Fez was one of the most historically unique cities we have ever been to and is a must stop when visiting Morocco. We would recommend at least two full days, one to learn about the history and the other to explore the shops at the various markets in the oldest Medina in the world.
We stayed at an incredible Airbnb for $100 per night in the Medina. It was a 3 bedroom/3 bathroom house with an incredible rooftop view in the heart of the old Medina. Our host Sim Muhammad met us when we arrived and walked us to the house (the Medina is a maze and it would be nearly impossible to find the place on your own).
Sim Muhammad scheduled a tour of the Medina for us for the next day for 400 Dirham ($43) and a cooking class for Quan and Helen for 800 Dirham ($86) which included a meal for four. (Sim Muhammad even arranged for our desert trek which we drove to the next day).
The Fez Medina was founded in 808 and is the biggest mid evil Medina in the world it covers 865 Acres/350 hectares with over 9,000 alleyways and 300,000 people.
There are two parts of the Medina the Tunisian and Andalusian part. Doors in the Medina are unique, they include:
- Fatima hands by the door for protection
- Most doors have 2 knockers: the taller one for strangers or men, the shorter one for family members, children, or women. Each knocker has a distinctive sound to let the women inside know whether to answer the door
- There is typically a smaller door that is used as the main entrance which means each person entering the home takes time to bow deferentially to God. The larger door is typically only used to move furniture or large items.
The first University in the world was also founded in the Fez Medina in 859, the University of Al Quaraouiyine was founded by an Arab Muslim woman named Fatima al-Fihri. It has the world’s oldest library and great Western scholars have studied there including Maimonides in the mid 1100’s and and Pope Sylvester II from 999-1001, who introduced the number zero to Europe.
In the morning we went into the Medina to shop for food for the cooking class. The first place we were taken to was the chicken stand where there were live chickens. Within about five minutes the person killed the chicken, de-feather’d it, cut off its feet and gave it to us. We bought a lot of nuts, fruits and vegetables in the market. There were a lot of cats hanging out by the fish stand. It was an exciting view into local life and we were the only tourists who were a part of that morning’s market buzz.
On our tour of the Medina that afternoon, we spent much of our time distracted by shops and shopping. Quan and Helen got a nice kaftan in a manufacturing store for only 100 Dirham each.
As the price kept coming down the owner acted like his life was coming to an end, finally as we walked out he went from 1500 to 1000 Dirham’s and the deal was done. He then took many pics with us and went from having his life being over to the happiest person in the world.
Quan was intent on finding Jesse a kaftan but Jesse has always been picky about his kaftans.
After a long one hour, coma inducing lunch we went back to our palace/Airbnb. Quan and Helen cooked dinner which took hours, they learned to make pastille . David and Jesse made a trip to the local Carrefour to pick up alcohol for the trip. David’s British tendencies took over and the men came back with enough alcohol to open a small alcohol bodega. Dinner was delicious as we ate on the roof to finish our time in Fez.
Jewish History in Fez
Fez was a really unique place we wish we had spent one more day in. We did not get to explore the Jewish quarter of Fez, but learned it was know as the new Medina founded in the 14th century. Jews had settled in Morocco 2,500 years ago and throughout much of that history the majority of the Jews lived in Fez. Morocco had a total Jewish population that peaked in the mid 20th century at between 250,000 and 350,000. Today there are only 2,500 Jews in Morocco mainly in Casablanca that constitutes primarily an older population.
If going to Fez we would really encourage you to consider the Airbnb we stayed at. It was one of our favorite stays and our host was one of the most helpful people we have met so far.
The next morning we were off from Fez mentally preparing our rear-ends for 4 hours of camel rides in the Sahara the next two days.