Robin's Adventures

Morocco, Spain, & Portugal
A Picturesque Adventure


Fez, which is the second largest city of Morocco, was the capital of Morocco until 1912. While it is no longer the political center of Morocco, it is still considered by many to be the cultural and spiritual center.

As we entered the city, we saw the large ornate gates to the Royal Palace made of brass, elaborately carved wood, and beautiful zellige tilework. The palace, which is still used by the royal family, is not open to the public.

A city view from a nearby hilltop provides an insight into how densely populated the medina is and offers a glimpse of the city walls that surround the old town.

The Medina

The medina, or the old town, of Fez was first settled in the ninth century. It is a labyrinth of narrow cobblestoned pedestrian streets and alleys lined with interesting old buildings sporting a variety of unique architectural styles.

The medina, which covers about 800 acres and is surrounded by just over 15.5 miles of historic city walls, is believed to be one of the largest urban car free zones in the world.

Street View

Little has changed in the medina over the years, with the exception of the addition of electricity and plumbing. The different styles of doors, windows, and balconies made each home unique.

We enjoyed wandering through the tangle of maze-like streets, never quite sure what we would see around the next corner. Shops, businesses, artisans' workshops, mosques, old elaborate schools, decorative courtyards, fountains, and markets all appeared as we explored the medina.

Riad Fez

While we were in Fez, we stayed in the Riad Fez hotel. A riad is a Moroccan style home. The style is believed to have originated in the city of Volubilis in the late 8th century. These houses, which are two or more stories in height, are built around a central courtyard which contains a fountain. Walls are generally made of tadelakt plaster (plaster mixed with egg yolk and black soap to make it waterproof) and embellished with zellige tile designs.

Seen about Town

There are public water fountains throughout the medina so people who have no running water in their homes are able to bring water in for cooking and bathing. Most of these fountains are decorated with beautiful zellige tile designs.

As we wandered through the medina, we also passed by a mosque and a primary school classroom. We couldn't help but notice that the man at the mosque was engaged in quiet reflection, while the students at the school were quite a bit more boisterous.

Since the narrow streets of the medina are not designed for cars, local businesses often use donkeys to get wares to and from their shops. We saw many donkeys parked by the side of the road, but never saw a single sign designating a loading zone.

The Jewish Quarter

Jews fleeing the Spanish inquisition immigrated to Morocco and set up mellahs, or Jewish quarters in many cities. The Jewish Quarter in Fez, which first formed in 1438, was thriving by the 1600s.

Today, it is estimated that about 100 Jews remain in Fez, although most no longer dwell in the mellah. There has been a movement, however, since the 1990s to restore many of the old buildings in the mellah, including a couple of old synagogues.

We visited the Ibn Danan Synagogue and the Slat El Fassiyine Synagogue, both of which were built in the 17th century. We also visited an old Jewish cemetery.

Medersa Bou Inania Theological College

The Medersa Bou Inania Theological College was built between 1351 and 1357. The interior courtyard has beautiful sculpted plaster, intricate zellige tiles, and cedar panels with detailed carvings. Student housing was located on the upper floor and classrooms were on the ground floor.

Across the street is the Dar al-Magana, or clockhouse. On the front of the house is a water clock, built in 1357, which is powered by weights. There are 12 windows which have platforms with brass bowls below them. On the hour, one of the doors opened and a metal ball was released into the bowl. The clock has been under renovation since 2004.

We also saw a marble plaque at the former home of 12th century Jewish philosopher, Maimonides. The building is currently used as a restaurant.


Al-Qarawiyyin University, which was founded by a Muslim woman named Fatima al-Fihri in 859, is considered the world's oldest educational institution. In spite of the fact that the school was founded, and funded, by a woman, females were not actually admitted to the school until the 1940s.

Fresh Meats

Fresh meat and poultry was proudly displayed by merchants throughout the medina. The lack of refrigeration did not seem to be an issue and they did not seem to abide by the same health codes as we do at home. In addition, the large number of feral cats in Fez seemed to be very well fed. They apparently know just where to go for a handout.

Other Groceries

Dates, figs, almonds, and a variety of other nuts were plentiful as people shopped for their groceries. Khobz, a type of Moroccan flatbread, was also ubiquitous.