Explore Fez, Morocco: A Complete Guide to the City's History, Culture, and Hidden Gems

Explore Fez, Morocco: A Complete Guide to the City's History, Culture, and Hidden Gems.

· 13 min read

Fez, often referred to as Morocco's cultural and spiritual heartland, is a city steeped in history and tradition. Founded in the 8th century by Idris I, Fez quickly grew into a prominent political, religious, and cultural center, rivaling the most influential cities in the medieval Islamic world. Its enduring legacy is woven into the labyrinthine alleys of its ancient medina, Fez el Bali, a UNESCO World Heritage site that remains a vibrant, living museum of Moroccan heritage.

This city is not just a relic of the past; it is a bustling metropolis where the old and new converge seamlessly. The historical layers of Fez are visible in its sprawling architectural sites, bustling souks, and enduring crafts and arts. As you wander through its streets, you are walking through centuries of Moroccan history, each corner telling stories of the past that influence the vibrant cultural tapestry that is modern-day Fez.

Geographical Setting

Located in the northern part of Morocco, nestled between the Rif and the Middle Atlas mountain ranges, Fez enjoys a commanding position in the fertile Saïss plain. Its strategic location has historically made it a significant hub for trade and knowledge exchange. The climate in Fez varies, offering mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers. The best times to visit are during spring (April to June) and fall (September to November), when the weather is most pleasant, allowing for full exploration of the city’s expansive outdoor and architectural wonders.

Historical Overview

Foundation and Growth

The story of Fez begins in the late 8th century when it was founded by Idris I, a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, who fled to Morocco to escape persecution. His establishment of the city marked the beginning of the Idrisid dynasty, which played a crucial role in spreading Islam throughout Morocco. Fez reached its zenith under the Marinids in the 13th to 15th centuries when it was favored as a capital over Marrakesh. This period saw significant construction projects, including madrasas, mosques, and palaces, contributing to Fez's reputation as an academic, economic, and spiritual center.

Medieval Significance

In medieval times, Fez was one of the world's largest cities and a major center of the Islamic world for learning, religion, and culture. The University of Al Quaraouiyine, founded in 859 AD by Fatima al-Fihri, is one of the oldest functioning universities in the world and has been a center of Islamic learning for centuries. This institution attracted scholars from around the Muslim world, contributing significantly to the intellectual and cultural flourishing of Fez.

Major Historical Events

Throughout its history, Fez has experienced numerous conquests, dynastic changes, and periods of economic boom and bust. The city was particularly impacted by the French colonial period, starting in 1912, which brought modernization but also significant challenges to its traditional industries and urban structure. The post-independence era has seen efforts to preserve Fez’s historical legacy while integrating it into a modern national economy.

Cultural Heritage

Fez’s intangible cultural heritage is as rich and varied as its history. The city is a cradle of Moroccan culture, where traditional arts such as music, dance, and craftsmanship not only survive but thrive. Fez's artisans are renowned for their intricate woodwork, metalwork, and especially for the leather goods produced in its famous tanneries, which remain a major tourist attraction. These crafts are not mere tourist curios; they are vibrant expressions of a cultural identity that has been carefully preserved across generations.

Music and Literature

Fez is also a vital center for Moroccan music and literature, hosting the annual Fez Festival of World Sacred Music, which draws artists and spectators from around the globe. The festival is emblematic of Fez's role in promoting dialogue through culture, showcasing a diverse range of musical traditions and fostering an environment of mutual respect and understanding.

The literary tradition in Fez is equally profound, with the city having been home to numerous poets and scholars throughout the centuries. This rich literary culture has helped document and preserve the multifaceted histories and philosophies of the people of Fez, providing valuable insights into the spiritual and intellectual foundations of the city.

Architectural Landmarks

Fez is renowned for its breathtaking architecture, a blend of Islamic art and Moroccan craftsmanship that has evolved over centuries. Among its many historic buildings, two stand out for their historical and educational significance: the University of Al Quaraouiyine and the Bou Inania Madrasa.

University of Al Quaraouiyine


Founded in 859 AD by Fatima al-Fihri, the University of Al Quaraouiyine is not only the oldest university in the world but also a leading spiritual and educational center in the Muslim world. Its library houses a wealth of manuscripts and texts, some dating back to the very beginnings of the written word. The university's intricate architecture, with its ornate tile work and classic Arabic calligraphy, encapsulates the intellectual spirit of Fez.

Bou Inania Madrasa


The Bou Inania Madrasa, built by Sultan Abu Inan Faris in the 14th century, is another architectural gem. This religious school is unique in that it is open to the public, offering a glimpse into the meditative religious life that characterizes Fez. Its detailed wood carvings, stucco art, and the harmonious design of its courtyard reflect the zenith of Moroccan artistry during the Marinid dynasty.

Other Notable Sites

Other notable sites in Fez include the Dar Batha Museum, a former royal palace that now displays Moroccan arts including pottery and woodwork; the Zaouia of Moulay Idriss II, a shrine dedicated to the founder’s son who is credited with shaping the city’s early growth; and the Chouara Tannery, where traditional methods are still used to produce leather goods, vividly coloring the cityscape with its dye-filled stone vessels.

