Mansur
of Cordoba managed to retake the region again, expelling the Fatimids permanently.
From 980 (or from 986
), Fez was ruled by a Zenata dynasty from the Maghrawa tribe, who were allies of the Caliphate of Córdoba. They maintained this control even after the Caliphate's collapse in the early 11th century and until the arrival of the Almoravids.:16:91
Under Zenata control Fez continued to grow even though conflicts between its two settlements, Madinat Fas
, continued to flare up during periods of political rivalry. Ziri ibn Atiyya
, the first ruler of the new dynasty, had a troubled reign.
In 1033, under the leader Tamim, several thousand Jews were killed in the Fez Massacre
However, Ibn Atiyya's descendant Dunas ibn Hamama, ruling between 1037 and 1049, was responsible for many important infrastructural works necessary to accommodate Fez's growing population.
He developed much of Fez's water distribution infrastructure
, which has largely survived up to the present day.
Other structures built in his time included hammams
(bathhouses), mosques, and the first bridges over the Oued Bou Khareb
(mostly rebuilt in later eras).
Thus, the two cities became increasingly integrated into each other: the open space between the two was increasingly filled up by new houses and up to six bridges across the river allowed for easier traffic between the two shores.:36
A decade after Dunas, however, between 1059 and 1061, the two opposing settlements of the city were ruled separately by two rival Zenata emirs
was controlled by an emir named Al-Guissa and Madinat Fas
was controlled by Al-Foutouh. Both brothers fortified their respective shores, and their names have been preserved in two of the city's gates to this day: Bab Guissa
in the north and Bab Ftouh
in the south.
Golden age: under the Almoravids, Almohads, and Marinids
In 1069–1070 (or possibly a few years later
), Fez was conquered by the Almoravids
under Yusuf ibn Tashfin
. In the same year of this conquest, Yusuf ibn Tashfin finally unified Madinat Fas
into one city. The walls dividing them were destroyed, bridges connecting them were built or renovated, and a new circuit of walls
was constructed that encompassed both cities. A kasbah
) was built at the western edge of the city (just west of Bab Bou Jeloud
today) to house the city's governor and garrison.
Under Almoravid patronage the largest expansion and renovation of the Great Mosque of al-Qarawiyyin took place (1135–1143).
Although the capital was moved to Marrakesh under the Almoravids, Fez acquired a reputation for Maliki
legal scholarship and remained an important centre of trade and industry.
Almoravid impact on the city's structure was such that Yusuf ibn Tashfin is sometimes considered to be the second founder of Fez.
Remains of the city walls
on the north side of Fes el-Bali, which were rebuilt during the Almohad
period (12th-13th century)
In 1145 the Almohad
leader Abd al-Mu'min
besieged and conquered the city during the Almohad overthrow of the Almoravids. Due to the ferocious resistance they encountered from the local population, the Almohads demolished the city's fortifications.
However, due to Fez's continuing economic and military importance, the Almohad caliph Ya'qub al-Mansur
ordered the reconstruction of the ramparts.:36:606
Since the city had grown in the meantime, the new Almohad perimeter of walls was larger than that of the former Almoravid ramparts.:607
The walls were completed by his successor Muhammad al-Nasir
giving them their definitive shape and establishing the perimeter of Fes el-Bali to this day.
The Almohads built the Kasbah Bou Jeloud on the site of the former Almoravid kasbah
and also built the first kasbah occupying the site of the current Kasbah an-Nouar
Not all the land within the city walls was densely inhabited; much of it was still relatively open and was occupied by crops and gardens used by the inhabitants.
Under Almohad rule the city grew to become one of the largest in the world between 1170 and 1180, with an estimated 200,000 people living there.
In 1250 Fez regained its capital status under the Marinid dynasty
. In 1276 after a massacre by the population to kill all Jews that was stopped by intervention of the Emir,
they founded Fes Jdid
, which they made their administrative and military centre. Fez reached its golden age in the Marinid period.
It is from the Marinid period that Fez's reputation as an important intellectual centre largely dates.
They established the first madrasas
in Morocco here in the city.
The principal monuments in the medina, the residences and public buildings, date from the Marinid period.
The madrasas are a hallmark of Marinid architecture, with its striking blending of Andalusian and Almohad traditions. Between 1271 and 1357 seven madrasas were built in Fez, which are considered among the best examples of Moroccan architecture and some of the most richly decorated monuments in Fez.
Jews of Fez in the 1900s. The Mellah
was the traditional Jewish quarter of the city since the 15th century.
