Fez, Morocco

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Fas / ⴼⴰⵙ
View of the medina (old city) of Fez
View of the medina (old city) of Fez
Flag of Fez
Fez is located in Morocco
Location in Morocco
Coordinates: 34°2′N 5°0′W / 34.033°N 5.000°W / 34.033; -5.000Coordinates: 34°2′N 5°0′W / 34.033°N 5.000°W / 34.033; -5.000
Country  Morocco
Region Fès-Meknès
Founded 789
Founded by Idrisid dynasty
 • Mayor Idriss Azami Al Idrissi
 • Governor Mohamed Rerhabi
Elevation[1] 1,350 ft (410 m)
Population (2014)[2]
 • Total 1,112,072
 • Rank 2nd in Morocco
Racial makeup
 • Arabs 53.6%
 • Berbers 32.7%
 • Moriscos 10.2%
 • Others 3.5%
Website www.fes-city.com
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Medina of Fez
Name as inscribed on the World Heritage List
Bab Bou Jeloud, "The Blue Gate" of Fez.
Type Cultural
Criteria iii, iv
Reference 170
UNESCO region Arab States
Inscription history
Inscription 1981 (5th Session)
Leather tanning in Fez
Panoramic view of the Old Medina
View of the old medina of Fez

Fez (Arabic: فاس‎; Berber: Fas, ⴼⴰⵙ) is the second or third largest city of Morocco, with a population of 1.1 million (2014).

Fez was the capital of modern Morocco until 1925, and is now the capital of the Fès-Meknès administrative region. The city has two old medinas, the larger of which is Fes el Bali. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is believed to be one of the world's largest car-free urban areas.[3] Al-Qarawiyyin, founded in AD 859, is the oldest continuously functioning madrasa in the world. The city has been called the "Mecca of the West" and the "Athens of Africa".[4]


See also: Timeline of Fez


The word 'Fez' means 'Pickaxe' in arabic, which Idriss I used when he created the lines of the city. One noticable thing was that the pickaxe was made from silver and gold[5]. After Fez got its official name, areas around Fez got their names based on this famous city. The Middle Atlas mountains near the city is called the Fazaz, and a small town west from Meknes is called Ait Fazzaz.[citation needed]

During the Idrissid rule, Fez consisted of two cities or medinas: Fas Elbali, founded by Idris I, and Al-'Aliya, founded by his son, Idris II. During Idrisid rule the capital city was known as Al-'Aliya, with the name Fas being reserved for the separate site on the other side of the river; no Idrisid coins have been found with the name Fez, only al-'Aliya and al-'Aliya Madinat Idris. It is not known whether the name al-'Aliya was ever referred to both medinas. It wasn't until 1070 that the two agglomerations were united and the name Fas was used for the sites.[6]

Foundation and the Idrisids[edit]

Further information: Fes el Bali

The city was founded on a bank of the Jawhar river by Idris I in 789, founder of the Zaydi Shi'ite Idrisid dynasty. His son, Idris II (808),[7] built a settlement on the opposing river bank. These settlements would soon develop into two walled and largely autonomous sites, often in conflict with one another: Madinat Fas and Al-'Aliya. In 808 Al-'Aliya replaced Walili as the capital of the Idrisids.

Arab emigration to Fez, including 800 Andalusi families of Berber descent[8] in 817–818 expelled after a rebellion against the Umayyads of Córdoba, and 2,000 Arab families banned from Kairouan (modern Tunisia) after another rebellion in 824, gave the city a more Arabic character than others of the region. The Andalusians settled in what is called the 'New' Fez, while the Tunisians found their home in the 'Old'Fez, also called al-'Aliya. These two waves of immigrants would subsequently give their name to the sites 'Adwat Al-Andalus and 'Adwat al-Qarawiyyin.[9] The majority of the population was of Arab descent, and the minority was of North-African Berber descent, with rural Berbers from the surrounding countryside settling there throughout this early period, mainly in Madinat Fas (the Andalusian quarter) and later in Fes Jdid.[10]

Upon the death of Idris II in 828, the dynasty’s territory was divided among his sons. The eldest, Muhammad, received Fez. The newly fragmented Idrisid power would never again be reunified. During Yahya ibn Muhammad's rule in Fez the Kairouyine mosque, one of the oldest and largest in Africa, was built and its associated Al-Qarawiyyin Madrasa was founded (859).[11] Comparatively little is known about Idrisid Fez, owing to the lack of comprehensive historical narratives and that little has survived of the architecture and infrastructure of early Fez (Al-'Aliya). The sources that mention Idrisid Fez, describe a rather rural one, not having the cultural sophistication of the important cities of Al-Andalus and Ifriqiya.

