The very essence of Morocco exudes ostentatious grandeur, dexterous artistry and mystical tales of an era past. However, it’s Fez – the oldest of Morocco’s imperial cities – that combines all this and more as it retells tales from its 14th century history when it was the hub of culture.
It still remains home to traditional artisans, vibrant souks, medieval Marinid architecture and lively medinas.
All around are the famed, intricately carved and precious metal inlaid Moroccan doors – architecture that presents an artist’s heaven – and glimpses of everyday life bustling through UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
A labyrinth of narrow winding alleyways in the ancient medina of Fez is home to about a million people. Enter through the ornate mosaic tiled blue gate and once inside those stone walls, turn around – the other side of the gate is green.
The medina seems to be in constant pandemonium as everyday life unfolds for the locals; but for tourists, it’s full of surprises.
Apparent blind alleys open up to large squares containing picturesque fountains and rooftops basking in the glory of minarets. Down below, vendors jostle to sell luscious nougat, cheeses, dried fruit, mosaic tiles, crockery, rich tapestries and handwoven carpets.
There’s also that famous Morocco leather tannery. The shops surrounding the tannery have built balconies for a good view of the premises. Take advantage of the sprigs of mint offered by the shopkeepers to keep the foul smell at bay. But the experience of the tannery itself is unique. Pick up a pair of leather shoes, jacket or even handbag – although the prices need to be bargained down significantly, like everything else that’s purchased in these souks.
Two must-see sites not far from Fez are Chefchaouen (founded in 1471) and Volubilis (the ancient Roman city built around the 3rd century BC). Chefchaouen, which is set in the Rif mountains, must be seen to be believed. It’s the only city in the world that’s painted in a striking cobalt blue, giving it an artsy and almost ethereal beauty. The hammams offer some amazing spa treatments for those who like a bit of a scrub.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Volubilis, which is a partly excavated Berber city, is believed to be the ancient capital of Mauretania. The ruined city narrates the glorious magnificence of Roman architecture, if only one can picture the full splendour of the basilica, temple, triumphal arch, bathhouses and mosaic floors.