The Jewish quarter of Fez, the Mellah
, was created in Fes el-Jdid at some point during the Marinid period. The exact date and circumstances of its formation are not firmly established,
but many scholars date the transfer of the Jewish population from Fes el-Bali to the new Mellah to the 15th century, a period of political tension and instability. In particular, Jewish sources describe the transfer as a consequence of the "rediscovery" of Idris II's body in the heart of the city in 1437, which caused the surrounding area – if not the entire city – to acquire a "holy" (haram
) status, requiring that non-Muslims be removed from the area.
The Jewish community
had initially consisted of indigenous local Jews but these were joined by Sephardic
Jews from the Iberian Peninsula (known as the Megorashim
) in subsequent generations, especially after the 1492 expulsion of Jews from Spain
The 1465 Moroccan revolt
in 1465 overthrew the last Marinid sultan. In 1472 the Wattasids
, another Zenata dynasty which had previously served as viziers
under the Marinid sultans, succeeded as rulers of Morocco from Fez.
They faithfully (but for a large part unsuccessfully) continued Marinid policies.
Sharifian rule: under the Saadians and Alaouites
In the 16th century the Saadis
rose to power in southern Morocco and challenged the Wattasids. In the meanwhile, the Ottoman Empire
came close to Fez after the conquest of Algeria
in the 16th century. In January 1549 the Saadi sultan Mohammed ash-Sheikh
took Fez and ousted the last Wattasid sultan Ali Abu Hassun
. They later retook the city
in 1554 with Ottoman support, but this reconquest was short-lived and later that same year the Wattasids were decisively defeated by the Saadis.:157
The Ottomans would try to invade Morocco after the assassination of Mohammed ash-Sheikh in 1558, but were stopped by his son Abdallah al-Ghalib
at the Battle of Wadi al-Laban
north of Fez.:158
Hence, Morocco remained the only North-African state to remain outside Ottoman control.
, a Saadian
fortress built in the 16th century overlooking Fez from the north
The Saadians, who used Marrakesh again as their capital, did not lavish much attention on Fez, with the exception of the ornate ablutions pavilions added to the Qarawiyyin Mosque's courtyard during their time.
Perhaps as a result of persistent tensions with the city's inhabitants, the Saadians built a number of new forts and bastions
around the city which appear to have been aimed at keeping control over the local population. They were mostly located on higher ground overlooking Fes el-Bali, from which they would have been easily able to bombard the city with canons.
These include the Kasbah Tamdert
, just inside the city walls near Bab Ftouh
, and the forts of Borj Nord
) on the hills to the north, Borj Sud
) on the hills to the south, and the Borj Sheikh Ahmed to the west, at a point in Fes el-Jdid's walls that was closest to Fes el-Bali. These were built in the late 16th century, mostly by Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur
Two other bastions, Borj Twil and Borj Sidi Bou Nafa', were also built along Fes el-Jdid's walls south of Borj Sheikh Ahmed.
The Borj Nord, Borj Sud, and these bastions (sometimes referred to as the bastioun
) of Fes el-Jdid are the only fortifications in Fez to demonstrate clear European
(most likely Portuguese
) influence in their design, updated to serve as defenses in the age of gunpowder
. Some of them may have been built with the help of Christian European prisoners of war from the Saadians' victory over Portuguese at the Battle of the Three Kings
After the long and impressive reign of Ahmad al-Mansur, the Saadian state fell into civil war between his sons and potential successors. Fez became a rival seat of power for a number of brothers vying against other family members ruling from Marrakesh and both cities changed hands multiple times until the internecine conflict finally ended in 1627.
Despite the reunification of the realm after 1627, the Saadians were in full decline and Fez had already suffered considerably from the repeated conquests and reconquests during the conflict.
It was only when the founder of the Alaouite dynasty
, Moulay Rashid
, took Fez in 1666 that the city saw a revival and became the capital again, albeit briefly.
Moulay Rashid set about restoring the city after a long period of neglect. He built the Kasbah Cherarda
(also known as the Kasbah al-Khemis) to the north of Fes el-Jdid and of the Royal Palace in order to house a large part of his tribal troops.
He also restored or rebuilt what became known as the Kasbah an-Nouar
, which became the living quarters of his followers from the Tafilalt
region (the Alaouite dynasty's ancestral home). For this reason, the kasbah was also known as the Kasbah Filala ("Kasbah of the people from Tafilalt").
