Medina and Museums in Morocco’s Ancient City
The old town of Fez is the oldest medieval city in Africa. The medina is a UNESCO heritage site and the city is a vibrant mix of ancient traditions and modern facilities.
The city of Fez is approximately 4 hours away from the Moroccan city of Casablanca by car. The stretch of toll highway from Rabat to Fez is in superb condition. The public transportation network is excellent so to get there is easy by public bus, taxi, train or rented car. Most roads are in very good condition and traffic is not congested.
Medina (Market) of Fez
The Medina of Fez is divided in two parts, the old town (Fes-I-Bali) and the new town (Fes-I-Jdid). There is a staggering variety of goods for sale, each tiny shop spills out onto the narrow maze of streets, each one crammed to capacity with a dazzling display of items on sale. Interestingly, the shop’s clients are mostly local Moroccans, not tourists – the medina is a live market, not a tourist attraction. Copper plates, a great deal of handmade leather bags and belts, ceramics and hand made rugs make up a lot of what is on offer to shoppers.
The medina is a car free zone, just watch out for the occasional donkey owner trying to squeeze his donkey and goods through the crowded streets.
Wandering around the medina will give the traveler to this part of Morocco the sense, not only of being in another country, but of being in a different century – the sights, smells, tanneries, decorations, ancient walls and palaces are wonderfully unique and show signs of all the civilizations that have invaded it in the past – Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Arabs.
The streets of the medina are like a labyrinth and so it is easy to get lost. Authorities have tried to make this a little easier for tourists and have made 5 circuits through the medina, each one color coded. From time to time there is a big map on display with all the circuits listed, along with sights to see on the way. These signs have a 8-point star shape which will serve as a guide between the main places in the medina.
The circuits all have a unique theme: Walls and fortifications, crafts and souks, Analusian gardens and palaces and the Andalous historic district with sights along the way specific to that circuit, worth looking out for.
Museums in Fez
Dar Batha Museum: This palace was built by Sultan Moulay al-Hassan I in the late 19th century. The gardens are cool and beautifully maintained and contains an outstanding collection of Moroccan arts and crafts.
Museum of Analusian Music: A museum and cultural complex in a beautifully restored house, Dar Bennani which is worth seeing. The setting is calm and lovely, downstairs is a museum, library and art gallery and upstairs is a music conservatory.
Nejjarine Museum: This is a funduq inn where traveling merchants used to stay in centuries past. upstairs in the inn and display their crafts and merchandise downstairs in centuries past. The funduq was a common feature of medieval Islamic cities. The museum, Nejjarine Square and Carpenter’s Souk are restored and there is an impressive display of traditional woodwork to be seen.
Arms Museum of the Borj Nord: Thisa 16th century fortress houses a large collection of antique arms. For the traveler not interested in weapons, it is still worth seeing since the craftsmanship of the objects on display is amazing, the building itself worth seeing and the view of the medina is wonderful.
There is a lot to see in Fez, allow for at least 3 to 4 days in order to see the lot since outside of Fez itself there are lots of lovely attractions to visit. Remember that Fez is a Muslim city, mosques are not open to non-Muslims and women visiting the city should try to cover up as much bare skin as possible, out of respect for the culture of Moroccan society.