Fes is a heady, intoxicating mix of the old and the new, a medieval city side by side with a Westernized area lined with modern shops and hotels. It is Morocco’s cultural and religious center, with three distinct areas – the old walled city of Fes el-Bali (declared a UNESCO Heritage Site in 1981), Fes-Jdid, which is home to the old Jewish quarter, and the modernized Ville Nouvelle, which was built by the French and is a bustling commercial center.
The first stop for tourists should, of course, be the old city. You enter it through the Bab Boujeloud gate, one of Morocco’s most famous attractions. It is interesting to note how the color of the mosaics change once inside the gate – from the outside it is blue, the color of the city, but inside the tiles are green – the color of Islam. Make sure to dine at one of the main rooftop restaurants located at the city square where you can while away the time with a great overhead view of life in the city while you nurse your mint tea.
To get an overview of traditional Moroccan culture, you can visit the old city’s three museums – the Nejarine Museum of Wooden Arts and Crafts, the Dar Batha Museum and the Belghazi Museum. The last one also sells the blue pottery the city is famous for. The old city’s Islamic schools or medersas offer glimpses of the craftsmanship of the Merenid Dynasty, which made Fes their capital from 1269 to 1420. The Medersa Bou Inania has some excellent examples of Merenid woodwork and plasterwork while the Medersa el-Attarine has an incredible view of the city from its rooftop. Also a popular attraction is the tanner’s quarter, which harks back to a time when Fes was a major center of leather goods manufacturing, where from a platform tourists can look down at the tanneries and see how they do their work.