top of page

Fez: The pearl of Morocco

It was a warm sunny morning in June when I arrived in Fez. I had been told by my long-time pen friend Aayat, a local, that this city, one of the largest in Morocco, is the sole custodian of over 10 centuries of the country’s history. But as I walked through the majestic crenellated Bab al Makina (a stone plaza), hosting the Fès Festival of World Sacred Music, I could not help but be amazed at how well this city has embraced the modern ways of the world. And as I continued to explore the city, I was both surprised and awestruck at almost every turn. Alleys that I thought would lead to a blind end took me to squares with elaborate fountains, or narrow lanes dotted with numerous food stalls, the air heavy with fragrant spices, and houses with exquisite minarets.

But if you are visiting Fez for the first time, like me, the best place to start would be at what the locals call the heart of the city – the Medina of Fez. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981, it surrounds two ancient quarters of the city: the 9th-century Fez el Bali (old Fez) and the adjoining 13th-century Fez el Djedid (new Fez). The principal monuments in the medina include palaces, residences, mosques, madrasas (traditional schools), fondouks (resting places) and fountains that date back to the 13th and 14th centuries. In fact, according to UNESCO, the Medina of Fez “is considered as one of the most extensive and best conserved historic towns of the Arab-Muslim world.” The entrance door of the medina, also called the Bab Bou Jeloud, is a masterpiece in itself. Also called the ‘blue gate’, it is adorned with stunning blue tiles. Peppered with small shops selling everyday objects such as copper vessels, ceramic pottery and even upholstery, the narrow labyrinthine pedestrian-only lanes in the medina are alluring. And had it not been for Aayat, who had turned into my guide, I would have completely lost track of time exploring the myriad merchandise on offer here.

Once out of the medina, we gorged on some lip-smacking fish chermoula, a Moroccan delicacy: fresh mackerel marinated with aromatic spices and herbs, grilled over charcoal and presented with sautéed vegetables...

But if you really wish to get a taste of Fez, try the b’stilla or patilla, said to be the crowning glory of fassi (Fez) cuisine. This spicy, savoury meat-pie is prepared by baking layers of paper-thin pastry with meat, almonds and eggs spiced with a blend of saffron, cinnamon and fresh coriander. It is dusted with pounded sugar before being served.

After a soul-enriching culinary experience, we continued with our city exploration, which brought us to the famed tanneries. Filled with numerous stone vessels containing different coloured dyes, used to process and tint leather, it is one of Fez’s iconic sites. The best vantage point from where to view the tannery and catch all the action is from the back terrace of one of the dozens of leather shops surrounding the site. And thanks to Aayat, I got a stunning view from door number 10 on Derb Chaouwara. A piece of advice: try not to visit the tanneries on an empty stomach. The smell can be a tad overwhelming! Post an extensive photo session of the tannery, we headed to the lush Jnan Sbil Gardens to rest our over tired feet. As we lazed around the park’s serene lake, she told me that in its heyday, Fez was a much sought-after destination attracting scholars, philosophers, astronomers, theologians and even mathematicians. “My grandmother used to tell me that it was a land where craftsmen built exquisite houses and palaces, kings endowed mosques and madrasas, and merchants offered exotic wares from the silk roads and sub-Saharan trade routes,” she recalled fondly. I believe that nothing encapsulates a city, or a country, better than its museums, a reason why we decided to stop by the Batha Museum. The museum is housed in a building originally constructed as a summer palace but converted to its present form in 1915. It boasts a stunning collection of Moroccan artefacts of archaeological importance such as pieces of exquisite woodcarving, zellij (mosaic tilework) and tadelakt (sculpted plaster). A chunk of the exhibits is said to have been sourced from the city’s madrasas. The highlight of the museum, however, is the stellar collection of ceramic objects dating back to the 14th century. To say my adventure in Fez was enriching would be an understatement. There is so much to see, experience, and not to mention shop, that one short holiday is not enough. This city demands to be returned to. And as I bid a warm adieu to Aayat, that was exactly what I promised myself.

Featured Posts
No posts published in this language yet
Once posts are published, you’ll see them here.
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
No tags yet.
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square
bottom of page