Fès is often referred to as the country’s cultural capital. It’s largely known for its Fes El Bali walled Medina, with medieval Marinid architecture, vibrant Souks and old world atmosphere. One of the most ancient cities in Morocco, it has rich traditions and a fascinating gastronomy.
The Chouara Tannery is the most iconic site in Fès and the oldest operating tannery in the world today that is still operated by the men in the same way as in medieval times. It is a great place to purchase your leather souvenirs but I would take something to cover your nose as the smell of the dyeing process can get rather pungent.
Souks or markets as they are called locally can be endless labyrinths of narrow streets. In Fès alone there are ten accessible souks located in the Medina of the Old City. Some of the Souks you might be interested in visiting are Souk el Henna, one of the oldest in the Medina that sells all things henna and pharmaceutical. The Souk at R’cif Square is mainly a food market where you will see and smell the true Morocco. Souk Boujloud is situated right outside the famous Bab Bou Jeloud (Blue Gate), here you can find lots of little knick-knacks and pieces to cook a tagine at home. Souk Serrajine for all your Moroccan slippers that range in colour and material from leather to fabric. Souk Jeld (literally means) Leather Market, where you will find some great handbags and boots. Souk Tillisse has all those colourful handmade Moroccan rugs that vary in fabric, colour, style and size. Souk Mejjadliene is where you will find all those impressive traditional belts for your outfits. Lastly one that is loved by a lot of visitors is the Souk in the Andalous Quarter near the famous Riad Jamaï. This gem has handmade chandeliers, slippers, bags and many other souvenirs you can take home.
The Mellah Synagogue became the Jewish Quarter in the 14th Century. Mellah is full of history and Jewish architecture, such as the Ibn Danan Synagogue located in the heart of the Mellah, where some buildings housed people up until the late 20th Century.
A truly amazing site is the Royal Palace of Fès, Dar el Makhzen. Unfortunately it is not open to the public but is definitely worth viewing from the outside. The palace features enormous doors that are made of gold and brass and surrounded by Zellij tile work and carved cedar wood. It has detailed mosaics and bold colours making it fantastic for visitors to take photographs.
Built in 859 BCE, the Al Quaraouiyine Mosque was once believed to be the oldest university in the world. It is now an operating Mosque and cannot be entered by non-Muslims. Its library is however open to the public and here you get the chance to see the handmade tile work that dates back to the 9th Century. You will also be able to see the Mosque’s courtyard from the rooftops of local restaurants in the Medina.
Other sites in Fès worth visiting include Dar Batha a former Palace located in the Medina, which was turned into a Museum and houses an amazing collection of traditional artefacts. The Merenid Tombs house the skeletal remains of past Sultans and Royals from the Merenid Dynasty. Although not intact most of the decorations and engravings have faded throughout the years, however you can still see the authenticity of the architecture. At sunset you will get a magnificent view from the top of the hill over the 1,200 year old Medina.
A must do day trip while staying in Fès is to Chefchaouen, located in the Rif Mountains. This enchanting city is known as the 'Blue City' for its striking blue washed buildings in the Old Town. A town full of history, Chefchaouen was established in 1471 when Moorish and Jewish people fled here to escape the Reconquista of Spain. Plaza Outa el-Hammam is the main square with its red walled Kasbah, it has an ambiance, which is a fusion between Arab and Spanish influences with its 15th Century Fortress and Dungeon. This area also has some fantastic street food and restaurants. The octagonal minaret of the 15th Century Great Mosque rises nearby with its stunning architecture. Shopping in the Old City and Medina is a big drawcard with everything from leather and weaving workshops that line its steep cobbled streets.