Moulay Rashid also built a large new madrasa, the Cherratine Madrasa
, in 1670.
After his death Fez underwent another dark period. Moulay Isma'il
, his successor, apparently disliked the city – possibly due to a rebellion there in his early reign
– and chose nearby Meknès
as his capital instead. Although he did restore or rebuild some major monuments in the city, such as the Zawiya of Moulay Idris II, he also frequently imposed heavy taxes on the city's inhabitants and sometimes even forcibly transferred parts of its population to repopulate other cities in the country.
After his death things only worsened as Morocco plunged into anarchy and decades of conflict between his sons who vied to succeed him. Fez suffered particularly from repeated conflicts with the Udayas (or Oudayas), a guich
tribe (vassal tribe serving as a garrison and military force) previously installed in the Kasbah Cherarda by Moulay Isma'il. Sultan Moulay Abdallah, who reigned intermittently during this period and used Fez as a capital, was initially welcomed in 1728–29 as an enemy of the Udayas, but relations between him and the city's population quickly soured due to his choice of governor. He immediately built a separate fortified palace in the countryside, Dar Dbibegh
, where he resided instead. For nearly three more decades the city remained in more or less perpetual conflict with both the Udayas and the Alaouite sultans.
Starting with the reign of Moulay Muhammad ibn Abdallah
, between 1757 and 1790, the country stabilized and Fez finally regained its fortunes. Although its status was partly shared with Marrakesh, it remained the capital of Morocco for the rest of the Alaouite period up to the 20th century.
There was a brief period of disorder under Moulay Yazid
(ruled 1790–1792) and Moulay Slimane
(ruled 1792–1822), with the sultans in Fez losing control of most of the rest of Morocco between 1790 and 1795.:241–242
Otherwise, however, the city benefitted from a long era of relative peace. It remained a major economic center of the region even during troubled times.
The Alaouites continued to rebuild or restore various monuments, as well as to expand the grounds of the Royal Palace a number of times.
The sultans and their entourage also became more and more closely associated with the elites of Fez and other urban centers, with the ulama
(religious scholars) of Fez being particularly influential. After Moulay Slimane's death powerful Fassi families became the main players of the country's political and intellectual scene.:242–247
Until the 19th century the city was the only source of fezzes
(also known as the tarboosh
Then manufacturing began in France and Turkey as well. Originally, the dye for the hats came from a berry that was grown outside the city, known as the Turkish kızılcık
or Greek akenia
). Fez was also the end of a north–south gold trading route from Timbuktu
. Fez was a prime manufacturing location for embroidery and leather goods such as the Adarga
Sufi order, started by Ahmad al-Tijani
(d. 1815), had its spiritual center in Fez after al-Tijani moved here from Algeria in 1789.:244
The order spread quickly among the literary elite of North West Africa and its ulama
had significant religious, intellectual, and political influence in Fez and beyond.
The last major change to Fez's topography before the 20th century was made during the reign of Moulay Hasan I
(1873-1894), who finally connected Fes el-Jdid and Fes el-Bali by building a walled corridor between them.
Within this new corridor, between the two cities, were built new gardens and summer palaces used by the royals and the capital's high society, such as the Jnan Sbil Gardens
and the Dar Batha
Moulay Hassan also expanded the old Royal Palace itself, extending its entrance up to the current location of the Old Mechouar while adding the New Mechouar, along with the Dar al-Makina
, to the north. This had the consequence of also splitting the Moulay Abdallah neighbourhood to the northwest from the rest of Fes el-Jdid.
Colonial rule, independence, and present day
In 1912 French colonial rule
was instituted over Morocco following the Treaty of Fes
. One immediate consequence was the 1912 riots
in Fez, a popular uprising which included deadly attacks targeting Europeans as well as native Jewish inhabitants in the Mellah, followed by an even deadlier repression.
Fez and its Dar al-Makhzen ceased to be the center of power in Morocco as the capital was moved to Rabat
, which remained the capital even after independence in 1956.
A number of social and physical changes took place at this period and across the 20th century. Starting under French resident general Hubert Lyautey
, one important policy with long-term consequences was the decision to largely forego redevelopment of existing historic walled cities in Morocco and to intentionally preserve them as sites of historic heritage, still known today as "medinas
". Instead, the French administration built new modern cities (the Villes Nouvelles
) just outside the old cities, where European settlers largely resided with modern Western-style amenities. This was part of a larger "policy of association" adopted by Lyautey which favoured various forms of indirect colonial rule by preserving local institutions and elites, in contrast with other French colonial policies that had favoured "assimilation".
The existence today of a Ville Nouvelle
("New City") alongside a historic medina
in Fez was thus a consequence of this early colonial decision-making. The Ville Nouvelle
also became known as Dar Dbibegh
by Moroccans, as the former palace of Moulay Abdallah was located in the same area.
A street in the modern Ville Nouvelle ("New City") of Fez
The creation of the separate French Ville Nouvelle
to the west had a wider impact on the entire city's development.
While new colonial policies preserved historic monuments, it also had other consequences in the long-term by stalling urban development in these heritage areas.
Scholar Janet Abu-Lughod has argued that these policies created in Morocco a kind of urban "apartheid" between the indigenous Moroccan urban areas – which were forced to remain stagnant in terms of urban development and architectural innovation – and the new planned cities which were mainly inhabited by Europeans and which expanded to occupy lands formerly used by Moroccans outside the city.
This separation was partly softened, however, by wealthy Moroccans who started moving into the Ville Nouvelles
during this period.
By contrast, the old city (medina) of Fez was increasingly settled by poorer rural migrants from the countryside.:26
Fez also played a role in the Moroccan nationalist movement and in protests against the French colonial regime. Many Moroccan nationalists received their education at the Al-Qarawiyyin University and some of their informal political networks were established thanks to this shared educational background.:140, 146
In July 1930, the Al-Qarawiyyin's students and other inhabitants participated in protests against the Berber Dahir
decreed by the French authorities in May of that year.:143–144
In 1937 the Al-Qarawiyyin mosque and R'cif Mosque
were some of the rallying points for demonstrations in response to a violent crackdown on Moroccan protesters in the nearby city of Meknes
, which ended with French troops being deployed across Fes el-Bali and at the mosques themselves.:387–389:168
Towards the end of World War II
, Moroccan nationalists gathered in Fez to draft a demand for independence which they submitted to the Allies
on January 11, 1944. This resulted in the arrest of nationalist leaders followed by the violent suppression of protests across many cities, including Fez.:255
After Morocco regained its independence in 1956 many of the trends begun under colonial rule continued and accelerated during the second half of the 20th century.
Much of Fez's bourgeois
classes moved to the growing metropolises of Casablanca
and the capital, Rabat.
The Jewish population was particularly depleted, either moving to Casablanca
or emigrating to countries like France, Canada
, and Israel
. Although the population of the city grew, it did so only slowly up until the late 1960s, when the pace of growth finally accelerated.:216
Throughout this period (and up to today) Fez nonetheless remained the country's third largest urban center.:26:216
Between 1971 and 2000, the population of the city roughly tripled from 325,000 to 940,000.:376
The Ville Nouvelle
became the locus of further development, with new peripheral neighbourhoods – with inconsistent housing quality – spreading outwards around it.
In 1963 the University of Al-Qarawiyyin was reorganized as a state university
while a new public university, Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah University
, was founded in 1975 in the Ville Nouvelle
In 1981, the old city, consisting of Fes el-Bali and Fes Jdid, was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
During this period, however, Moroccans were also subject to serious social inequalities and economic precarity, particularly under the repressive reign of King Hassan II
(known as the Years of Lead
). Austerity measures led to several riots and uprisings across other cities during the 1980s. In 1990 the population of Fez broke into protest and rioting in turn, led by university students and youths. The events began with a strike called to demand an increase to minimum wage and other measures. The death of one of the students further inflamed protests, resulting in buildings being burned and looted, particularly symbols of wealth such as the Hôtel des Mérinides
, a luxury hotel overlooking Fes el-Bali and dating to the time of Lyautey. While the official death toll was 5 people, the New York Times
reported a toll of 33 people and quoted an anonymous source claiming the real death toll was likely higher. The government denied reports that the deaths were due to the intervention of security forces and armored vehicles.:377
Today Fez remains a regional capital and one of Morocco's most important cities. Many of the former notable families of Fez still make up a large part of the country's political elite.
It is also a major tourism destination due to its historical heritage. In recent years efforts have been underway to restore and rehabilitate the old medina, ranging from the restoration of individual monuments to attempts to rehabilitate the Fez River
The city is divided between its historic medina
(the two walled districts of Fes el-Bali
and Fes el-Jdid
) and the now much large Ville Nouvelle
(New City) along with several outlying modern neighbourhoods. The old city is located in a valley along the banks of the Oued Fes
(Fez River) just above its confluence with the larger Sebou River
to the northeast.
