The tombs of the Merenid Sultans of the 14th Century are high up above the north of the city. While the tombs themselves are in ruins, they make a nice spot to take in the vista over the Medina. I know very little about these ruins and can't seem to find much information about when they were built or for whom.
While they are in a very bad state, crumbling to bits really, you can look closely and see the remains of some of the detailed carvings. And of course it's all free.
In fairness though, seeing as it's a bit of a hike, if you're low on time and don't want to take a taxi, you could settle for a view the Merenid Tombs from a distance on one of the terraces in the Medina such as the Nejjarine Museum. Also, while you get a bird's eye view of the Medina, it's the panorama of the surrounding mountains that were the feature for me.
This area tends to be fairly deserted and I can't imagine that it's a good place to be after dark. When I was there, there were maybe a couple of other tourists and a Berber with his sheep trying to, unsuccessfully, sell me a rug. He was pleasant enough, and while persistent, he was much less hassle than I experienced in other places.
The famous Kairaouine Mosque lies at the heart of the medina. It is the second largest mosque in Morocco (after Mosque Hassan 2 in Casablanca) and can hold over 20,000 people. Though it covers a huge area in the medina, it is very difficult to appreciate just how big it is as much of it is hidden from view behind the walls and other buildings. Occasionally you can get a view of the interior through narrow doorways or arches. Like almost every mosque in Morooco, Kairaouine is closed to non-muslims.
The university attached to the mosque is one of the world's oldest learning institutions, dating from the 9th century. That's over 300 years older than Oxford!
A very important place in the Fes medina is the mausoleum of Moulay Idriss 2, the son of Moulay Idriss (founder of the first dynasty in Fes). Historians are divided over whether Moulay Idriss or his son founded Fes, but the son's mausoleum is one of the holiest places in the city. As it was closed to non-muslims, we could not enter, but we were able to look through the arches and doorways and get an idea of what it was like.
Our guide explained that many locals come here to pray before the tomb. We aso saw the shapely ornaments used by women seeking healing for particular problems. Each problem is represented by a different ornament and the women place them in a window near the mausoleum and thus get help to resolve the problems. Typical problems are infertility, errant husbands or lack of money. Our guide said that many Moroccans scorned this tradition though there were certainly enough women there looking for help when we visited.
While they make for great pictures, the Tanneries, where the animal skins are cleaned and dyed, must be a horrible place to work. The smell here was bad enough in February, just imagine what it's like during a long, hot summer. Furthermore, while tour guides love to bring tourists here and explain all about the tanning process, its traditions and how it hasn't changed fro centuries, what you don't often hear is that the workers are paid a pittance from an early age and that many of them develop skin and respiratory diseases.
Nevertheless, it was fascinating to see this type of work being carried out. The Chouaras tanneries are at the Eastern end of the medina and the best views are from the leather shops overhead. And while the vats of dye look lovely from a distance, just remember that they are made up of a variety of horrible ingredients such as animal urine, pigeon poo, animal brains, sulphuric acid......That was enough for me to hear, I was happy enough to take my pictures from a distance.
Medersa Bou Inania is the most famous of the many medersas in Fes. Named after the Merenid Sultan Bou Inan, the medersa was built around 1350. A medersa a religous college, where students study the theology and religious law. Unlike most medersas, Bou Inania also continas a mosque. This section of the building is closed to non-muslims and is separated from the main courtyard by a small stream.
Dar Batha was my favourite of the Fes museums, not so much for its collection, but for the buildings and gardens. Most of the exhibits were standard Moroccan museum pieces - pottery, furniture, etc, though there was interesting section of old photographs of people. This is quite strange to see in a museum in a muslim country as most art is abstract and depictions of people are frowned upon.
A former funduq (place for travelling merchants to lodge) on Place an Nejjarine has been converted into the Nejjarine Museum of Arts & Crafts. The museum opened in 1998 and it exhibits wooden artefacts dating from the 19th century onwards.
As with most museums we visited in Morocco, the building itself was the star of the show. There are some impressive exhibits in the collection, though it does get a bit tiring after you've reached the third floor. At that point you can visit the rooftop terrace where there is a small cafe and great view over the medina. It costs 20Dh to visit the museum and it's from 10-5 every day.
A beautiful fountain and an impressive museum are the main sights at Place an-Nejjarine, a square deep in the medina near the Henna Souq and the Haberdashers. At the western end of the square there is a small path which leads to the colorful tanneries of Fes. A plaque on one corner of the square explains the history of the square, in aprticular the history of the museum, a former funduq.
From Borj Sud, there are excellent views over Fes El-Bali, giving an idea of the layout of the medina and just how vast it really is. The best way to get here is by petit-taxi and it costs about 6 Dh one-way from the Ville Nouvelle. Other good areas to get a panaroma view over Fes are from the Merenid tombs and Borj Nord, both North of the medina.
