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Fes (Fez), Morocco

Fez is the oldest of Morocco's imperial cities. Founded in 808 by Idris II, it quickly became an important trading centre and after three centuries under the Marinid dynasty it was a great city whose artistic and intellectual prestige had become known even in Europe. Fez conserves to this day the attractive appearance of a mediaeval Islamic city. The Marinid kings and those of the Alawid dynasty embellished the city with numerous monuments, many of them still excellently preserved, constituting good examples of the Ibero-Moorish style.

The old city -Fez el Bali, founded by Idris II- is joined to the new one, Fez el Jedid, by the lovely gardens of Boujeloud, near Dar el Batha Museum and the palace of Dar el Beida. The city of Fez is so extraordinarily beautiful that an Arab historian was heard to say: «Oh Fez! All the beauties of the earth are to be found in thee!». Though the foundation of Fez is attributed to Idris II, his father, Idris I, a descendant of the Prophet, was the first to settle here, in around the year 786 or 787. After its foundation Fez welcomed many Andalusian Moslems, who helped to develop what was to be the imperial capital of Morocco. Later, in the 11th century, the Almoravids established themselves in Fez, but not without having to overcome the bitter opposition of the Beni Hammad. The Almohads succeeded the Almoravids in the 12th century, and contributed to the magnificence of the city of Fez. In the early 13th century the Marinids succeeded in eliminating the Almohads, and during the reigns of Abou er Rabi and Abou Said Othman in the 14th century Fez achieved extraordinary prosperity. In the 15th century Mohammed ech Cheikh, son of Yahia, the Ouattasside governor murdered by order of the last Marinid sultan, Abd el Haqq, had himself proclaimed sovereign in Fez. The Ouattasside dynasty was substituted in the 16th century by that of the Saadis, and Fez lost its status as capital of the kingdom. The city suffered several changes of fortune, but in the 18th century -during the reign of Moulay Abdallah- it became the capital once more. The Alawid dynasty contributed considerably to the greatness of the imperial capital. In the 19th century Moulay El Hassan made many changes in Fez, and it was during his reign that the Boujeloud palace and other important monuments were built. Taking advantage of the internal rivalries undermining the Sultan's authority, the French occupied Fez in 1911, and in 1912 established a protectorate which lasted until 1956. According to tradition, the origin of the city's name derives from the fact that, when digging to lay the foundations - in a valley situated between two high mountains covered with rich forests and watered by a thousand streams, to the right of the river of Pearls - a large sickle (in Arabic, fez) weighing sixty pounds was found, and gave its name to the new imperial city. Fez was called the Mecca of the West and the Athens of Africa; in the 11th century it had a population of more than half a million inhabitants including Moors, Berbers, Jews, Negroes, Turks, Christians and renegades (Christians converted to Islam). The writer Edmondo d'Amicis said of Fez in 1876 that The city stretches out in the shape of a vast figure of eight between two hills, on whose summits stand the ruins of two ancient square fortresses. Beyond the hills is a range of mountains. The river of Pearls divides the city into two: New Fez on the left bank and old Fez on the right; and old battlements with great dark towers, broken down in many parts, surround both the old and new areas. From the heights one can get a good view of the whole city: a myriad of white houses with flat roofs, with fine minarets made out of mosaic towering above, gigantic palms, masses of green, crenellated towers, and small green domes. At first glance one can imagine the greatness of the ancient metropolis".

Fez still continues to be an impressive city for its splendid, enchanting and pure evocation of mediaeval times. The city is famous with its riads. Fes riad is a perfect place to stay and plunge into a history of this country.

There is an extraordinary wealth of monuments in this great imperial city, which still today is one of the most dynamic religious and political centres in Morocco. The outstanding sights are the med-ersas of Bou Inania (with its original clock, es Seffarin, el AttarTn, CherratTn, and Misbahiya; the El Qarawiyyin mosque, where there are sixteen aisles and 270 columns; the Andalusian's mosque with its colossal doorway; and the zaouiya of Moulay Idris, where the remains of the founder of Fez lie buried. But in truth the whole city is a delightful, fascinating monument, especially the old part.

There are some interesting excursions to be taken from the imperial city, among them is one to visit the large tomb where the princes of the Marinid dynasty lie buried, from whence the magnificent outline of the old city can be seen, a marvellous sight in the month of May during the famous Moroccan son et lumiere festival. The towns of Sefrou (rich in fruit), Moulay Yacoub and Sidi Harazem (important thermal resorts) can be visited from Fez, as can Azrou, Ifrane and Kenitra. Also of interest are the slopes of Djebel Zalagh, from whence the Atlas range can be seen, Bine el Ouidane dam and the Ouzoud waterfalls.


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