One of the most ancient cities in Morocco, Fez is so rich in culture, traditions, gastronomy and more, it’s often referred to as the country’s cultural capital. With one of the first universities and the oldest medieval medina in the world, it has a lot of history for you to explore. Here are the 10 best things to see and do in the city.
Al Quaraouiyine Mosque
Al Quaraouiyine, built in 859BCE by Fatima al-Fihri, is believed to be one of the oldest universities in the world. It now operates as a mosque and cannot be entered by non-Muslims. However, its library, renovated in 2016, is open to the public, and you can get a glimpse of the impressive, handmade tilework dating back to the 9th century. You can also get a perfect view of the mosque courtyard from the rooftops of nearby restaurants in the medina.
Located in the medina, Dar Batha a former palace that was turned into a museum in 1915, has an amazing collection of traditional artefacts. It has a fantastic Andalusian-style garden at its entrance, with varying types of plants, aromas and sounds, plus mosaics and a water fountain. Inside, you’ll find fine wood carvings, traditional Moroccan tiles, embroidery, carpets and even a ceramics collection from the 14th century.
This is the most iconic place in Fez, and the oldest tannery in the world, where they still operate as they did in medieval times. Here, men make leather in a massive tannery surrounded by houses and shops. The smell of the dyeing process can get rather intense, so take a scarf to cover your nose (or they will give you mint leaves to rub under it). This is a great place to buy your leather souvenirs.
Right at the entrance of the old medina lies the former theological college for Muslim intellectuals. Built by Sultan Bou Inan in the 14th century, it has been beautifully restored, featuring incredible mosaics, carved plaster, cedar mashrabiyas (lattice screens) and impressively large doors. The inside is splendid, with a fountain in the courtyard and endless, handcarved walls and zellij(mosaic) tilework. It also has rooms on two floors, where classes used to be taught.
These tombs house the skeletal remains of sultans and other royals of the Merenid dynasty. Although not intact, and most of the decorations and engravings have faded throughout the years, you can still see the authenticity of the architecture. The climb up the hill is definitely worth it for the view over the 1,200-year-old medina, especially at sunset. Just don’t stay too long after nightfall, as the descent can get difficult in the dark.
A historical landmark, the Al-Attarine Madrasa is located near the Al-Quaraouiyine Mosque and the Al-Attarine Souk, a market with a variety of local spices, dried nuts, fruit and much more. Built between 1323 and 1325 and named after the market, the madrasa was an annex to the mosque and is decorated with the same design; magnificent green and blue zellij tile work, carved plaster and cedar wood, plus classrooms indoors and a fountain in the courtyard.
Dar el Makhzen, the royal palace of Fez, might not be open to the public but is definitely worth seeing from the outside. The royal family doesn’t live there, but they maintain a palace in every city for each of their visits. Truly an impressive sight, it features gigantic doors made of brass and gold, surrounded by zellij tile work and carved cedar wood. It’s a popular place with tourists, as the detailed mosaics and bold colours make for fantastic pictures that play with light and perspective.
Mellah became a Jewish quarter in the 14th century and Fes el-Jdid became a refuge for the Jewish community and was originally home to 250,000 Jews. Since the creation of the state of Israel, however, only a handful now remain – and they are in the Ville Nouvelle. Mellah is full of history and Jewish-style architecture, such as the Ibn Danan synagogue located in the heart of the Mellah, where some buildings housed people up until the late 20th century.
If you’re a fan of views, this will definitely be worth the hike. Mount Zalagh, north of Fez el-Bali, is characterised by picturesque landscapes full of olive groves, grazing goats and soaring birds. From here you’ll be able to see the whole of the old medina, as well as views of the surrounding area.
Perched on a hill overlooking the former imperial city of Fez, the Borj Nord Museum is dedicated to military history. Set in a 16th-century fortress constructed on the orders of Sultan Ahmed al-Mansour, the Borj Nord is a relatively new museum, opened in 2016, containing items from all around the world. It is home to numerous old weapons – firearms, jewel-encrusted daggers and swords – as well as shields, coats of arms, powder kegs and photographs from the past. Its location also provides sweeping vistas over the surrounding areas.