Fez Travel Guide

Fez (or Fes if you’re following Arabic spelling) is the third largest city in Morocco and part of the UNESCO. Fez is set in the lowlands between the Rif and Middle Atlas mountain ranges in northern Morocco. Located just over 300 miles from Marrakesh.

Fez is one of the four imperial cities of Morocco, alongside Rabat, Meknes, and Marrakesh.

The city has a distinct, traditional charm. High walls surrounding the Old Town medina, protecting one of the best preserved medieval cities in the world. Fez and its medina is a barrage on the senses.

Ancients mosques and medersas/madrassas (Islamic schools) are all around the city although non-muslims are not allowed inside, from the outside, you can have a glance of the splendour of the Islamic architecture.

In Fez, I loved the chaos, the smells, the markets and the food. Although it can be also overwhelming and mentally exhausting, especially during the hottest months. Fez is known as the country’s cultural, spiritual, and intellectual heartland.

The old Medina

Fez’s medina is a maze of narrow little streets lined with shops. The medina’s labyrinth can be fun to get lost in. Although the medina in Fez is not as hard to navigate as other medinas across Morocco. The medina has 2 main streets running in a loop, so if you stick to those, you’ll always find your way back to the Blue Gate.

The medina is a great place, though often crowded by locals and tourists, so stay on guard as pickpockets are pretty common.

Bab Boujeloud – Blue Gate

Bab Boujeloud (Bab Bou Jeloud), commonly known as the “Blue Gate,” serves as the principal entrance to the old Medina.

The Grande Porte Bab Boujloud is famous for its beautiful ornate blue mosaics and on the other side, it is decorated green.  The blue side of the gate represents the colour of the city Fes.  The green side of the gate, which faces the Medina is green to represent the colour of Islam.

Medina

There are 3 main areas, Fes el Bali (the oldest part and the world’s largest car-free urban space), Fes Jdid (“new” part of the city, which is still a few hundred years old), and the modern section of Ville Nouvelle with its palm-tree-lined boulevards, built in the French colonial era. The Ville Nouvelle is not a remarkable place at all means unless you want to grab a bite to eat somewhere a bit more modern.

Stroll the Talaa Kebeera

Talaa Kebeera is the largest “street” in Fez. It begins shortly after Bab Boujeloud (Blue Gate) and continues on through the much of the medina. Many different shops, souks and sights are located just off this main artery.

Medersa Al Attarine and Medersa Bou Inania

The Medersa al-Attarine (Islamic school) is located next to the Qarawiyyin mosque in the middle of the medina, next to the spice and perfume market. Is one of the most beautiful buildings in the Medina of Fez.

The Medersa Bou Inania is one of the greatest examples of the Merenid architecture in the 14th century and is one of the few religious places that non-Muslims can visit in Morocco.

Tanneries

You will probably hear people asking you if you want directions to the tannery. Just remember, that on warm days, you won’t need directions. I assure you can fell the smell from distance, so just follow your nose 🙂

If you want to have a look at the tanneries the only way to do it is through one of the shops, there’s no other way. That means you need to “handle” the vendors. (I personally didn’t have any problems I paid 10DHR and no one tried to sell me anything, I guess I was lucky).

Just a heads up in case you don’t know the tanneries is the place where workers transform animal skins into brightly-coloured leathers by soaking them in vats.

University of Al-Qarawiyyin

The Al-Qarawiyyin (al-Karaouine) Mosque and University are considered by some the oldest university in the world and is one of the largest mosques in Africa.

Fondouk el-Nejjarine, Museum

The Fondouk el-Nejjarine or “Wood Museum” is a museum where you can learn about the woodwork indigenous to Morocco, the tools used, as well as a collection of wood and cabinet work  (20dhs).

If you don’t want to visit the museum you can just contemplate the Nejjarine Square, a beautiful square dotted with Andalusian-style architecture from the 18th century.

Henna Souk

The Henna Souk is a nicely shaded souk cosied up beneath a couple of large trees. Here they sell pottery and traditional cosmetic products.

Merenid Tombs

The Merenid Tombs are located just outside the medina. To get there you can walk (15 minutes) or get a taxi.

The giant tombs sit on the hill above Fes and offer a fantastic view of the city.

The Mellah – Jewish Quarter

The Jewish Quarter of Fez is the oldest in Morocco and has beautiful ornate balconies and wrought-iron windows lining the street.

Strolling around

You can visit the main attractions, but there is nothing better than losing yourself in the city. Strolling around alleys and narrow streets finding out the hidden magic of Fez.

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

The Fez Tanneries – Just hold your nose

Just hold your nose and get ready for a real hassle

Fez is famous for its leather goods, which are made in one of the three ancient tanneries inside the medina. The largest and oldest is the Chouara tannery, which is over a thousand years old.

You will definitely hear people asking you if you want directions to the tannery. Just remember, that on warm days, you won’t need directions, I assure you can fell the smell from distance.. and there is also the app maps.me and wall signs.

If you want to avoid the hassle make sure you don’t accept any unrequested help.

How to get to the tanneries

If you want to have a look at the tanneries the only way to do it is through one of the shops, there’s no other way. That means you need to “handle” the vendors.

I personally didn’t have any problems I paid 10DHR and no one tried to sell me anything but my partner does look a bit Morrocan, that might have helped a bit 😅.

We went inside the shop, looked at the tanneries, and left the shop without getting so much as a: “Would you like to look?”, let alone a hard sell.

What are the tanneries?

The tanneries are the place where workers transform animal skins into brightly-coloured leathers by soaking them in vats.

The tanneries spread out like a tray of watercolour paints, where cow, sheep, goat and camel hides are taken to be preserved, dyed, and turned into handbags, jackets and wallets that are sold in the surrounding souks.

The idea of looking at animal’s skins is pretty discussing for me as it is. And doesn’t get any better when you know the processes they use.

The skin is first soaked in a mixture of cow urine, pigeon poop, quicklime, salt and water. A method used for over a thousand years.

I’m not sure that nowadays the colours are still derived from natural products like poppy flowers, henna, indigo, or saffron.

What I do know is that the process is absolutely disgusting. Nowadays it’s so easy to find cruelty-free leathers, that doesn’t depend on animal abuse and exploitation.

Vegan leather it’s a leather alternative that doesn’t involve animal products. What this looks like in practice is a synthetic or natural fabric that’s structured and printed to perform a bit like leather.

If you still want to visit the tanneries, be aware that this is the place where most scams append.

How to Avoid the Tannery Scam

Be ready to encounter dozens and dozens of “helpful” locals giving you advice and tips, like: – “that street/place you want to go is closed”; “if you want to see the tannery you need a guide”; “I can show you the way, for free”; “I’ll help you get a good price”. None of these or any variations of it is true.

In order to avoid being scammed, you need to know that older teenagers and young adult men will be loitering in this area. They’re all working together on this scam.

When someone tries to give you unsolicited advise don’t take their offer. Just keep walking. If they are insistent and try to talk to you, just completely ignore them or just say no. If they keep following you, you can threaten to call the police (190 or 112).

Once at the shop, make sure you make it clear you want to view the views and you are not interested in buying anything. Talk with a smile on your face and a firm but polite tone in your voice.

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha