I first visited Morocco several years ago when I spent a few days in Marrakech, followed by the Atlas Mountains and ending in Essaouira. This was enough to whet my appetite to spend more time in this vibrant country. However, after my recent trip to Fez, I suggest that future travelers start there for a more immersive and even, perhaps, more authentic Moroccan experience.Fez is the second largest city in Morocco with a total population of 1.1 million. Approximately 160,000 live within the medina,the oldest walled part of the city, which was founded between 789 and 808 CE as the capital of the Idrisid dynasty . It is the largest car-free urban area in the world.Most of the madrasas, palaces, residences, mosques and fountains – date from the 13th-14th centuries CE. With about 9400 twisting alleys, only the most intrepid traveler with a amazing sense of direction would venture into the medina without a local guide.
Located in the heart of the medina, the University of Al Quaraouyine dates to 859 CE and is considered by UNESCO to be the oldest existing, continually operating and the first degree awarding educational institution in the world.
Bab Boujloud is located at one of the main interesections in the medina. The French constructed the gate (bab in Arabic) seen above in 1913. The 12th-century original can still be seen adjacent to it and with an indirect entrance to protect it from battering rams.
We visited El Glouai palace, where a family member guided us through the palace and its gardens, mainly gone to ruin. There is much to admire in the faded elegance including spectacular tile work, plaster carvings and woodwork, but we couldn’t help wishing family members or some NGO would fund a restoration.
We dedicated most of our limited time to sightseeing, but did manage to do a little shopping at Ali’s Art Gallery. Since we were limiting ourselves to carry on luggage, the exquisite vases in the forefront were sadly out of the question.
We managed to eat at least three meals a day in order to try as many delicious dishes as possible. Our favorite restaurants were: Fez Cafe in a beautiful courtyard garden at Le Jardin des Biehn, a small riad in the heart of the medina; Dar Roumana a guesthouse with an outstanding restaurant and panoramic views; and l’Ambre Fez at our hotel, Riad Fès.
In addition to its spectacular architecture and décor, friendly service and delicious food, the Riad Fès has a delightful patio bar/café which is the perfect place to watch the sunset.
The highlight for me overall was the relative friendly and open nature of many residents. Unlike other parts of Morocco, where even the sight of a camera provokes a frown, I was able to capture many wonderful portraits (see previous post) and engage with the locals.
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