In the 10th century the city was contested by the Caliphate of Córdoba and the Fatimids of Tunisia, who ruled the city through a host of Zenata clients. The Fatimids took the city in 927 and expelled the Idrissids, after which their Miknasa were installed there. The Miknasa were driven out of Fez in 980 by the Maghrawa, their fellow Zenata, allies of the Caliphate of Córdoba. It was in this period that the great Andalusian ruler Al-Mansur Ibn Abi Aamir commissioned the Maghrawa to rebuild and refurnish the Al-Kairouan mosque, giving it much of its current appearance. According to the Rawd al-Qirtas and other Marinid era sources, the Maghrawi emir Dunas Al-Maghrawi filled up the open spaces between the two medinas and the banks of the river, dividing them with new constructions. Thus, the two cities grew into each other, being now only separated by their walls and the river. His sons fortified the city to a great extent. This could not keep the Almoravid emir Ibn Tashfin from conquering it in 1070, after more than a decade of battling the Zenata warriors in the area and constant besieging of the city.

In 1033, several thousand Jews were killed in the Fez Massacre.

Golden age and the Marinid period[edit]

Madinat Fas and Al-'Aliya were united in 1070 by the Almoravids: The walls dividing them were destroyed, bridges connecting them were built, and connecting walls were constructed that unified the medinas. Under Almoravid patronage the largest expansion and renovation of the Al-Kairouan mosque took place (1134-1143). Although the capital was moved to Marrakech and Tlemcen under the Almoravids, Fez acquired a reputation for Maliki legal scholarship and became an important centre of trade. Almoravid impact on the city's structure was such that the second Almoravid ruler, Ibn Tashfin, is often considered to be the second founder of Fez.[12]

Like many Moroccan cities, Fez was greatly enlarged in the Almohad era and saw its previously dominating rural aspect lessen. This was accomplished partly by the settling there of Andalusians and the further improvement of the infrastructure. At the start of the 13th century they broke down the Idrisid city walls and constructed new ones, which covered a much wider space. These Almohad walls exist to this day as the outline of Fes el Bali. Under Almohad rule the city grew to become the largest in the world between 1170 and 1180, with an estimated 200.000 people living there.[13]

In 1250 Fez regained its capital status under the Marinid dynasty. In 1276 after a massacre by the population to kill all Jews that was stopped by intervention of the Emir,[14] they founded Fes Jdid, which they made their administrative and military centre. Fez reached its golden age in the Marinid period, which marked the beginning of its official, historical narrative.[15][16] It is from the Marinid period that Fez's reputation as an important intellectual centre largely dates.[17] They established the first madrassas in the city and country.[18][19] The principal monuments in the medina, the residences and public buildings, date from the Marinid period.[20] The madrasas are a hallmark of Marinid architecture, with its striking blending of Andalusian and Almohad traditions. Between 1271 and 1357 seven madrassas were built in Fez, the style of which has come to be typical of Fassi architecture.

The Jewish quarter of Fez, the Mellah was built in 1438, near the royal residence in Fez Jdid. The Mellah at first consisted of Jews from Fez el Bali and soon saw the arrival of Berber Jews from the Atlas range and Jewish immigrants from Al-Andalus. The Marinids spread the cult of Idris I and encouraged sharifism, financing sharifian families as a way to legitimize their (in essence secular) rule: From the 14th century onwards hundreds of families throughout Morocco claimed descent from Idris I, especially in Fez and the Rif mountains. In this regard they can be seen as the enablers of the latter sharifian dynasties of Morocco. A revolt in 1465 overthrew the last Maranid sultan. In 1474 the Marinids were replaced by their relatives of the Wattasid dynasty, who faithfully (but for a large part unsuccessfully) continued Marinid policies.[21]