The Fez River takes its sources from the south and west and is split into various small canals which provide the historic city with water. These in turn empty into the Oued Bou Khareb, the stretch of the river which passes through the middle of Fes el-Bali and separates the Qarawiyyin quarter from the Andalusian quarter.
The new city occupies a plateau on the edge of the Saïs plain
. The latter stretches out to the west and south and is occupied largely by farmland. Roughly 15 km south of Fes el-Bali is the region's main airport, Fes-Saïs
. Further south is the town of Sefrou
, while the city of Meknes
, the next largest city in the region, is located to the southwest.
Located by the Atlas Mountains, Fez has a hot-summer Mediterranean climate
(Köppen climate classification Csa
) with a strong continental influence, shifting from relatively cool and wet in the winter to dry and hot days in the summer months between June and September. Rainfall can reach up to 800 mm (31 in) in good years. The winter highs typically reach around 15 °C (59 °F) in December–January. Frost is not uncommon during the winter period. The highest and lowest temperatures ever recorded in the city are 46.7 °C (116 °F) and −8.2 °C (17 °F), respectively.(see weather-table below
). Snowfall on average occurs once every 3 to 5 years. Fez recorded snowfall in three straight years in 2005, 2006 and 2007.
The prefecture is divided administratively into the following:
According to the 2014 national census
, the population of Fez was 1,150,131, including suburbs and satellite villages such as Sidi Harazem. Most of this population was Moroccan, but it also included 3521 resident foreigners. The majority of the population lives in the Ville Nouvelle
region and other modern-day neighbourhoods outside the historic walled city.
Historically, the city was one of Morocco's main centers of trade and craftsmanship. The tanning
industry, for example, still embodied by tanneries
of Fes el-Bali today, was a major source of exports
and economic sustenance since the city's early history.
Up until the late 19th century, the city was the only place in the world which fabricated the fez hat
The city's commerce was concentrated along its major streets, like Tala'a Kebira
, and around the central bazaar
known as the Kissariat al-Kifah
from which many other souq
s (markets) branched off.
The crafts industry continues to this day and is still focused in the old city.
Medina of Fez
The historic city of Fez consists of Fes el-Bali
, the original city founded by the Idrisid dynasty
on both shores of the Oued Fes
(River of Fez) in the late 8th and early 9th centuries, and the smaller Fez el-Jdid
, founded on higher ground to the west in the 13th century. It is distinct from Fez's now much larger Ville Nouvelle (new city) originally founded by the French
. Fes el-Bali is the site of the famous Qarawiyyin University
and the Mausoleum of Moulay Idris II
, the most important religious and cultural sites, while Fez el-Jdid is the site of the enormous Royal Palace
, still used by the King of Morocco
today. These two historic cities are linked together and are usually referred to together as the "medina
" of Fez, though this term is sometimes applied more restrictively to Fes el-Bali only.[a]
Fez is becoming an increasingly popular tourist destination and many non-Moroccans are now restoring traditional houses (riads
and dars) as second homes in the medina. Fez is also considered the cultural and spiritual capital of Morocco.
In 1981, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO
) proclaimed Medina of Fez
a World Cultural Heritage site
, as "[they] include a considerable number of religious, civil and military monuments that brought about a multi-cultural society. This architecture is characterised by construction techniques and decoration developed over a period of more than ten centuries, and where local knowledge and skills are interwoven with diverse outside inspiration (Andalusian
, Middle Eastern
and African). The Medina of Fez is considered as one of the most extensive and best conserved historic towns of the Arab-Muslim world."
Panoramic view of the Old Medina
Places of worship
Inside Saint Francis catholic church in Fes.
There are numerous historic mosques
in the medina, some of which are part of a madrasa
. Among the oldest mosques still standing today are the highly prestigious Mosque of al-Qarawiyyin
, founded in 857 (and subsequently expanded),
the Mosque of the Andalusians
founded in 859–860,
the Bou Jeloud Mosque
from the late 12th century,
and possibly the Mosque of the Kasbah en-Nouar
(which may have existed in the Almohad
period but was likely rebuilt much later
). The very oldest mosques of the city, dating back to its first years, were the Mosque of the Sharifs (or Shurafa Mosque) and the Mosque of the Sheikhs (or al-Anouar Mosque
); however, they no longer exist in their original form. The Mosque of the Sharifs was the burial site of Idris II
and evolved into the Zawiya of Moulay Idris II
that exists today, while the al-Anouar Mosque has left only minor remnants.
