Fes, the second largest city in Morocco, is also known as the cultural capital of the country. From the worlds oldest university, over 9000 streets of markets to explore and a tonne of natural scenery it’s worth a quick stopover on your adventures through Morocco. Here are six things to see and do during your visit in Fes.
Fes El Bali Medina
Beyond the blue gate of Bab Boujloud (the main entrance built in 1913) lies the old Medina of Fes. This walled medina is the oldest area in Fes and was once the capital of the Idrinid dynasty when it was founded in 789AD. Today it is known as one of the worlds largest pedestrian zones with over 9500 streets and alleys to get wonderfully lost in. The medina is so big, many people pay for a guide to navigate them through the maze of souks (around $25 for half a day) but if you have a phone with google maps (no service necessary) and a good sense of direction you can definitely explore the medina independently.
Karaouine Mosque (Mosque of Al-Quaraouiyine)
The Karaouine Mosque was founded in 859AD by Fatima Al-Fihri, the daughter of a wealthy merchant from Tunisia. It is the oldest existing, continually operating educational institution in the world according to UNESCO and is often referred to as the worlds oldest university. The mosque and school became one of the leading spiritual and education centers of the historic muslim world and can hold up to 22,000 worshippers. Whilst non-muslims cannot enter it is worth visiting from the outside where you can peek a glance into the interior within.
Let your nose follow the smells of rotting flesh (literally) to the tanners quarters of Fes where barefoot workers tread skins in dyeing pits. You will probably get asked a lot, during your exploration of the medina, if you are looking for the tanneries. I recommend not taking directions (you will either have to pay for the ‘help’ or get told to go in the wrong direction) but you shouldnt have a problem finding it if you follow the smells and signs. Many shops have viewing decks out the back where you can watch the process from, and whilst it is free to look you may get guilt tripped into buying something upon exiting (a smile and ‘I’ll think about it’ as you walk out should do the trick).
The coloured dyes used vary depending on the day but yellow, red and brown are most common. First the hide (skin) is dunked in vats filled with a mixture of cow urine before soaking in a vat of pigeon poo (to soften the hide). The smell is truly awful and seeing how leather is made with my own eyes was a bit of an eye opener (I actually was pretty keen to buy a leather stool before visiting the tanneries) but it is worth a visit.
Madrasa Bou Inania
The Islamic school founded in the 14th century is one of the few religious buildings non-muslims can enter in Morocco. It is beautifully decorated with intricate carvings, colourful tiles and stunning architecture. It costs 20 Dirham entrance and can be found right next to the Karaouine Mosque in the medina.
Be sure to experience an authentic Hammam in the public bathhouse of Fes. Read all about my hammam experience here.
Eat, eat and eat some more!
I had two fantastic restaurant experiences in Fes, both of which I can highly recommend.
The first is Chez Rachid, located a few metres into the medina once you enter at the blue gate. Rated #5 on tripadvisor for the whole city it serves delicious meals at very fair prices (110 Dirham for a basket of bread, Tagine and Cous Cous Royale with mint tea for two people). It’s also a great spot to people watch from.
P.S Get some dessert from the pattiserie stall across the path of Chez Rachid.
The second is a bit fancier and a bit pricier but The Ruined Garden, which is currently only one spot behind on tripadvisor, is the 6th best restaurant in Fes. Located in a beautiful ‘ruined’ garden it features a fire pit and warm blankets for those chilly winter nights. I recommend the Moroccan pie and the chocolate and espresso mousse.
If you have some extra time on your hands it’s also worth visiting Borj Noud for views over the city, the Merenid tombs as well as day trips to Meknes and Volubilis.