After an eight hour train journey from Marrakech I arrived in Fes, and being organised I’d booked myself into a hotel right next to the main train station. I’m a big fan of Accor hotels and the Ibis is a brand I’ve used and trusted for a long time, so it was a welcome sight after a tiring journey. And this Moroccan version was a hell of a lot nicer than the ones in mainland Europe.
For someone like me, who works in the field of education, the city of Fes is most famous for being home to the world’s oldest University. Al-Qarawiyyin (aka Al Kairouine) was established by Fatima Al-Fihri in 859 AD and became the world’s first proper multi-subject institution of higher education. (Prior to that we just had specialist Law schools, Medical schools, etc.)
However, Fes also has a stunning walled medina, full of historic buildings and old souks, and is small enough to be navigated on foot alone if you have good navigation skills (or Google Maps!). So there are plenty of reasons to pay a visit.
Bou Inania Madrassah
It costs 20 dirhams to enter the Bou Inania complex – which is a complete bargain! This 14th-century religious college is absolutely stunning and features some of the finest Islamic architecture the city has to offer.
There are elaborately carved wooden walls with geometric patterns and Arabic calligraphy. It’s the only Madrassah in Fes with a minaret. There’s also a small moat in the courtyard, which separates the rest of the building from a small mosque section (for Muslims only).
We’d arrived at Masjid Al-Qarawiyyin just in time for Jummah Salah (so all these photos were taken after prayers had been concluded). Al-Qarawiyyin was the “main event” of my trip to Fes and it was so much more impressive than I was expecting.
It is beautifully decorated and impeccably maintained. The complex houses the University, mosque and library. To be accepted as a student you must be a Muslim man or woman, who is fluent in classical Arabic and has memorised the Quran (as well as several other classical Islamic texts).
Shrine of Moulay Idriss II
Also known as the Zawiya of Idriss II, it’s a shrine dedicated to the founder of the first Moroccan Islamic State and of the city of Fes, who ruled the country from 807 to 828 AD. Idris II was a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, and ruled over most of what is now Morocco and parts of eastern Algeria.
This shrine has the tallest minaret in the Medina of Fes. Non-Muslims aren’t allowed inside. (Although how they can tell if you are or aren’t a Muslim I don’t really know. Presumably anyone who looks brown enough, or knows a little Arabic, won’t have trouble getting inside.)
Jardin Jnan Sbil
This 18th century garden is the oldest park in Fes, was created by Sultan Moulay Abdallah, is free to enter and can be found west of the old medina. It’s not too far from Bab Bou Jeloud (Blue Gate) and features 3000 plant species, some of them are very rare.
While you aren’t allowed to just throw down a picnic blanket and enjoy a spread from home, there’s nothing stopping you from having a sandwich / packed lunch at any of the many shady places to sit down dotted throughout. There are several fountains with serene surroundings that I’d recommend if you want to enjoy some tranquility.
After just a couple of days in Fes – which is more than adequate – it was time to jump on another train and head to the Moroccan capital: Rabat…