This is a museum of wooden arts and crafts, which may not sound that interesting but I was quite impressed by this place. It was completely renovated not so long ago, along with the square in which it's situated.
Over three floors, you'll find examples of religious wooden crafts such as prayer tablets and items from mosques, cabinets and other household furniture and various odds and ends. My favourite was a wooden peg leg! Unfortunately for me, all the descriptions are in French and Arabic, so some of the items I still had no idea what they were. The building itself, a restored caravanserai, is impressive and the standard of display good. That said, to be really enthused you'd have to be really into wood.
Other things that make this place pretty special are the roof top cafe with great views over the Medina and of the surrounding mountains and the toilets. The toilets here are spotless and worth the 20 dh entry fee alone!! Open until daily 10am to 5pm.
Only negative point was that the dark alley on the way here, the hustlers were fairly persistent.
At the western entrance to Fes El-Bali stands Bab Bou Jeloud, the triple arched gate, one of Fes's most recognizable landmarks. I was quite surprised that the gate was built in recently as 1913, as from it's traditional Moorish design it seems a lot older. The outer side is decorated with striking blue tiles, while the side facing the medina has green arabesques. Beyond the gate is one of the busiest areas of the medina with a number of cafes, restaurants and small hotels.
The medieval tanneries are at once beautiful, for their ancient dyeing vats of reds, yellows, and blues, and unforgettable, for the nauseating smell of rotting animal flesh on curing 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 at No. 2 Chouara Lablida, just past Rue Mechatine (named for the combs made from animals' horns): the store is filled with leather goods of all kinds, all of which smell terrific. One of the shopkeepers will explain to you what's going on in the tanneries below -- how the skins are placed successively in saline solution, lime, pigeon droppings, and then any of several natural dyes: antimony for black, poppies for red, saffron for yellow, mint for green, and indigo for blue. 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 the world's least desirable job, the work is actually very well paid and somewhat in demand. Studies on tannery workers' health have shown that tanners live, if anything, longer and healthier lives than workers in most other collectives. This might be because they need to be fit to do the work in the first place; or perhaps the foul-smelling liquids contain some as-yet-undefined curative properties.
To see more pictures of the Tanners District : Tanners District
The wide, triangular souk of the dinandiers, or coppersmiths, is one of the medina's largest open spaces, a comfortable break from tight crags and corners. Donkeys and their masters wait for transport work here, and a couple of plain trees are welcome reminders that this was once a fertile valley alongside the clear-running Fez River. Copper bowls are wrought and hammered over fires around the market's edge, and the smells of donkey droppings and soldering irons blend nicely in the sun. Looking into the Kairaouine Mosque at the top of the square is the Kairaouine University library, once one of the world's best book collections but not presently open to the public. Opposite the library and facing away from it is the Seffarine Medersa.
One look through the doorway will give you an idea of the immensity of this place. With about 10,760 square ft, the Kairaouine was Morocco's largest mosque until Casablanca's Hassan II Mosque came along in the early 1990s. Stand at the 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 mosque. Lean in and look up to the brightly painted and intricately carved ceiling. Built by the Kairaouine Fatima in 857, the Kairaouine Mosque became the home of the West's first university and the world's foremost center of learning at the beginning of the second millennium. Averroës, Maimonides, and Pope Sylvester II were among the celebrated scholars and teachers who studied and taught in Fez. Sylvester II (a Frenchman from the Auvergne, originally named Gerbert), who was pope from 999 to 1003, was also a legendary mathematician who introduced Europe to Arabic mathematical concepts, most notably the zero.
Opening Hours : Daily
The Can't miss:
- The Courtyard;
- The Praying Room;
To see more pictures of the Kairaouine Mosque : Inside the Kairouine Mosque
Entrance restricted to Muslims
Don't miss this area of Fes - It's edgy, faster paced, very colorful. I lived near half my life in New Orleans...and Fes Jdid has that kind of beat - funky, a bit rude, fresh. Just wander around the main street a bit - I love the harira or bsaara stalls, though that's about it for me and the street food. There are alot of stoned musicians that hang out near Bab Smaraine, drinking coffee, people watching, waiting for the night which is their domain. Get yourself invited to a jam session in Fes Jdid - the wild side of Fes.
Warning - by wild side, I don't mean doing x with people your own skin color all night to club music. I mean wild. Don't go if you aren't up for a real adventure.
Some tools -
Bargaining pt 1
Photos by Jamal Morelli, uploaded at Studio Shamharush
Photos by Jamal Morelli, uploaded at Studio Shamharush