Fes: exploring the old capital of Morocco
Morocco’s third largest city and also known as the former medieval capital of the country, Fès is located in the north between the Rif and Middle-Atlas Mountains. Founded in the Eighth Century when Islam spread across North Africa, Fès is known to be the best-preserved old city in the Arab world. I was fortunate to check out the city for a long weekend break which was made possible now with no-frills airlines from all other Europe to this beautiful city. Here is my guide on what to do and see in Fes.
Checking out the Medina of Fes
In the heart of the old city of Fes is the Medina which is surrounded by fortifications which are well preserved. The sprawling labyrinthine inside is not really prepared for tourism with the lack of signs and lack of English speaking people (however if visitors are French and Arabic they will be fine but wasn’t a problem for me as I have a good understanding of the French language), but the first interesting fact I found out about this area is that it’s the world’s largest car-free urban zone, hence a million donkeys, mules and hard carts going up and down the passageway delivering goods and collecting litter.
To the western end near the Blue Gate (known as Bab Boujloud) there are a few restaurants offering cheap eats and the best place to withdraw cash from ATMs but go eastwards along the Talaa Kbira which is the main shopping street where I felt the hustle and bustle of the medina. It is also here the Kairouine Mosque can be found but not open to visitors. The eastern end of the Medina is where the famous tanneries where leather is dyed in pits as part of the process of making bags which can be found near the small river.
Tips for the Medina I want to pass on: walking around the medina was largely pretty safe and I didn’t get hassled as much as I thought I would when I heard stories before I came to the city. However I found out there are people who look out for tourists and try to offer their services as guides. Unless you book through a company to get a tour guide to take yourselves around the old city, these people are not official tour guides and I heard they will also rip-off the visitors. I would also advice common sense like keep an eye on your belongings etc but seriously, I actually felt safe in the medina and the people I meet and spoke to were very friendly and I am not discouraging you from visiting.
Dar Batha Museum
Near all the government buildings and beautiful parks on the southern side of the Medina is the Dar Batha Museum. This used to be a palace before the buildings became a museum in the early 20th century but lucky everything is well looked after to this very day. The baths in their marble state outside the buildings are still in one piece (but no one is allowed to walk over them) and in all the rooms there are weapons, crafts, coins and other pieces of wonderful craftsmanship on display. For me it was the walk through the gardens in the heart of the museum which made this short visit a wonderful one with all the green leaves, trees and flowers.
To the north of the Medina (crossing the main road and taking a short hike to the hilltop) are the ruins of the tombs. Here is the best place to get panoramic views of the city and looking over the tops of the olive trees. However there are the odd tout trying to get your business here but don’t let that put you off. However next to the tombs (a short five minute) to the west is the Merenid Hotel where views of Fes can be had from the bar here (which is also perfect to grab a beer as they do have a beer license and a snack or two whilst hearing the hustle and bustle of the city below and watching the sun slowly pass east to west).