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Fez

Fez Travel Guide

With the natural beauty of humanity’s birthplace and the origins of western civilization, a massive network of narrow and complex passageways unfold within Fez, subtly organized into concentrically ringed regions with respect to the sects of local life. The walled city opens up to over 9,000 streets, and like veins, they siphon life into homes, marketplaces, and the core of their lives, the mosques. Morocco is home to the world’s largest car-free city, and is often analogous to a tree; it is rooted in Africa, with European-influenced branches. From an aerial point of view, Fez’s ringed-structure reveals its age and endurance like a cross-section of the metaphorical tree.

Founded by Moulay Idriss II (said to be a descendant of prophet Mohammed), Fez seems destined to be a cultural mecca. The urban mazed construction began at the start of the 9th century, packaged in walls nearly five miles long. The 11th century fusion of the Andalusian settlement and migrants from Tunisia made Fez the cultural and economic capital of Morocco. Old Fez, or Fez de Bali, is the crux of Moroccan culture, not to be confused with Fez Nouvelle, a modern French-influenced district. Today, Fez is recognized as the third largest city in Morocco, the oldest and most distinguished among its sister imperial cities, and for an allure that persuaded the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to recognize as a World Heritage Site.

Maneuvering around the city is the only way to gain clarity in the ostensibly confusing and clustered atmosphere. From the high point of the city, Fez unveils its labyrinth of unfamiliar and almost identical dwellings and merchant stands. Souks, or marketplaces, offer handcrafted pottery, vibrant rugs, metalwork, and unique treasures that add flavor and dot the earthy backdrop of Fez with brilliance and color. Tanneries are lined with arrays of dye-filed vats, like magnified watercolor trays made of clay. Dark and tight alleys lead to spacious and bright homes with patios that bring in natural light. The play of color and light is present everywhere.

Articulate architecture and geometrical patterns provide another elemental contrast, showcased within the disarray of the streets. Historic structures reflect Islamic and European influences, with intricate, interwoven geometric designs adorning walls and floors of the symmetrical arched and pillared framework of the edifice. Fondouk El Nejjarine is an example of this duality; once an inn for merchants, it is now a museum for wood carvings. Within the Islamic city, Roman influence is embodied in the pillared ruins of the Volubilis. Old meets new in Fez; little is left of the Merenid tombs, Karaitouine University is the western world’s oldest standing educational institution of higher learning, and Bou Inaniya, today still a mosque, hosts the oldest hydraulic clock. Even among this pulsating mystique, there is time for rest and luxury in newly renovated riads, decorated palaces with interior gardens.

Whether locals realize it or not, tourists’ senses are stunned by this perfectly adjusted elemental contrast, the type of contrast that highlights radiant hues and offers depth. As you indulge in its exotic ethnic foods, you realize the pleasing colors exist even in your pastille dish or tajine full of meat and vegetables. As you indulge, you hope what you’ve filled up on helps you exude the very spice and color that distinguishes Fez from any other Moroccan city. On all levels, Fez de Bali embodies an undeniable and distinct attraction while battling the erosion of time; it is no wonder Fez de Bali is considered the soul of Morocco. 

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