Fez el-Bali

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  • 1. Bab Boujeloud

    This Moorish-style gate dating to 1913 is considered the principal and most beautiful point of entry into Fez el-Bali, even though it's 1,000 years younger than the rest of the medina. It was built by General Hubert Lyautey, Moroccan commander under the French protectorate. The side facing toward Fez el-Djedid is covered with blue ceramic tiles painted with flowers and calligraphy; the inside is green, the official color of Islam—or of peace, depending on interpretation.

    Pl. Pacha el-Baghdadi, Fez, Fez-Meknès, Morocco
  • 2. Bou Inania Medersa

    From outside Bab Boujeloud you will see the green-tile tower of this medersa (school), generally considered the most beautiful of the Kairaouine University's 14th-century residential colleges. It was built by order of Abou Inan, the first ruler of the Merenid dynasty, which would become the most decisive ruling clan in Fez's development. The main components of the stunningly intricate decorative artwork in this now-nonoperating school are the green-tile roofing; the cedar eaves and upper patio walls carved in floral and geometrical motifs; the carved-stucco midlevel walls; the ceramic-tile lower walls covered with calligraphy (Kufi script, essentially cursive Arabic) and geometric designs; and, finally, the marble floor. Showing its age, the carved cedar is still dazzling, with each square inch a masterpiece of handcrafted sculpture involving long hours of the kind of concentration required to memorize the Koran. The black belt of ceramic tile around the courtyard bears Arabic script reading "this is a place of learning" and other such exhortatory academic messages.

    Talâa Kebira, Fez, Fez-Meknès, Morocco

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: 20 DH
  • 3. Chouara Tannery

    The city's famous medieval tanneries are at once beautiful, for their ancient dyeing vats of reds, yellows, and blues, and unforgettable, for the malodorous smell of the sheep, goat, cow, and camel skins. The terrace overlooking the dyeing vats is high enough to escape the place's full fetid power and get a spectacular view over the multicolor vats. Absorb both the process and the finished product on Rue Chouara, just past Rue Mechatine (named for the combs made from animals' horns): numerous stores are filled with loads of leather goods, including coats, bags, and babouches (traditional slippers). One of the shopkeepers will hand you a few sprigs of fresh mint to smother the smell, before explaining what's going on in the tanneries below—how the skins are placed successively in saline solution, quicklime, pigeon droppings, and then any of several natural dyes: poppies for red, turmeric for yellow, saffron for orange, indigo for blue, and mint for green. Barefoot workers in shorts pick up skins from the bottoms of the dyeing vats with their feet, then work them manually. Though this may look like an undesirable job, the work is relatively well paid and still in demand for a strong export market.

    Rue Chouara, Fez, Fez-Meknès, Morocco
  • 4. Andalusian Mosque

    The grand carved doors on the mosque's north entrance, domed Zenet minaret, and detailed cedarwood carvings in the eaves, which bear a striking resemblance to those in the Musée Nejjarine, are the main things to see here, as the mosque itself is set back on a small elevation, making it hard to examine from outside. It was built in AD 859 by Mariam, sister of Fatima al-Fihri, who had erected the Kairaouine Mosque on the river's other side two years earlier with inherited family wealth. The gate was built by the Almohads in the 12th century. 

    Rue Nekhaline, Fez, Fez-Meknès, Morocco

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Entrance restricted to Muslims
  • 5. Attarine Medersa

    Graceful proportions, elegant, geometric carved-cedar ornamentation, and its excellent state of preservation make this 14th-century building one of the best representations of Moorish architecture in Fez. Named for local spice merchants, the former Koranic school was founded by Merenid sultan Abou Saïd Othman as a students' dormitory attached to the Kairaouine Mosque next door. 

    Boutouil Kairaouine, Fez, Fez-Meknès, Morocco

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: 20 DH
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  • 6. Borj Nord

    Sitting high above the city, this former fortress, now the national Museum of Arms, was built in 1582 under the command of Saadian sultan Ahmed el Mansour to guard and control Fez el-Bali. In 1963, a huge collection of weapons originally housed in the Batha Museum was brought to the historic site, creating an interesting display. Sabers, swords, shields, and armor from the 19th century showcase the history of how arms played a social role in tribal hierarchy. Especially important is the arsenal of sultans Moulay Ismail and Moulay Mohammed Beh Abdellah—the elaborate Amazigh guns encrusted in enamel, ivory, silver, and precious gems date back to the 17th century. It's a 20-minute walk uphill from the medina or a short petit taxi ride.  Walk up to the crenellated rooftop in late afternoon for a beautiful panoramic view of the city.

    Borj Nord, Fez, Fez-Meknès, Morocco
    0535-64–52–41

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: 10 DH, Closed Mon. and at lunchtime
  • 7. Cherratine Medersa

    Constructed in 1670 by Moulay Rachid, this is one of Fez's two Alaouite medersas and an important historical site. More austere than the 14th-century medersas of the Merenids, the Cherratine is also more functional, designed to hold over 200 students. It's interesting primarily as a contrast to the intricate craftsmanship and decorative intent of the Merenid structures. The entry doors beautifully engraved in bronze lead to the douiras, narrow residential blocks consisting of a honeycomb of small rooms.

    Ras Cherratine, Fez, Fez-Meknès, Morocco

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: 20 DH
  • 8. Fontaine Nejjarine

    This ceramic-tile, cedar-ceiling public fountain is one of the more beautiful and historic of its kind in Fez el-Bali. The first fountain down from Bab Boujeloud, Fontaine Nejjarine seems a miniature version of the nearby Nejjarine fondouk, with its geometrically decorated tiles and intricately carved cedar eaves overhead.