A number of mosques from the important Marinid
era, when Fes el-Jdid
was created to be the capital of Morocco, include the Great Mosque of Fez el-Jdid
from 1276, the Abu al-Hassan Mosque
the Chrabliyine Mosque
the al-Hamra Mosque
from around the same period (exact date unconfirmed),
and the Bab Guissa Mosque
, also from the reign of Abu al-Hasan
(1331-1351) but modified in later centuries.
Other major mosques from the more recent Alaouite period are the Moulay Abdallah Mosque
, built in the early to mid-18th century with the tomb of Sultan Moulay Abdallah
and the R'cif Mosque
, built in the reign of Moulay Slimane
The Zawiya of Moulay Idriss II (previously mentioned) and the Zawiya of Sidi Ahmed al-Tijani
include mosque areas as well, as do several other prominent zawiyas in the city.
The Ville Nouvelle
(New City) also includes many modern mosques.
The city has traditionally retained the influential position as a religious capital in the region, exemplified by the Madrasa (or University) of al-Qarawiyyin
which was established in 859 by Fatima al-Fihri
originally as a mosque. The madrasa
is the oldest existing and continually operating degree-awarding educational institution in the world according to UNESCO
and Guinness World Records
The Marinid dynasty (13th-15th century) devoted great attention to the construction of madrasas following the Maliki orthodoxy
, resulting in the unprecedented prosperity of the city's religious institutions. The first madrasa built during the Marinid era was the Saffarin Madrasa
in Fes el-Bali by Sultan Abu Yusuf in 1271.:312
Sultan Abu al-Hassan
was the most prolific patron of madrasa construction, completing the Al-Attarine
and Sahrij Madrasa
in Fez alone, and several other madrasas as well in other cities such as Salé
. His son Abu Inan Faris
built the famed Bou Inania Madrasa
, and by the time of his death, every major city in the Marinid Empire had at least one madrasa.
The library of the Madrasa of al-Qarawiyyin was also established under Marinid rule around 1350, which stores a large selection of valuable manuscripts dating back to the medieval era.
The largest madrasa in the medina is Cherratine Madrasa
commissioned by the Alaouite sultan Al-Rashid
in 1670, which is the only major non-Marinid foundation besides the Madrasa of al-Qarawiyyin.
City walls and gates
City walls of Fez (northern section).
The entire medina of Fez was heavily fortified with crenelated walls with watchtowers and gates, a pattern of urban planning which can be seen in Salé and Chellah
City walls were placed into the current positions during the 11th century, under the Almoravid rule. During this period, the two formerly divided cities known as Madinat Fas
were united under a single enclosure. The Almoravid fortifications were later destroyed and then rebuilt by the Almohad dynasty in the 12th century, under Caliph Muhammad al-Nasir
The oldest sections of the walls today thus date back to this time.
These fortifications were restored and maintained by the Marinid dynasty from the 12th to 16th centuries, along with the founding of the royal citadel-city of Fes el-Jdid.
Construction of the new city's gates and towers sometimes employed the labour of Christian prisoners of war.
The gates of Fez
, scattered along the circuit of walls, were guarded by the military detachments and shut at night.
Some of the main gates have existed, in different forms, since the earliest years of the city.
The oldest gates today, and historically the most important ones of the city, are Bab Mahrouk
(in the west), Bab Guissa
(in the northeast), and Bab Ftouh
(in the southeast).
After the foundation of Fes Jdid by the Marinids in the 13th century, new walls and three new gates such as Bab Dekkakin
, Bab Semmarine
, and Bab al-Amer
were established along its perimeter.
Later, in modern times, the gates became more ceremonial rather than defensive structures, as reflected by the 1913 construction of the decorative Bab Bou Jeloud
gate at the western entrance of Fes el-Bali by the French colonial administration
Bab Chorfa, the entrance gate to Kasbah An-Nouar
. Open-air markets are held in front of the gate.
Forts and kasbahs
Along with the city walls and gates, several forts were constructed along the defensive perimeters of the medina during the different time periods. The military watchtowers built in its early days during the Idrisid
era were relatively small. However, the city rapidly developed as the military garrison center of the region during the Almoravid era, in which the military operations were commanded and carried out to other North African regions and Southern Europe to the north, and Senegal river to the south. Subsequently, it led to the construction of numerous forts, kasbahs
, and towers for both garrison and defense. A "kasbah" in the context of Maghrebi
region is the traditional military structure for fortification, military preparation, command and control. Some of them were occupied as well by citizens, certain tribal groups, and merchants. Throughout the history, 13 kasbahs were constructed surrounding the old city.
