A cultural, spiritual, intellectual and commercial centre and the oldest of the four imperial cities, Fès is to the north of Morocco, 160 km east of Rabat. Fès is divided into three areas, Fès el Bali (old town), Fès el Jedid (new town) and Ville Nouvelle (modern city). In 1981 the medina was designated a World Heritage Site. The town gave its name to the Fez, a brimless, cylindrical red felt hat with a tassel worn by some men in Muslim countries.
Fès was founded around 798 on the east bank of the Wadi Fès by Moulay Idriss I. His son, Moulay Idriss II, built on the west bank in 808 and the two parts were united in the eleventh century by the Almoravids. Over the next 80 years Fès became a major Islamic city. In 1250 Fès was conquered by the Merinids who made it their capital. Shortly after the new town (Fès el Jedid) was built with a Jewish quarter (Mellah) added in the fourteenth century. In the sixteenth century Fès was captured by the Saadians who made Marrakesh their capital. During the first half of the eighteenth century, under Moulay Abdallah, Fès once more became the capital with many mosques and medersas (schools for teaching the Koran). The Treaty of Fès in 1912 brought large parts of Morocco under a French protectorate and the capital moved to Rabat. The Ville Nouvelle was founded by General Lyautey in 1916 with much expansion taking place following WWII.
The city’s industrial quarter is found in the Ville Nouvelle, close to the railway station. Carpets, textiles, leather and traditional crafts are produced. There are also flour mills, oil-processing plants, tanneries and soap factories. The medina, which encompasses the oldest part of the city and the area built in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, is full of markets making and selling leather, pottery, perfume, jewellery and wrought iron ware. The commercial centre, known as the Kissaria, is the largest and oldest of all the medinas with much of its walls and gates still intact. The Qarawiyin Mosque, built in 859 AD, is the sight of one of the oldest universities and renowned as a centre of Islamic culture. The Sidi Mohammed ibn Abdellah University was founded in 1974. The city can be reached by train from Rabat, Marrakesh or Tangier. The international airport of Fès Sais is 15 km from the centre.
Places of Interest
The medina has most of the historic buildings as well as the markets. The ninth century Qarawiyn Mosque houses the tomb of its creator, Idriss II, but non-Muslims are not allowed entry. In Fès el Jedid is the Royal Palace and the Great Mosque, built in the thirteenth century by the Marinids. The Medersa Bou Inania is a theological college built in 1350. The Bartha Museum has collections of handicrafts from different regions of the country and the Arms Museum has a large collection of old fire arms and swords.