Fez, the most beautiful of Morocco’s Imperial cities

Mustafa Ettoualy
Mustafa Ettoualy is a PHD candidate at the University of Sidi Mohamed Ben abdellah and an administrative staff at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco
Fez, the most beautiful of Morocco’s Imperial cities

Fez – Home to one of the magnificent medieval monuments that attest to time honored-civilization, Fez is now Morocco’s spiritual capital, a tourist attraction and Morocco’s third most populous city.

The Athens of Africa or Mecca of the West as some historians prefer to call it, Fez has a diversified rich history that dates back to the arrival of Idriss I in the late eight century, when he fled the persecution of Abbassides to find a safe refuge among the Amazigh tribes of Awraba who supported him and appointed him leader given his genealogy that can be traced back to the Prophet.

The first part of the city was built on the right bank of the Wadi-Fez river. When a flux of families moved from the city of Kairawn in present day Tunisia, they came to settle in the first neighborhood in Fez, which is known amongst the historians as “Adwat El Karawiyins” (the neighborhood of El karawiyins).

Also, after the decline of “Andalusia” in Spain, Andalusian families emigrated from across the Mediterranean to settle in Fez to form like the Tunisian families, their own neighborhood: “Adwat Al Andalussiyin” (Andalusian neighborhood).

the population of Fez also included Jews who settled in large neighborhoods called “Mellahs.”

After the assassination of “Idriss I,” his elder son -”Idriss II”- enlarged Fez by building a new city on the left bank of the Wadi-Fez.

Fez remained divided into two parts: “the western and the northern Fez” until it was occupied by “Mourabiteen,” the Almoravids, who under the rule of Youssef Ibn Tchafin unified the city to be their military headquarters to wage a war against the tribes that governed the northern Morocco.

Following the collapse of the Andalusian state in Spain, Fez became under the control of the princes of Znata (the local rulers of Morocco). After a few decades, its rule moved from the Almoravids, to the Almouhads, the ‘Unifiers’, in 1143.

In the fourteenth century, its sovereignty came under the fist of the “Merinids”, who made it their new capital instead of Marrakesh, as the state of Almouhads crumbled.

In 1554, its domination shifted to the “Saadiyin” until 1649, when it became under the “Alawiyin” dynasty, the lineage of king Mohammed VI.

The Alawiyin, in their turn, kept Fez as the capital until 1912, (the year when Morocco was occupied officially by French army.) After the independence of Morocco in 1956, Moroccan authorities made Rabat as the capital of their state

Special custody of the king of Morocco to Fez

In 2008, Fez was to celebrate its 1200th anniversary. Because of this occasion, the king of Morocco gave orders- during a long visit to this Imperial city- to the government and to the local rulers to take necessary procedures to restore the entirety of the old Medina, advising them to keep to its medieval and original character. The new Medina (city), also, is concerned with this rehabilitation. Consequently, at the present time, Fez has become like a bride on her wedding day. “It has become the most beautiful city in Morocco,” Cecilia, the former wife of Nicolas Sarkozy, former French  president, declared during her last visit with her partner Richard Attias, who is also native of Fez. If you visit the old Medina, you will feel, undoubtedly, as though you were living in the medieval centuries. It will make you immerse in an orientalist feeling. And if you wander in the new city, you will, certainly, believe that you are hiking in a garden. As a result, Fez of today, combines the genuineness of the medieval period and the modernity of the 21st century.

The Medina of Fez, Morocco

Fez: the Pioneer

- The first capital of the first Islamic state in the Maghreb (North Africa)

- Fez for centuries remained the heart of Moroccan and the sub-Saharan economy, and at the time, Fez was considered the axis of economic change of Africa

- Fassi scholars, known as the Olama, and traders had a voice in choosing the authorities of Morocco

- The succeeding kings of the country had to seek support from the Fassi. Without this support, they could not be legitimate rulers

The Mystery of the Nomination of the Streets

Fez is renowned for its narrow streets. Each street and neighborhood was devoted to certain handicrafts. This was such an extent that the streets and neighborhoods took the names of that occupation or tradition. For example the neighborhood that the Jews in Fez occupied is called “Almallah” -an Arabic word which is derived from “Milh” or salt. And that neighborhood took this name, Almallah, because the Jews, as a custom, put salt on the head of a sinful person and hung it on the Gate of the neighborhood.

The Grand Mosque of Qaraueiine in Fez, Morocco

Fez: An International World Heritage

Fez was classified as an international world heritage site in 1981 by UNESCO. Also, it has been chosen by the ISESCO as the capital of the Islamic world. Every year it hosts many cultural initiatives and festivals such as, “The Festival of Fes”, “The Festival of Poetry”, which is organized each February, “The meeting of Ibn Rushd”, “The Culinary Festival”, “The Festival of Malhoun”,”The Festival of the Spring of Fez”, “The Festival of Andalusian Music”, ”The Festival of the Sacred Music” and “The Museum of Sidi Ahmed Atijani.”

Recognized people of Fez

  What testify the glory of Fez are its ancient figures:

- The first is:  Abu Amra Ibn El Fassi, the scholar of the Kirawan “Tunisia”

- The second is: Ibn Khaldoun , the founder of Sociology

- The third is: Abu Abbas , who is known as Ibn Abnae, the most important mathematician of  his time

-  The fourth is: Abu Bakr Mohamed Ibn Yahya , a famous linguist and doctor

The Grand Mosque of Qaraueiine in Fez, Morocco

The mosques of Fez

A lot of mosques are spread all over the city. There is no street without a mosque where the worshipers pray to God. However, the most prominent of all is the mosque of Elkarouyin- the pride of Fez. This mosque was established by Fatima Elfihrya in 757- in a small area- in the center of the city. In the era of Ali Ben Youssef of the Almoravids, he annexed to it the houses that surrounded it. Many craftsmen, either from Morocco or from Andalusia participated in its ornamentation to give us a masterpiece. Some years after its establishment, the Omawi king, who ruled the Middle East and Arabian Peninsula, built its minaret at his personal expense. Because of the successive patronage of kings that ruled Morocco, “Elkarouiyin” became throughout its history a cultural, religious and scientific spot par excellence.

Edited by Benjamin Villanti and Ahmed El Jechtimi

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