Modern period[edit]

In the Early Modern Age, the Ottoman Empire came close to Fez after the conquest of Oujda in the 16th century. In 1554, the Wattasid Dynasty took Fez with the support of the Turks, and the city became a vassal of the Ottomans, who finally conquered it in 1579 under sultan Murad III.[22]

The Ottoman power in North Africa focused on threats posed by Habsburg Spain and the Portuguese Kingdom. As a result, Fez was not under pressure from the Ottoman rulers. The conquest of Fez was the catalyst for the move of the capital city of the Saadi Dynasty to Marrakech. Early in the 17th century the town returned to Moroccan control under Ahmad al-Mansur.[23]

After the fall of the Saadi Dynasty (1649), Fez was a major trading post of the Barbary Coast of North Africa. Until the 19th century it was the only source of Fez hats (also known as the tarboosh). Then manufacturing began in France and Turkey as well. Originally, the dye for the hats came from a berry that was grown outside the city, known as the Turkish kızılcık or Greek akenia (Cornus mas). Fez was also the end of a north-south gold trading route from Timbuktu. Fez was a prime manufacturing location for embroidery

Morocco Fez Embroidery Horse Cover

and leather goods such as the Adarga.

The city became independent in 1790, under the leadership of Yazid (1790–1792) and later of Abu´r-Rabi Sulayman. In 1795 control of the city returned to Morocco. Fez took part in a rebellion in 1819-1821, led by Ibrahim ibn Yazid, as well as in the 1832 rebellion led by Muhammad ibn Tayyib.

Following the implementation of the Treaty of Fez, the city was heavily damaged in the 1912 Fez riots.[24]

Fez was the capital of Morocco until 1925. Rabat remained the capital even when Morocco achieved independence in 1956.

Despite its traditional character, there is a modern section: the Ville Nouvelle or "New City". Today it is a bustling commercial center. The popularity of the Fez has increased since the King of Morocco took a computer engineer from Fez, Salma Bennani, as his wife.

Place Lalla Yeddouna at the heart of the Medina is currently undergoing reconstruction and preservation measures following a design competition sponsored by the Millennium Challenge Corporation (Washington D.C.)[25] and the Government of the Kingdom of Morocco. The construction projects scheduled for completion in 2016 encompass historic preservation of particular buildings, construction of new buildings that fit into the existing urban fabric and regeneration of the riverfront. The intention is to not only preserve the quality and characteristics of the UNESCO World Heritage site, but to encourage the development of the area as a sustainable, mixed-use area for artisanal industries and local residents.


Located by the Atlas Mountains, Fez has a Mediterranean climate with a strong continental influence, shifting from cold and rain in the winter to dry and hot days in the summer months between June and September. Rainfall can reach up to 600 mm (24 in) per year. The winter highs typically reach only 15 °C (59 °F) in December–January. The highest and lowest temperatures ever recorded in the city are 46.7 °C (116 °F) and −8.2 °C (17 °F), respectively.(see weather-table below). Fez's climate is strongly similar to the one you find in Seville and Cordoba of Spain. Snowfall on average occurs once every 5 years.[26][27][28][29]

Climate data for Fez
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 25.0
Average high °C (°F) 14.7
Average low °C (°F) 4.1
Record low °C (°F) −8.2
Average rainfall mm (inches) 84.6
Average snowy days 0.2 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.2
Source #1: Hong Kong Observatory[30]
Source #2: Meoweather.com,[29] Voodoo skies for extremes[28]


The prefecture is divided administratively into the following:[31]

Name Geographic code Type Households Population (2004) Foreign population Moroccan population Notes
Agdal 231.01.01. Arrondissement 32740 144064 747 143317
Mechouar Fes Jdid 231.01.03. Municipality 6097 26078 83 25995
Saiss 231.01.05. Arrondissement 32990 156590 561 156029
Fes-Medina 231.01.07. Arrondissement 20088 91473 110 91363
Jnan El Ouard 231.01.09. Arrondissement 32618 174226 15 174211
El Mariniyine 231.01.11. Arrondissement 37958 163291 40 163251
Oulad Tayeb 231.81.01. Rural commune 3233 19144 3 19141 5056 residents live in the center, called Ouled Tayeb; 14088 residents live in rural areas.
Ain Bida 231.81.03. Rural commune 1146 6854 0 6854
Sidi Harazem 231.81.05. Rural commune 982 5133 0 5133 3317 residents live in the center, called Skhinate; 1816 residents live in rural areas.

Main sights[edit]

The Bou Inania Madrasa built by the Marinid sultan Abu Inan Faris in 1351.

Fez is becoming an increasingly popular tourist destination and many non-Moroccans are now restoring traditional houses (riads and dars) as second homes in the Fez medina. The most important monuments in the city are:

University of al-Karaouine[edit]

The University of al-Karaouine or al-Qarawiyyin (Arabic: جامعة القرويين) is the oldest continually operating university in the world.[32] The al-Karaouine mosque was founded by Fatima al-Fihri in 859 with an associated school, or madrasa, which subsequently became one of the leading spiritual and educational centers of the historic Muslim world.[33] It became a state university in 1963, and remains an important institution of learning today.[34]


The city is served by Saïss Airport. It also has an ONCF train station with lines east to Oujda and west to Tanger and Casablanca.[35]


Fez Stadium.

Fez has two football teams, MAS Fez (Fés Maghrebi) and Wydad Fés (WAF). They both play in the Botola the highest tier of the Moroccan football system and play their home matches at the 45,000 seat Complexe Sportif de Fès stadium.

Notable residents[edit]

International relations[edit]

Twin towns — sister cities[edit]

Fez is twinned with:


See also[edit]

  • Treaty of Fez
  • Book by Roger Le Tourneau (English translation by Besse Clement), Fez in the Age of the Marinides, Oklahoma University, editions 1961 and 1974 (latter ISBN 0-8061-1198-4).
  • Article by Julian Vigo. "The Renovation of Fes’ medina qdima and the (re)Creation of the Traditional", Writing the City, Transforming the City, New Delhi: Katha, edition 2006.
  • The open international project competition for Lalla Yeddouna, A Neighborhood in the Medina of Fez, announced in September 2010 in collaboration with the Union International des Architectes (UIA) and the Millenium Challenge Corporation (MCC), to renew the area and upgrade the living and working standards of the artisans in the medina. The approach of the project is probably one of the most ambitious for an Arab medina and therefore of exemplary character (www.projectcompetition-fez.com). The open international project was won by the London-based architecture practice Mossessian & Partners.


