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48 Hours along the alleys of Morocco’s medieval capital

A journey through the meandering streets of Fez, seeking for traces of history and ancient, recently renovated architectures in a city that is already listed as a World Heritage Site

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An itinerary through the beauties of the ancient center of Fez

If, as a famous advertisement used to read, you are looking for an effective antidote against the stresses and strains of modern life, and if, as we might add, you wish to escape from the everyday dullness of common metropolises, then you will probably find yourselves happy men and women among Fez’s secret alleys.

So, after offering a cordial to Kipling, we are more than ready to suggest to the most curious travelers a brief itinerary through the narrow streets of the old Moroccan city to discover some of its more or less hidden treasures. Fez has been listed for 30 years now as a World Heritage Site. It has always been considered one of the most attractive centers in the entire Islamic world thanks to its meandering Medina, which is accessible only by foot, its sudden squares, its suggestive buildings and its spectacular, open-air workshops. 


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Among the city’s most stunning places, there is surely the tanners’ district, a real architectural painting. A most colorful, fascinating area, this Fez corner seems to have come out straight from the Middle Ages, with its unique succession of stone basins filled with liquids and natural pigments obtained from poppies, indigo, henna, saffron, pomegranate or further,  decidedly less noble raw materials.


The balconies of the small shops located in this part of the Fez Medina have provided a fantastic view of the city for more than a thousand years – an excellent perspective after having embarked through narrow streets inhabited by donkeys laden with leather and pungent smells to hold back by using a sprig of mint kept under your nose.

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Another feature to discover is the Madrasa Bou Inania, the only school of theological sciences in town, complete with an own minaret. An extraordinary specimen of Marinid architecture dating back to the 1300s, enhanced by the lively elegance of the geometric patterns of a sequence of mosaics made from glazed terracotta, and the fascination arising from its sophisticated engraved cedar wood ceilings. Set in front of the madrasa, we can admire another unmissable gem of technique and aesthetics: an imposing hydraulic clock including 12 arched windows animated by an infallible mechanism. 


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Entering the spice and perfumes market we can find the Madrasa al-Attarin, that is, the perfumers’ madrasa. As many other similar schools in Fez, it actually conceals a fabulous universe of decorative motifs adorning an ample courtyard and its rectangular arcades in a supremely inspired mixture of glazed tiles, stucco ornaments, carved wood frames and solid marble columns. 

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Thanks to its different layers of history and cultures crowding its streets, Fez offers architects and creatives a multiplicity of occasions to test their imagination with bold, extravagant renovation projects.

One of these has been signed by studio Oualalou + Choi who, for the occasion, has given new life to the spaces of the four caravanserais in the heart of the old city by blending different disciplines such as urban design, architectural restoration and landscape architecture. To complete the restyling, designers have relied on the warmth of wood and evocative details connected with the local, ancient copper industry. 


To venture into a maze in search of hidden treasures, though, may cause a certain appetite. To compensate for this kind of “collateral effect” we advise you make a detour to The Ruined Garden, a restaurant-café set among the ruins of an old courtyard home in the heart of the Medina. Once there, guests who have managed to find the place orienting themselves among the alleys – it is also possible to book a city guide in order to reach the location – will enjoy street food, sweets, fruit juices reinterpreting classic Moroccan cuisine, all of them prepared with fresh local products and sometimes grown in the Garden itself (ruinedgarden.com).

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At night, you may enojy a regenerating stop at the Palais Amani: a typical riad that has been converted into a luxury hotel. From the multi-storied structures and courtyards of this classic Moroccan urban building, a series of cozy bedrooms and comfortable communal areas has been obtained: a rooftop bar where to relax by sipping a cocktail with a splendid view of the city; a hall equipped with a stunning hearth to retreat to when it’s cold outside; a kitchen where you can learn the secrets of the local cuisine, and a traditional hammam, the perfect place to definitely forget the meaning of the word “stress” (www.palaisamani.com). 

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by Francesco Marchesi / 15 January 2018


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