48 Hours in Fez | Morocco
Fez is known for it’s craftsman, from colorful pottery, to hammered copper, to leather goods in all hides and shapes. Spend most of your time in the old Medina in Fez to maximize your experience. Visiting on a guided tour with Intrepid Travel or G Adventures ensures you won’t miss a thing.
Avenue Ahmed Bel Frej
Quartier de Poterie – where I watched Moroccan artisans create plates, tiles, bowls, fountains etc. from clay to, man gauged wood fired kiln, to hand painting, and finished glazed products for sale in the shop.
The dyeing vats at Chouara—as well as at the city’s other tanneries—are among the Fes medina’s most iconic sights. The ancient craft of tanning and dyeing, in all its visceral authenticity (cow urine and pigeon poop are still key components in the process), plays out much as it always has. Chouara has been around since the 11th century. The dyes used in the tannery pits are natural: Blue comes from indigo; red, from poppy or paprika; yellow, from saffron, pomegranate, or even a mix of turmeric and mimosa flowers. The best vantage point for observation is from one of the roof terraces. Leather shops hawking everything from butter-soft leather babouches (iconic Moroccan backless slippers) and poufs, to copies of designer jackets and handbags. (That Hermès Birkin bag, or a facsimile of it, could finally be yours at a fraction of the price.) Although the guides around here are a tenacious lot, don your best smile, carry a posy of mint to hold beneath your nostrils, and settle in for a long chat with the shopkeepers to learn about fascinating process. Expect prices in the shops to vary wildly—much depends on your haggling prowess. A favorite store is the aptly named La Belle Vue de la Tannerie, off the main drag. The shop has sought out skilled tailors with European know-how to create items of better quality using all Moroccan hides, which results in better leather goods. The tailors can copy a motorcycle jacket for you in three or four hours from goat or lambskin, the softest of the hides.
Founded in 859 by the pious Tunisian entrepreneur Fatima al-Fihri, the Qarawiyin is the oldest continuously operating university in the world. Originally the course of study was entirely focused on the Koran (prospective students still need to have memorized the religious text in its entirety before applying), but over the centuries, music, medicine, and astronomy were added to the curriculum, as well as practices like Sufism. This multidisciplinary place of learning is thought to have become the blueprint for universities everywhere—and it’s still possible for young Muslims to earn a first-class honors degree here. The mosque, which also boasts an area for women’s worship, has space for 22,000 people, making it the biggest in Africa. Though non-Muslims can only glimpse the interior of the complex through various doorways, there have been recent reports that the library may open to the public at some point. (Also note there are several spellings for the university’s name: Kairaouine and Qarawiyyin seem to be the most frequently seen.)
Dar Tazi, Fes, Morocco
To immerse yourself in the life of a Moroccan housewife, take a stroll through the fresh-produce market of R’cif, which winds through the lower part of the Fes medina. Plan to arrive by 10 a.m. when the market really gets going (by 11:30 a.m., it’s packed). In addition to browsing stalls of plump fruit and vegetables from farms in the Middle Atlas, you can snack here, too: hot trid—a gossamer-thin pastry baked over a rounded clay pot or “egg”—and irresistible meloui (multiple layers of dough that become soft and flaky as they are cooked) stuffed with spiced onions. Don’t miss seeing the infamously grumpy camel butcher whose signage is a real camel’s head hanging from a hook. Around lunchtime, mastermind your way deep into the souks to find the Achabine area, where the city’s best street food vendors ply their trade. The dishes served up here built this city and continue to do so every lunchtime: comforting bessara (split-pea or broad-bean soup) and harira (a Moroccan staple of chickpeas, lentils, and lamb broth); sardines doused in charmoula and deep-fried until crunchy; hard-boiled eggs dipped in cumin. Come in the evening if you crave bite-sized brochettes of tender lamb and spiced liver.