  1. ^ "Fes, Kingdom of Morocco", Lat34North.com & Yahoo! Weather, 2009, webpages: L34-Fes and Yahoo-Fes-stats.
  2. ^ Morocco 2014 Census
  3. ^ Mother Nature Network, 7 car-free cities
  4. ^ History of Fes
  5. ^ Cities of the Middle-East and North-Africa A historical enceclopedia. Michael Dumper, Bruce E. Stanley, pagina 151.
  6. ^ An architectural Investigation of Marinid and Watasid Fes p. 19
  7. ^ "Fes". Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Britannica Concise Encyclopedia. 3 Mar. 2007
  8. ^ The Places Where Men Pray Together, p. 463, at Google Books p. 55
  9. ^ A History of the Maghrib in the Islamic Period By Jamil Mir'i Abun-Nasr. p. 51.
  10. ^ Realm of Saints, p. 9, at Google Books
  11. ^ Merriam Webster's Collegiate Encyclopedia. p.574.
  12. ^ The Almoravids and the Meanings of Jihad, p. 43, at Google Books (p.51)
  13. ^ Morocco 2009, p. 252, at Google Books (p.252)
  14. ^ Roudh el-Kartas: Histoire des souverains du Maghreb, p. 459, at Google Books
  15. ^ http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/348/1/uk_bl_ethos_426809.pdf An architectural Investigation of Marinid and Watasid Fes (p.16)
  16. ^ http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/348/1/uk_bl_ethos_426809.pdf An architectural Investigation of Marinid and Watasid Fes (p.23)
  17. ^ Encyclopedia of Islam, p. 896, at Google Books (p. 605)
  18. ^ The Berbers and the Islamic State, p. 91, at Google Books (p. 90)
  19. ^ Islamic Art a Visual Culture, p. 121, at Google Books (p. 121)
  20. ^ 'http://www.al-hakawati.net/english/Cities/fez.asp
  21. ^ http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/348/1/uk_bl_ethos_426809.pdf An architectural Investigation of Marinid and Watasid Fes (p.5)
  22. ^ "The Encyclopedia of World History". Bartleby.com. 2001. pp. 1553–54. Archived from the original on 2008-01-18. Retrieved 2009-05-05. 
  23. ^ Morocco and the Ottomans: The Sixteenth Century in North Africa by Michael Brett p.334
  24. ^ H. Z(J. W.) Hirschberg (1981). A history of the Jews in North Africa: From the Ottoman conquests to the present time, edited by Eliezer Bashan and Robert Attal. BRILL. p. 318. ISBN 90-04-06295-5. 
  25. ^ https://www.mcc.gov/where-we-work/program/morocco-compact Millennium Challenge Corporation, Washington D.C.
  26. ^ http://www.aemet.es/en/conocermas/publicaciones/detalles/guia_resumida_2010
  27. ^ http://www.weather.gov.hk/wxinfo/climat/world/eng/africa/mor_al/Fes_e.htm
  28. ^ a b http://voodooskies.com/weather/morocco/fes/monthly/temperature
  29. ^ a b "Weather history for Fez, Figuig, Morocco : Fez average weather by month". Meoweather.com. Retrieved 20 July 2014. 
  30. ^ "Climatological Information for Fez, Morocco". Hong Kong Observatory. 15 August 2011. Retrieved 16 August 2012. 
  31. ^ "Recensement général de la population et de l'habitat de 2004" (PDF). Haut-commissariat au Plan, Lavieeco.com. Retrieved 22 April 2012. 
  32. ^ Guinness World Records, Oldest University
  33. ^ UNESCO, World Heritage Listing for Medina of Fez.
  34. ^ Larbi Arbaoui, Al Karaouin of Fez: The Oldest University in the World, Morocco World News, 2 October 2012.
  35. ^ "::.. Oncf ..::". Oncf.ma. Retrieved 2009-05-05. 
  36. ^ Author of 'Traditional Moroccan Cooking, Recipes from Fez' (Serif, London, 2003). ISBN 1-897959-43-5
  37. ^ "Jumelage". Fes city. Retrieved 2010-12-10. 
  38. ^ Portal of Fez Partnercities, visited 26 July 2011
  39. ^ "Sister cities of İzmir (1/7)" (in Turkish). Retrieved 2008-11-01. 
  40. ^ "Acordos de Geminação" (in Portuguese). © 2009 Câmara Municipal de Coimbra – Praça 8 de Maio – 3000-300 Coimbra. Retrieved 2009-06-25. 
  41. ^ "Kraków - Miasta Partnerskie" [Kraków -Partnership Cities]. Miejska Platforma Internetowa Magiczny Kraków (in Polish). Archived from the original on 2013-07-02. Retrieved 2013-08-10. 

Further reading[edit]

Published in the 19th century
  • Jedidiah Morse; Richard C. Morse (1823), "Fez", A New Universal Gazetteer (4th ed.), New Haven: S. Converse 
  • H.M.P. de la Martinière (1889), "(Fez)", Morocco: Journeys in the Kingdom of Fez and to the Court of Mulai Hassan, London: Whittaker & Co., OCLC 4428176 
Published in the 20th century
Published in the 21st century
  • Stefano Bianca (2000), "Case Study 3: Fez", Urban Form in the Arab World, Zürich: ETH Zürich, ISBN 3728119725, 0500282056 
  • C. Edmund Bosworth, ed. (2007). "Fez". Historic Cities of the Islamic World. Leiden: Koninklijke Brill. 
  • Michael R.T. Dumper; Bruce E. Stanley, eds. (2008), "Fez", Cities of the Middle East and North Africa, Santa Barbara, USA: ABC-CLIO 
  • "Fez". Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art & Architecture. Oxford University Press. 2009. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Capital of Islamic Culture
Succeeded by
Alexandria, Djibouti, Lahore