Morocco’s Imperial Cities: Fes

As the four historical capital cities of Morocco, Fes, Marrakech, Meknes and Rabat are referred to as the country’s Imperial Cities. Each of these magnificent cities has its own special charm and all are well worth exploring. The city of Fes was founded between 789 and 808 by Idris I of the Idrisid dynasty which ruled from 788 to 974. Today, Fes is Morocco’s third largest city and home to around one million people. Visitors to this vibrant city, which has alternatively been called the ‘Athens of Africa’ and ‘Mecca of the West’, will find a wealth of history and culture to enjoy.

Fes has been the capital city of Morocco a number of times since its founding. Between 1244 and 1465, it was the capital under the Marinid dynasty, before returning to the Idrisid dynasty between 1465 and 1471. The Wattasid dynasty used Fes as its capital from 1471 to 1554, after which the Dila’ite dynasty designated the city as its capital from 1659 to 1663. Fes served as the capital city of the Alaouite dynasty from 1666 to 1672 and again from 1727 to 1912. Currently, Rabat is Morocco’s capital city.

Surrounded by walls that extend for nearly ten miles, Fes is more like three towns in one. The cultural and historical center of the city is Fes el Bali, the larger of the two old medinas and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The ancient medina is a car-free urban area, believed to be one of the largest of its kind in the world. The laid-back atmosphere and traffic-free environment is perfect for exploring on foot. Fez el Jedid is the newer medina, dating back to the late 13th century. Here you will find the old Jewish quarter, or Mellah. The modern part of the city was built by the French during the time Morocco was a protectorate, and, while being interesting enough, does not hold the allure of the historic medinas.

Visitors will note the spectacular embellishments on the buildings and monuments erected by the various dynasties over the centuries. Sights to see in the city include the Belghazi Museum housed in a 17th century riad, the Medersa and Bou Inania. The mosques are beautifully decorated and maintained, but non-Muslim visitors should be aware that they may not enter. The medinas are hands-down the most popular tourist attractions and visitors should anticipate spending hours exploring the narrow, crowded passageways, while stepping out of the way of donkeys making their deliveries to the shops in the souk.

Take your time, relax and soak in the sounds, aromas and sights of Fes – the oldest of Morocco’s Imperial Cities.

Picture by YoTuT (Wikimedia Commons)