Fez is one of the most emblematic cities of Morocco and one of the most charming. Not for nothing do many tourists visit it every year. During my 10-day stay in Morocco, if there was one city I really wanted to visit, it was this one. I had long seen pictures of the colorful pools of traditional tanneries in the heart of the medina.
The medina of Fez is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Everyone who enters it is immersed in history. As I go along, you will notice that the atmosphere in these narrow streets is something special. Visiting Fez in Morocco is an unforgettable experience in itself. I will take you into the heart of the old city, the medina of Fez, for a very authentic experience.
Unlike many other blog posts where I give suggestions of things to do and see, in this article I want to take you on a more literary tour of Fez. I will take you inside this imperial city, which has been the capital of the country several times. Throughout the story you will find a variety of information about what to do in Fez and what to see during your stay.
Getting to know the medina of Fez in Morocco
When we arrived in Fez late at night, we had to cross the medina in complete darkness. A young man from Dar Mfaddel (Dar is a traditional Moroccan guesthouse), where we were staying for the next few days, came to wait for us at one of the main gates of the medina. Fortunately, finding our way through the labyrinthine medina of Fez after dark would have been impossible. As soon as you pass through the gate, you feel stunned by the narrow alleys that seem to have been laid out at random. You cannot imagine how labyrinthine the medina seems until you enter it.
Sleeping in the heart of the medina of Fez
After chatting with a man over hot, sweet mint tea upon arrival, we headed to our beautiful top-floor room, which had no windows to the street and was tastefully decorated in Moroccan style. The next morning it rained heavily in the city of Fez. The humidity and cold were unbearable. Fortunately, Morocco always has delicious mint tea to warm our hearts and bodies. During this trip, I was able to learn what a typical Moroccan breakfast consists of: bread, something like little Moroccan pancakes, which I liked very much, jams, olives, and of course the delicious and juicy mint tea. Very often we could accompany the Moroccan “pancakes” with La vache qui rit cheese! After fortifying ourselves, it wasn’t until after lunch that we were able to leave the doorstep of the house to visit Fez.
Visit the city of Fez and get lost in the maze of its streets.
The medina of Fez, which is actually the old part of the city, is the largest in the world. Once we left our apartment, it was impossible to find our way even in daylight. The narrow streets, which had been completely empty late the previous evening, were now full of life. The further we went, the more we told ourselves that it would be impossible to find lodging by the end of the day. The alleys diverged in every direction. Even maps.me couldn’t point us in the right direction. Although I had written down a few places I wanted to see beforehand, we decided not to try to find our way and just walk around, feeling the energy of the place and making our own discoveries along the way.
The medina in Fez, Morocco, is a somewhat stuffy place. It’s dirty, the walls of the buildings are tall and built close together. But there is an extraordinary atmosphere here. There are no cars here. Donkeys and horses carry objects and food.
In the medina of Fez, trade rules the day.
Some of the shopping streets offer an impressive number of all kinds of goods. Lamps, spices, souvenirs, clothes, in short, a little bit of everything. It is a paradise for those who want to take beautiful souvenirs with them.
Most Moroccans have a sense of commerce and are particularly good at it. Always remember to haggle when shopping. It is part of the culture. There are people who know how to treat tourists with a blank stare and curiosity, ready to absorb all the sensory impressions of this new thing that comes our way. It was very difficult to walk alone, without a young man willing to accompany us around the medina in exchange for a few dirhams or just to stop and look at the many objects and stalls that caught our attention, because after that it was very difficult, if not impossible, to leave empty-handed. Sometimes too assertive or too manipulative for my taste. After the first day, which tested our patience, it was finally suggested that we say the famous “Tomorrow, Inch’Allah,” which means “Maybe tomorrow, God willing.” This worked well for the rest of the trip, and we gradually learned to avoid situations that made us feel uncomfortable.
A visit to Fez and its emblematic traditional tannery Chouara
The first hours spent in the medina of Fez led us to the famous Chouara tannery, the most important traditional tannery in Fez, which is 1200 years old. From the terrace of the leather store adjacent to the tannery, we could admire this strange and colorful scene. I had seen this very image many times when I was looking at pictures of Fez in Morocco.
The hides of lambs, bulls, goats and camels are hand-dipped one by one into several pools (1,200 in all) to clean, soften and dye them before they are made into bags, babushi (shoes) and coats. They are first soaked in basins of lime and pigeon droppings for several days, then dehydrated, and finally dyed in basins of different colors. Since the smell can be very strong, we were offered a mint leaf to keep under our nose if necessary.