Among the most prominent among them is the Kasbah An-Nouar
, located at the western or north-western tip of Fes el-Bali, which dates back to the Almohad era but was restored and repurposed under the Alaouites.
Today, it is an example of a kasbah serving as a residential district much like the rest of the medina, with its own neighborhood mosque. The Kasbah Bou Jeloud, which no longer exists as a kasbah today, was once the governor's residence and stood near Bab Bou Jeloud, south of the Kasbah an-Nouar.
It too had its own mosque, known as the Bou Jeloud Mosque
. Other kasbahs include the Kasbah Tamdert
, built by the Saadis
near Bab Ftouh, and the Kasbah Cherarda
, built by the Alaouite
sultan Moulay al-Rashid
just north of Fes Jdid. Kasbah Dar Debibagh
is one of the newest kasbahs, built in 1729 during the Alaouite era at 2 km from the city wall in a strategic position.
The Saadis also built a number of strong bastions in the late 16th century to assert their control over Fez, including notably the Borj Nord
which is among the largest strictly military structures in the city and now refurbished as a military museum.
Its sister fort, Borj Sud
, is located on the hills to the south of the city.
Since the inception of the city, tanning
industry has been continually operating in the same fashion as it did in the early centuries. Today, the tanning industry in the city is considered one of the main tourist attractions. There are three tanneries in the city, largest among them is Chouara Tannery
near the Saffarin Madrasa along the river. The tanneries are packed with the round stone wells filled with dye or white liquids for softening the hides. The leather goods produced in the tanneries are exported around the world.
The two other major tanneries are the Sidi Moussa Tannery
to the west of the Zawiya of Moulay Idris II and the Ain Azliten Tannery
in the neighbourhood of the same name on the northern edge of Fes el-Bali.:220
Tombs and mausoleums
The old city also has several major historic cemeteries which existed outside the main city gates, namely the cemeteries of Bab Ftouh
(the most significant), Bab Mahrouk
, and Bab Guissa
. Some of these cemeteries include marabouts
or domed structures containing the tombs of local Muslim saints
(often considered Sufis
). One of the most important ones is the Marabout of Sidi Harazem
in the Bab Ftouh Cemetery.
To the north, near the Bab Guissa Cemetery, there are also the Marinid Tombs
built during the 14th century as a necropolis for the Marinid sultans
, ruined today but still a well-known landmark of the city.
The Jnane Sbile Garden
was created as a royal park and garden in the 19th century by SultanMoulay Hassan I
(ruled 1873-1894) between Fes el-Jdid and Fes el-Bali.:296:100
Today it is the oldest garden of Fes.
Many bourgeois and aristocratic mansions were also accompanied by private gardens, especially in the southwestern part of Fes el-Bali, an area once known as al-'Uyun.
Other gardens also exist within the grounds of the historic royal palaces of the city, such as the Agdal and Lalla Mina Gardens in the Dar al-Makhzen or the gardens of the Dar al-Beida (originally attached to Dar Batha
Funduqs/foundouks (historic merchant buildings)
The old city of Fez includes more than a hundred funduq
s or foundouk
s (traditional inns, or urban caravanserais
). These were commercial structures which provided lodging for merchants and travelers or housed the workshops of artisans.:318
They also frequently served as venues for other commercial activities such as markets and auctions.
One of the most famous is the Funduq al-Najjariyyin
, which was built in the 18th century by Amin Adiyil to provide accommodation and storage for merchants and which now houses the Nejjarine Museum of Wooden Arts & Crafts.
Other major important examples include the Funduq Shamma'in
(also spelled Foundouk Chemmaïne
) and the Funduq Staouniyyin
(or Funduq of the Tetouanis
), both dating from the Marinid
era or earlier, and the Funduq Sagha
which is contemporary with the Funduq al-Najjariyyin.
Fez is also notable for having preserved a great many of its historic hammams
(public bathhouses in the Muslim world), thanks in part to their continued usage by locals up to the present day.
Notable examples, all dating from around the 14th century, include the Hammam as-Saffarin
, the Hammam al-Mokhfiya
, and the Hammam Ben Abbad
They were generally built next to a well or natural spring which provided water, while the sloping topography of the city allowed for easy drainage.
