Yes, the oldest university in the world isn’t Bologna or Oxford; it is based in Fes, the cultural capital of Morocco. Fes was the capital of Morocco until 1912, but it’s still one of the best destinations in the country, recognized for its spiritual and cultural significance. Dating back to the 9th century, the city has stunning Morrocco’s historic monuments, including beautiful palaces, mosques, fountains, museums, and small picturesque alleys. Fes el Bali, part of the largest Medina in North Africa, is one of the best places to visit in Fes. The Medina was the heart of the ancient city of Fes and gives vacationers an insight into the long, beautiful history of the place while marveling at its architectural wonders. Here is how to plan an adventure in Fes El Bali, Morocco, home to the world’s oldest university.
Fes Medina: A UNESCO World Heritage Site
Fes el-Bali, Morocco
The Fes Medina was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981 and is recognized as an incredible example of a medieval town in the Arab-Muslim world. It is more than just an architectural wonder. The Medina represents a unique archeological and cultural heritage, which is passed through generations, and despite the ever-changing modern world, they have retained their traditional charm. Exploring the medina is one of the best cultural things to do in Fes, Morocco. The Medina has gone through numerous transformations to keep up with the everyday changes.
Fes Medina comprises two quarters; Fes el-Medina and Fes Jdid. Dating back to the 9th and 10th centuries, Fes el-Bali is the oldest part of the Fes Medina. This was around the same time the Islamic region was brought into the country. The whole Medina has grown a lot, especially during the 12th and 13th centuries. While many of the buildings seen along its small streets, including the palaces, mosques, and madrasas, seem modern, they date back to these ancient times. They were renovated to make room for modern uses.
What Is It Like To Explore Fes El Bali?
Aerial view of Fes El Medina
The Medina is charming, and previous travelers loved it. But it is not for the faint-hearted. It is advisable to explore it with a guide. This is not just about being safe during the tour but also to avoid getting lost in the Medina. Some of the passageways are very narrow and dark – and finding the way out of certain spots can be very challenging (it wouldn’t be so much of an overstatement to say someone can get lost forever!).
Travelers will be meeting people constantly throughout their visit, and while Morocco is among the safest countries in Africa, pickpocketing is very common in the whole area of the Medina. So, tourists must be very cautious with their belongings and who they talk to.
There are several stalls with different food items, handicrafts, and souvenirs.
Things To Do In Fes El Bali
The view of the Fes Medina from above
Bab Bou Jeloud
Bab Bou Jeloud is the most beautiful gate in the city of Fes. It is among the first things tourists will encounter in Fes el-Bali. Built in the 12th century, this gate is a popular gathering spot for the locals. The current gate was built by the French in 1913 when they conquered Fes.
Visit The University Of Al- Quaraouiyine: The World’s Oldest University
The University of Al- Quaraouiyine, which translates to “University of the People,” is the oldest continuously operating university in the world. Founded by Fatima al-Fahri in 859, the university is the first in the world to be founded by a woman. It later became one of the most significant educational and spiritual centers among Muslims. It was included in the state university system of Morocco in 1963. The building may not look large because of its position in the heart of the Medina, amidst many other buildings, but it is very large and boasts numerous architectural styles, including some Moroccan and Islamic features.
Explore The Incredible Chouara Tannery
The tannery at Fes el-Bali
One of the highlights of exploring this part of Fez is purchasing some of Morocco’s best leather products. Seeing the processing of making the products is one of the best experiences one can have in Fes, and the local tanneries are the places to do that.
Chouara Tannery is one of the oldest, largest, and most famous tanneries and guarantees an unforgettable experience. The tannery has been there for more than 1,000 years, and vacationers will find plenty of outdoor pools and people working to come out with impressive results sold in the local shops and stores. The leather-making process is impressive, but tourists find it challenging to experience because of the scams that tourists go through. That is why one has to be very careful and visit with a guide.
At the showroom, travelers will see the fantastic end results. The quality of the end products is amazing, and they are also not overcharged. There are many items to choose from, including belts, jackets, pants, bags, and shoes. Visitors may have their items customized if they don’t like what’s already on display.
This is another place to stay extremely careful and prepared before deciding to go. There are stories of some sales representatives being too pushy and even forcing people to buy their products by almost holding them hostage.
Dar Batha Museum
Dar Batha Museum’s courtyard
Dating back to the 19th century, Dar Batha was a summer palace, later transformed into a museum in 1915. It boasts an incredible collection of Moroccan traditional arts and crafts.
Zaouia De Moulay Idris II
Located in the heart of Fes el-Bali, Zaouia De Moulay Idris II is one of the most striking attractions in Fes, considered one of the country’s holiest shrines. It is the resting place of Moulay Idris, the founder of Fez. Idris II passed away in 828, and no one knows where his body is, but people believe this was his final resting place. The current shrine was constructed in 1720, of course, after the existence of others over the centuries.
Tourists can only enter this place if they are of the Islamic religion. Non-Muslims are only allowed to see the shrine from the main entrance.
Visit The Madrasas: Al Attarine And Bou Inania
Dating back to the 1300s, Al Attarine Madrasa is one of the most stunning buildings in Fes el-Bali. One of its most striking features is the gorgeous central courtyard.
Bou Inania Madrasa is also worth visiting during a trip to the Fes Medina. It is dating back to the mid-1300s and boasts magnificent architecture. Unlike Attarine Madrasa or other madrasas in Fes, Bou Inania features its own mosque.
Is It Worth Visiting Fes El Bali?
An aerial view of Fes Medina with a tannery and buildings
Absolutely! There is a lot to experience in Fes el-Bali, including the museums, palaces, and of course, the world’s oldest continuously operating university. The place is honestly worth exploring and is among the reasons why everyone should visit Morocco, regardless of the time of the year one chooses to visit.
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