Understandably, the men who work there do not have the easiest jobs in the world. In all, there are four traditional tanneries in Fez. The Chouara tannery is the largest of them all, with four hectares and hundreds of workers. Almost everyone who visits Fez in Morocco stops at the tannery.
The oldest university in the world, which is still active, is in Fez, Morocco.
In the heart of the medina of Fez is the Al-Qarawyin Mosque (Al-Quarouyin Mosque), which houses the world’s oldest functioning university (ninth century) and the oldest library. It is huge and very beautiful with its white walls, green roof and Islamic-style architectural details. But most of what we could see was through the entrance gate. This mosque is closed to non-Muslims.
A metallurgy in Seffarin Square in the heart of the medina of Fez.
Among the small squares in the medina of Fez, I particularly like Seffarin Square, where you can find metal artisans in small open workshops. We stopped there for a few minutes to watch one man work. It is important to know that the artisans in the medina are grouped into sectors. There are many stores selling metal products around the place.
Visiting Fez in Morocco and its markets
On the second day, as we explored the medina of Fez, we were beginning to feel a little more comfortable. The tour of Fez and its medina was more enjoyable than the previous day, when we had a bad experience with the merchants. This is a big problem with the medina of Fez. Because we have become a mecca for tourists, some people view us as travelers’ wallets and use all sorts of tricks to extort money from us.
But after a few hours, we quickly figured out how it worked and felt much calmer. We were a little wary, but when we calmed down a bit, we met a charming butcher at the market who took us to his family home, where he lives with his mother, after work. He explained to us how to make orange blossom water.
We spent more time exploring the various markets, the food markets, and the craft or convenience markets in the streets of the medina of Fez, where stores lined the streets. In addition to the markets and stores on both sides of the shopping streets, there are small street stores everywhere in the medina. We visited the food market. I recommend it to those who are put off by work.
But some stalls are worth a look, like this exhibition of dates and spices. Morocco is a spice heaven. We realized why Moroccan food is so good and delicious, because all around are spices! I bought the famous spice blend 45, a Moroccan blend used in many dishes. I bought some to make a tagine at home. I also left some black soap and a glove so I could do a peeling at home, as is done in traditional hammams. By the way, I regret not having tried a hammam while in Fez.
The feeling of going back to the Middle Ages when visiting the medina of Fez.
I never tire of repeating, but the atmosphere of the medina of Fez in Morocco is really something special. Time seems to have stopped for centuries. People work in medieval settings, as we saw in Seffarin Square and the tannery. What impressed me most was the former caravanserai (a place where merchant caravans stopped and people found shelter), which has been transformed into a place where animal skin and wool are used to make carpets. To the dismay of those who work there, the place is dirty and unhealthy.
A break to visit a madrassa
We also visited a madrasa, the Medersa Bu Inania, which dates back to the 14th century. It served as both a school and a mosque. Access is limited to the central courtyard and a small adjoining corridor. Despite the small number of rooms open to the public, it is a pleasant place to admire Moroccan architecture and escape the busy streets of the medina for a while.
I really like the architectural style, and I think the color scheme of this mederza is beautiful. Since this was my first time in North Africa, everything I saw while walking the streets of Fez, including the beautiful Islamic architecture, was new to my eyes.
We admired the vastness of the medina of Fez in Morocco and ended our visit on a culinary note.
Then we went up to the terrace to see the medina of Fez from above. With its many minarets rising into the sky and its dense buildings, the sight was truly spectacular.
It is understandable why it is easy to get lost going through one of the gates – such as the beautiful blue Bujlud Gate, the main gate of the medina, or Bab Rsif, which overlooks a large square – and get in.
We ended our sightseeing days in Fez with good food at small traditional restaurants we happened to find during our walks. Moroccan food is delicious. I may have overdone the vegetable olive couscous on this trip – just look how delicious it is in the picture!
A little research outside the old city of Fez
The most fashionable part of Fez is, of course, outside the walls of the medina. I won’t go into detail, but there are some beautiful and interesting places to see outside the medina if you want to visit Fez in Morocco. We set aside a couple of hours to visit the Jewish quarter, the parks, the fortifications, and the royal palace. It is forbidden to enter, but you can admire the beautiful bronze and ceramic doors from the large esplanade.
On the way to the Jewish Quarter, we found a beautiful green area. There was even a mating of peacocks. It’s worth a visit to the Jewish Quarter. You will notice that the architecture is completely different from Medina. There is also a Jewish cemetery with white burial monuments and an old synagogue from centuries past. These last visits ended my unforgettable stay in Fez, Morocco, and I continued my journey to Meknes, Moulay Idriss, Volubilis and Merzouga in the desert.