By Ewelina Lepionko
Morocco is famous for its historic imperial cities: Fez, Meknes, Marrakesh, and Rabat. Of the four, Fez is both the oldest and the most impressive but often overlooked by tourists in favor of Marrakech.
Although the political capital of Morocco was transferred to Rabat in 1912, Fez has retained its status as the country's cultural center. This is the spiritual capital of Morocco, famed for its handicraft work. It is an open-air museum, with the largest pedestrian zone in the world and almost 10,000 small streets. Its old town, or medina, is ranked as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The walled “medina” of Fez is known to be a maze to everyone who hasn’t grown up there.
Fez was founded in the 9th century and home to the oldest university in the world. The city reached its height in the 13th–14th centuries under the Marinids when it replaced Marrakesh as the capital of the kingdom. The Medina of Fez preserves, in an ancient part comprising numerous monumental buildings, the memory of the capital founded by the Idrisid dynasty.
In the tourist guides, we can read that behind the high crenelated walls that surround the medina, lie 9,000 historical houses, 11 madrassas, around 200 mosques, and more than a thousand handicraft workshops. Even though many “Fessi” trades their medina home for a more modern home in the novelle city, it is still home to 70 000 people. The ancient medina is a live treasure, hidden and secret, which cannot be taken lightly
Today, the medina is known as Fez el-Bali, and its magic remains undimmed by the passage of time. Outside the medina lies the newest part of Fez, referred to as Ville Nouvelle. It is another world entirely, comprised of wide boulevards, modern shops, and busy traffic.