The layout of the traditional hammam in the region was inherited from the Roman bathhouse
model. The first major room visitors entered was the undressing room (mashlah
in the local Moroccan Arabic
dialect), equivalent to the Roman apodyterium
. From the undressing room visitors proceeded to the bathing/washing area which consisted of three rooms: the cold room (el-barrani
in the local Arabic dialect; equivalent to the frigidarium
), the middle room or warm room (el-wasti
in Arabic; equivalent to the tepidarium
), and the hot room (ad-dakhli
in Arabic; equivalent to the caldarium
Though their architecture can be very functional, some of them, like the Hammam as-Saffarin and the Hammam al-Mokhfiya, have notable decoration. Although they are architecturally not very prominent from the exterior, they are recognizable from the rooftops by their pierced domes and vaults which usually covered the main chambers.
The warm and hot rooms were heated using a traditional hypocaust
system just as Roman bathhouses did, with furnaces usually located behind the hot room. Fuel was provided by wood but also by recycling the waste by-products of other industries in the city such as wood shavings from carpenters
' workshops and olive
pits from the nearby olive presses
. This traditional system continued to be used even up to the 21st century.
Historic palaces and residences
Many old private residences have also survived to this day, in various states of conservation. One type of house known, centered around an internal courtyard, is known as a riad
Such private houses include the Dar al-Alami,
the Dar Saada (now a restaurant), Dar 'Adiyil
, Dar Belghazi, and others.
Larger and richer mansions, such as the Dar Mnebhi
, Dar Moqri
, and Palais Jamaï
(Jamai Palace), have also been preserved.
Numerous palaces and riads are now utilized as hotels for the tourism industry. The Palais Jamai, for example, was converted into a luxury hotel in the early 20th century.
The lavish former mansion of the Glaoui
clan, known as the Dar Glaoui
, is partly open to visitors but still privately owned.
As a former capital, the city contains several royal palaces as well. Dar Batha
is a former palace completed by the Alaouite Sultan Moulay Abdelaziz
(ruled 1894-1908) and turned into a museum in 1915 with around 6,000 pieces.
A large area of Fes el-Jdid is also taken up by the 80-hectare Royal Palace, or Dar al-Makhzen
, whose new ornate gates (built in 1969-71) are renowned but whose grounds are not open to the public as they are still used by the King of Morocco when visiting the city.
The University of al-Qarawiyyin
is considered by some to be the oldest continually-operating university in the world.
The university was first founded as a mosque by Fatima al-Fihri
in 859 which subsequently became one of the leading spiritual and educational centers of the historic Muslim world
It became a state university in 1963, and remains an important institution of learning today.
The city's first private university, the Private University of Fez
, was created in 2013 out of the École polytechnique de Technologie
founded 5 years earlier.
Its main focus is its engineering school,
though it also offers diplomas in architecture, business, and law.
Gare de Fes
, train station in the modern urban area of Fez
The city is served by the region's main international airport, Fès–Saïs
, located roughly 15 km south of the city center.
A new terminal was added to the airport in 2017 which expanded the airport's capacity to 2.5 million visitors a year.
The city's main train station
, operated by ONCF
, is located s short distance from the downtown area of the Ville Nouvelle
and is connected to the rail lines running east to Oujda
and west to Tangier
The main intercity bus terminal (or gare routière
) is located just north of Bab Mahrouk
, on the outskirts of the old medina, although CTM
also operates a terminal off Boulevard Mohammed V in the Ville Nouvelle. Intercity taxis
(also known as grands taxis
) depart from and arrive at several spots including the Bab Mahrouk bus station (for western destinations like Meknes and Rabat
), Bab Ftouh
(for eastern destinations like Sidi Harazem
), and another lot in the Ville Nouvelle (for southern destinations like Sefrou).
- Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso (1982)
- Chengdu, China (2015)
- Coimbra, Portugal
- Córdoba, Spain (1990)
- East Jerusalem, Palestine (1982)
- Florence, Italy (1961)
- Jericho, Palestine (2014)
- Kairouan, Tunisia (1965)
- Kraków, Poland (1985)
- Montpellier, France (2003)
- Saint-Louis, Senegal (1979)
- Suwon, South Korea (2003)
- Wuxi, China (2011)
- Xi'an, China (2019)
is the Arabic word for "city", which in former French colonies in North Africa is also used to refer to the old part of a city, as the French largely generally built new cities (Ville Nouvelles
) next to them and left the historic cities intact.
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