    Pl. Nejjarine, Fez, Fez-Meknès, Morocco
  • 9. Glaoui Palace

    Among the medina's many hidden palaces, the extraordinary Dar al Glaoui is one of its most atmospheric. The Pasha of Marrakesh’s second home—he ruled over most of southern Morocco in his day—has fallen into disrepair since Morocco's independence from France in 1956, when his power waned. But amid the crumbling ruins of the late-19th-century structure, evidence of former grandeur is visible in the exquisite cedarwood doors, intricate stucco, tiled salons, and the carved wooden balconies that line its patios. The large estate comprised 17 buildings and two gardens, with ornate salons, an enormous kitchen, Koranic school, garages, stables, a harem, and a hammam. Abdou—an artist and one of the remaining family members—or his sister will show you some of its treasures.

    1, rue Hamia Douh, Fez, Fez-Meknès, Morocco

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: 50 DH
  • 10. Henna Souk

    This little henna market is one of the medina's most picturesque squares, with a massive, gnarled fig tree in the center and rows of spices, hennas, kohls, and aphrodisiacs for sale in the tiny stalls around the edges. The ceramic shops on the way into the henna souk sell a wide variety of typically blue-and-white Fassi pottery. At the square's end is a plaque dedicated to the Maristan Sidi Frej, a medical center and psychiatric and teaching hospital built by the Merenid ruler Youssef Ibn Yakoub in 1286. Used as a model for the world's first mental hospital—founded in Valencia, Spain, in 1410—the Maristan operated until 1944.

    Fez, Fez-Meknès, Morocco
  • 11. Kairaouine Mosque

    Built in AD 857 by Fatima, the daughter of a wealthy Kairaouine refugee, this is considered one of the most important mosques in the Western Muslim world, and one look through the main doorway will give you an idea of its immensity. With about 10,760 square feet, the Kairaouine was Morocco's largest mosque until Casablanca's Hassan II Mosque came along in the early 1990s. It became the home of the West's first university and the world's foremost center of learning at the beginning of the second millennium. Stand at the entrance door's left side for a peek through the dozen horseshoe arches into the mihrab (marked by a hanging light). An east-facing alcove or niche used for leading prayer, the mihrab is rounded and covered with an arch designed to project sound back through the building. Lean in and look up to the brightly painted and intricately carved wood ceiling. If you get there just before prayer times, the two huge wooden doors by the entrance will be open, providing a privileged view of the vast interior. For a good view of the courtyard, head to the rooftop of the Attarine Medersa.  Note that entry is restricted to Muslims. 

    Bou Touil, Fez, Fez-Meknès, Morocco
  • 12. Musée Nejjarine des Arts et Métiers du Bois

    A 14th-century, three-story Nejjarine fondouk, the Inn of the Carpenters is now home to a fascinating museum that displays Morocco's various native woods, 18th- and 19th-century woodworking tools, and a series of antique wooden doors and pieces of furniture. Enjoy a mint tea on the rooftop terrace with panoramic views over the medina. Don't miss the former jail cell on the ground floor or the large set of weighing scales, a reminder of the building's original functions—commerce on the ground floor and lodging on the levels above.  Check out the palatial, cedar-ceiling public bathrooms, certainly the finest of their kind in Fez.

    Pl. Nejjarine, Fez, Fez-Meknès, Morocco
    0535-74–05–80

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: 20 DH
  • 13. Place Seffarine

    In this open, triangular space that is home to metalworkers, copper and brass bowls, plates, and buckets are wrought and hammered over fires around the square's edge, and the smells of soldering irons permeate the air. Look toward the Kairaouine Mosque at the top of the square to see the Kairaouine University library. It holds a collection of precious manuscripts, including a 9th-century Koran, but is currently open only to Muslim scholars.

    Pl. Seffarine, Fez, Fez-Meknès, Morocco
  • 14. Sahrij Medersa

    One of the medina's finest medersas was built by the Merenids in the 14th century and named for the sahrij (pool) on which its patio is centered, with rich chocolate-color cedar wall carvings and some of the oldest zellij mosaic tiling in the country. It's still a working school, so head up the narrow steps leading to empty rooms over the central patio and you may hear the chanting of Koranic verses.

    Fez, Fez-Meknès, Morocco

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: 20 DH
  • 15. Zaouia of Moulay Idriss II

    Originally built by the Idriss dynasty in the 9th century in honor of the city's founder—who was just 33 at the time of his death—this zaouia (sanctuary) was restored by the Merenid dynasty in the 13th century and has became one of the medina's holiest shrines. Particularly known for his baraka (divine protection), Moulay Idriss II had an especially strong cult among women seeking fertility and pilgrims hoping for good luck. The wooden beam at the entrance, about 6 feet from the ground, was originally placed there to keep Jews, Christians, and donkeys out of the horm, the sacred area surrounding the shrine itself. Inside the horm, Moroccans have historically enjoyed official sanctuary—they cannot be arrested if sought by the law. You may be able to catch a glimpse of the saint's tomb at the far right corner through the doorway; look for the fervently faithful burning candles and incense, and the tomb's silk-brocade covering. Note the rough wooden doors themselves, worn smooth with hundreds of years of kissing and caressing the wood for baraka (blessing). Entrance is restricted to Muslims only. 

    Bou Touil, Fez, Fez-Meknès, Morocco

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