Fez El Bali: The uncertain old medina

  1. The cultural capital of Morocco is unlike any other place on the planet.
  2. The Middle Ages are still alive.
  3. A living museum.
  4. The Islamic Architecture Exhibition.
  5. The possibility of staying in a riad.
  6. The residents live in stucco houses.
  7. The souks sell a wide range of handicrafts.
  8. Interesting food stalls.
  9. It is the seat of Khizanat al-Qarawiyyin and the University of al-Qarawiyyin.
  10. Chouara Tannery.
  11. His culinary prowess is second to none.
  12. The opportunity to relax in a Hammam.
  13. Riad and hotels in Fes El Bali.

The cultural capital of Morocco is unlike any other place on the planet.

Morocco is home to four imperial cities. Fez El Bali was founded in 789 by Idris I, making it the oldest of the bunch. However, his rise to power did not come suddenly. Fez did not reach its height until Marinid times, when it dethroned Marrakech as the capital. Much of the city's history can be traced back to this golden age. Which brings us to Fez el Bali, which is by no means the only medina in Morocco, but it is the most magnificent. Why? For starters, it's the largest car-free metropolitan region in the world.

Within its medieval walls lies an intriguingly contradictory area that is both tumultuous and peaceful. This congested network of small tunnels, mosques, souks, craft workshops, madrasas (Islamic teaching institutions) and modest dwellings is home to half the population. The noises of daily life, of various languages ​​(Arabic, Berber and French) and of the muezzin (the call to prayer) echo through the corridors. Is it overwhelming? Perhaps. However, each color component adds complexity to this centuries-old puzzle.

The old medina of Fez el Bali

The Middle Ages are still alive.

Visiting Fez el Bali is like going back in time. This fascinating labyrinth has remained largely unchanged since the Middle Ages, with madrasas, mosques, hammams, fondouks (inns frequented by traveling merchants and cattle) and donkeys pushing carts along the cobbled paths. Will you get disoriented among the more than 9,000 alleys and blind turns? Probably.

A living museum.

Often recognized as the best-preserved medina in the Arab world, Fez el Bali is a massive museum dedicated to Moroccan history and heritage. There are various historical sites, from madrasas and military monuments to palaces (some of which, like Dar Batha, have been turned into museums) and religious structures like Djemaa el Kairaouine. (Note that non-Muslims are not allowed to enter mosques; however, they are allowed to look inside.)

The Islamic Architecture Exhibition.

one of the madrasas of Fes el Bali

Although numerous eras and cultural influences have left their mark on the structures of Fez el Bali, Islamic architecture is the most visible. The Bou Inania madrasa is a magnificent example of Merinid medieval architecture. The combination of exquisite zellige (tile mosaic), carved plaster and cedar mashrabiyas take us back to another era. And the green-tiled minaret towers above it all for all to see. In the Islamic civilization, privacy is also very important. That is why riads were born, typical Moroccan guest residences with central patios.

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The possibility of staying in a riad.

One of the riads in Fes el bali

Several of the riads in the walled core of the city have been converted into boutique B&Bs. Dar Victoria and Riad Numero 9 are two of the highlights). The layout is ideal for weary travelers, as the inward-facing rooms provide peace and quiet. In addition, the Andalusian-style patios with fountains are calming and charming.

The residents live in stucco houses.

Most of the dwellings are modest compared to the sumptuous palaces, mosques and majestic riads. These fortress-like residences are made up of high white stucco walls and elaborate wooden doors, with no exterior windows to increase opacity. It's almost hard to understand what's going on inside, and it's no coincidence. For millennia, isolation and security have been top priorities.

The souks sell a wide range of handicrafts.

Whether you're looking for authentic souvenirs to give to friends and family or unique artifacts to decorate your home, you'll find them in Fez el Bali. Berber rugs and henna are sold in the bright souks and Kissaria (covered markets), as are silk kaftans and artistic pottery. You just have to be prepared to haggle, as is typical.

Interesting food stalls.


Vendors offer succulent dates, aromatic spices and delicious desserts. The butcher stall proudly displays severed cow heads like a pride medal. A guy dressed in a djellaba cuts fish a few steps away. Sometimes the scents can be strong, even a little disturbing, but it's all part of everyday life in Fes el Bali.

It is the seat of Khizanat al-Qarawiyyin and the University of al-Qarawiyyin.

Fez, known as the "Athens of Africa," is an ancient center of education and religion. Do you know where the original library is? Khizanat al-Qarawiyyin is home to hundreds of valuable manuscripts and documents, including a Qur'an written in Kufic script in the 9th century. Fez el Bali is also home to the University of al-Qarawiyyin, the world's oldest continuously operating institution of higher learning.

Chouara Tannery.

Chaouara Tannery in Fes el Bali

Some of the best-known images of Fez el Bali are those taken at the Chouara Tannery, which is also one of the most popular attractions in the city, and with good reason. The visit to this historical place is a fantastic sensory experience. The sights, the smells (for better or worse), and the gorgeous leather goods are like nothing in the world.

His culinary prowess is second to none.

The cultural capital of Morocco is Fez. And food has an important role in it. Restaurants dot the pathways of the medina, offering exquisite tagines and other time-honoured delicacies. In contrast, the food scene offers a modern feel. Small all-day cafes and contemporary restaurants like Nur, where chef Najat Kaanache creates wildly innovative takes on classic Moroccan dishes, have sprung up in the past decade.

The opportunity to relax in a Hammam.

Do you know what you can trust? A visit to Fez el Bali will not be boring. If the hectic pace and crowded streets are too much for you, remember that you can seek refuge in an authentic hammam like Spa Laaroussa. Before heading back to the noise and bustle of the medina, treat yourself to a steam bath and massage.

Riad and hotels in Fes El Bali.

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