One of the best preserved historic cities in the Arab-Muslim world, Fes is home to an incredible Medina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A millennium ago this was among the largest cities in the world with 200,000 people. Now Fes is home to 1.5 million people, making it Morocco’s second largest city after Casablanca.

To start though with the more recent 14th century Royal Palace of Fes, closed to the public but from outside the series of gates are quite stunning.

The street past it borders the Muslim quarter on the left and Jewish quarter on right. There are very few Jews left in Morocco now, most left for Israel after WW2 and majority of those who stayed moved to Casablanca.

The impressive Semmarin Medina Gate is one of the main entrances to the Muslim quarter.

The Medina of Fez or Fes el Bali date from the 9th century onwards, and is now home to a quarter of a million people within it’s 15km of city walls and 9,000 streets.

It is one of the largest pedestrianised areas in the world, though you need to watch out for mules and men carrying large loads.

Though some of the streets are painted blue and white to help give a sense of space and light, it can be pretty dark in the narrow streets.

Particularly in the markets the sky is obscured / filtered by these wooden shades, but some streets have welcome views of blue sky overhead.

The Karaouiyine Library in Place Sffarine was established in the 9th century, and was once home to the greatest collection of Islamic texts outside of Baghdad.

There are so many beautiful doorways, arches and fountains throughout the Medina.

One of the best known sights in the Medina are the three tanneries, which have operated in basically the same way for a thousand years. We visited the largest, Chouwara Tannery, or more accurately visited one of the neighbouring leather goods shop. It had multiple viewing levels and a seemingly endless series of rooms filled with shoes, jackets and bags. Below men worked leather in different coloured pits, quite a smelly activity.

A highlight of the Medina was the spectacular Al Attarine Madrasa, a former school which had an exquisite interior courtyard.

This was surrounded by a series of tiny rooms upstairs with either tiny or no windows.

From some of the tiny windows were views of the green roofs of the neighbouring University of al-Qarawiyyin, which opened in 859. According to UNESCO it is the oldest existing, continually operating higher educational institution in the world.

We had lunch nearby in a very fine former three story house.

There are many different types of markets in the Medina, selling pretty much everything.

Many shops are happy to provide a demonstration of their craft followed by an opportunity to buy something. Thankfully they were a lot less pushy than I’d feared, probably helped by being with a guide and group, and the shops had some beautiful items, such as these metal works.

This textile store was a riot of colour.

As a non-Muslim I couldn’t enter any of the mosques (though some of the courtyards are accessible) but could see into some of them to a degree.

Some of the Mosque entrances were quite stunning.

Outside the Medina the Poterie de Fes had beautiful handmade ceramics, from egg cups to mosaic fountains costing upward of USD5,000.

To finish with views of the Medina from the Borj Sud former military fortress, giving a sense of scale and explaining why it is very easy to get lost!

Author: jontycrane

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