Daily Life and Local Customs

In the maze of Fez's narrow streets, daily life pulses with a rhythm that is as much a product of modern times as it is of tradition. The locals, known for their hospitality, move through the medina with a familiarity bred from centuries of living within its walls.

Market Dynamics


Each day, the souks (markets) come alive with vendors selling everything from fresh produce to exquisite crafts. The medina of Fez is famous for its dynamic economic culture, and the exchange of goods and services forms the backdrop of everyday life here. Bargaining is an art form, practiced with good humor and patience, and always with a cup of mint tea at hand.

Societal Norms

Fez is deeply traditional. Observance of Islamic practices is prominent, and the call to prayer echoes through the city five times a day, setting the rhythm of daily activities. During Ramadan, the city transforms, with nights becoming as lively as the days are quiet. Social customs are closely linked to religious and familial values, with great emphasis placed on community and hospitality.

Cuisine and Gastronomy

Moroccan cuisine is celebrated for its diversity and flavor, and Fez is a culinary star. The city's food is rich with flavors that reflect its history as a cultural crossroads.

Traditional Dishes


The gastronomy of Fez includes staples like tagine, a slow-cooked stew named after the conical clay pot it’s cooked in, and couscous, often served on Fridays for a communal meal. Pastilla, a unique pie combining sweet and savory flavors, originally made with pigeon but now more commonly with chicken, is a Fassi delight not to be missed.

Eating Out in Fez


For those eager to dive deep into the local cuisine, Fez offers a range of dining experiences. From high-end restaurants in restored riads to street food stalls in the medina, the city caters to all tastes and budgets. Local eateries like Café Clock fuse traditional Moroccan dishes with modern culinary techniques, while street vendors serve up b'ssara (broad bean soup) at dawn, a traditional breakfast for workers.

Shopping and Markets

Shopping in Fez is an experience unlike any other, combining the pleasure of finding unique goods with the vibrant atmosphere of its ancient markets.

Souks of Fez

The souks of Fez, particularly the ones in Fez el Bali, are a maze of colorful stalls, each dedicated to specific crafts like pottery, leather, and textiles. The Souk al Henna offers natural cosmetics and traditional medicines, while the Seffarine Souk specializes in metalwork, where the rhythmic hammering of copper can be heard from a distance.

Bargaining Tips

Bargaining is expected and is part of the fun of shopping in Fez. The initial price is often inflated, and counteroffers should start low but remain respectful. A friendly attitude and a smile go a long way in securing a good deal.

Festivals and Events

Fez is not only known for its history and culture but also for its vibrant festivals that draw visitors from around the world. These events highlight the city's rich traditions and its role as a cultural ambassador in Morocco.

Fez Festival of World Sacred Music


This internationally renowned festival attracts musicians and artists from across the globe, celebrating spiritual music and promoting peace through the universal language of melody. Performances take place in historic venues throughout the city, including the beautifully illuminated Jnan Sbil Gardens.

Sufi Cultural Festival


Another significant event is the Fez Sufi Cultural Festival, which offers a week of discussions, Sufi music performances, and spiritual ceremonies. This festival provides insights into Sufi culture and its place in Moroccan society, making it a unique experience for spiritually inclined visitors.

Practical Tips for Travelers

Traveling to Fez can be a mesmerizing experience, but it's important to go prepared to fully enjoy what the city has to offer.


Fez offers a range of accommodation options, from luxurious riads in the medina to budget-friendly hostels. Many of these are traditional houses converted into hotels, providing an authentic Moroccan experience complete with courtyards and intricate mosaics.


Navigating Fez can be challenging due to its winding streets. While taxis are available, the best way to explore the old city is on foot. For longer distances, renting a car or using buses can be effective. It's also possible to arrange day trips to nearby attractions through local tour operators.

Safety and Etiquette

Fez is generally safe for tourists, but normal precautions should be taken, especially in crowded souks to avoid pickpockets. Dressing conservatively is advised to respect local customs, and it’s important to ask permission before taking photographs of people, especially women.


As Fez continues to modernize while maintaining its rich heritage, it faces the challenge of balancing growth with preservation. Efforts are underway to renovate and preserve its historic sites, ensuring that the soul of Fez not only survives but thrives.

The city's future as a tourist destination looks bright, with increasing numbers of visitors discovering its charms. Whether it's the ancient knowledge housed within the walls of the University of Al Quaraouiyine, the sacred music echoing through its streets, or the intricate beauty of its artisan crafts, Fez promises a journey not just through lanes of cobblestones but through time itself.

Alex Rivera

About Alex Rivera

Alex is a seasoned traveler with a knack for uncovering hidden gems and sharing practical tips for navigating the globe. With a passion for both adventure and cultural immersion, Alex's articles promise to guide readers through unforgettable journeys and insights into the soul of destinations worldwide.

Copyright © 2024 The Right Voyage. All rights reserved.