Fes el Bali

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UNESCO World Heritage Site
Medina of Fez
Name as inscribed on the World Heritage List
Fes, Old Medina.jpg
Location Morocco
Type Cultural
Criteria ii, v
Reference 170
UNESCO region Arab States
Inscription history
Inscription 1981 (5th Session)

Fes el Bali (Arabic: فاس البالي‎‎) (English: Old Fes) is the oldest walled part of Fes, Morocco. Fes el Bali was founded as the capital of the Idrisid dynasty between 789 and 808 AD.[1] Besides being famous for having the oldest university in the world, the University of Al-Karaouine,[2] Fes el Bali, with a total population of 156,000, is also believed to be the biggest car-free urban area in the world.[3]

UNESCO listed Fes el Bali as a world heritage site in 1981 under the name Medina of Fez. The world heritage site includes Fes el Bali's urban fabric and walls as well as a buffer zone outside of the walls that is intended to preserve the visual integrity of the location.[4]

Fes el Bali is, along with Fes Jdid and the French-created Ville nouvelle, one of the three main districts in Fes.


The leather tanneries in Fes.

As the capital for his newly acquired empire, Idris ibn Abdallah chose to build a new town on the right bank of the Fes river in 789 CE. Many of the first inhabitants were refugees fleeing from an uprising in Cordoba (modern-day Spain) [5] However, in 809 CE his son, Idris II, decided to found a capital of his own on the opposite bank of the Fes River. There were many refugees who decided to settle in the new city this time too, however this time they fled from an uprising in Kairouan (in modern Tunisia).[5]

Even though they were only separated by a relatively small river the cities developed separately and became two individual cities until they were unified in the 11th century by the Almoravids.

One good example of how the refugees contributed to making Fes flourish during the early years is the University of Al-Karaouine that was built by a Tunisian refugee in 859 CE. It is considered the oldest university in the world.[1]

Under the Almoravids, Fes lost its status as a capital when the Almoravids created Marrakech, which they made their capital.

The Almoravids destroyed large parts of Fes el Bali but managed to create modern-day Fes el Bali when they united the twin cities by tearing down that separated them and by building bridges across the Fes river.

During Almohad rule, Fes was a thriving merchant city, even though it was not a capital, and even became the largest city in the world during that time, with approximately 200,000 people living there.[6]

After defeating the Almoravids in Morocco, the Marinids moved the capital from Marrakech back to Fes.[7] This marked the beginning of the greatest period of the history for Fes el Bali.[7] When the Marinids moved the capital to Fes in 1276 they started building a new town outside the old city walls. At first it was called the white city [7] but after a while it got a new name; Fes Jdid, or new Fes. This is when Fes el Bali, or the old Fes, got its name too. Before Fes Jdid was founded it was called Fes.

Most of the principal monuments in Fes el Bali were built under Marinid rule. In the 14th century a mellah was added to the urban fabric.


According to the UNESCO there are two main threats to this World Heritage Site:

  • A ever-increasing population in an already dangerously overpopulated area and the uncontrolled urban development which is a result of that.[1]
  • The deterioration of the buildings [1]

Because of the vulnerability of the site the State has adopted a special plan to care for this world heritage site and every building and monument it contain.[1] The aim is to prevent houses from collapsing, increase sustainable tourism and to safeguard everything.


External links[edit]

Coordinates: 34°03′40″N 04°58′40″W / 34.06111°N 4.97778°W / 34.06111; -4.97778