The Enchanting Ancient City of Fes!

Discovering the enchanting ancient city of Fes, as if I was taken back in time, the old buildings, imposing mosque, and it’s minarets towering the skyline. The city is listed UNESCO World Heritage sites, old buildings and customs and practices that I’m eager to learn more and capture it’s splendid beauty.

I’m venturing outside my comfort zone. My very first travel to a Muslim and African country. I’m heading to Fes Morocco and yes I’m travelling solo. I have read and seen beautiful photos of the Old Medina and tanneries. So here I am with my backpack and eagerness to find out and experience the Moroccan hospitality first hand! As I arrived in the evening, I was picked-up by the airport with prearrange taxi from my hotel. We swiftly snake-away from the airport and joining the traffic to the city. I have been informed before hand about local traffic, so I wasn’t ignorant about two lanes being used by 3-4 cars. With the simultaneous noise of the horn and flashing lights as they overtakes each other. Sounds like a welcome greetings of Moroccan’s for my arrival!

The balmy night and breeze of the Sahara, warmly welcomes me. The sticky feel of the night, and the echoing conversation of the locals in a dizzying Arabic words. The feeling of curiosity and with my tummy rambling I can’t wait to sample the local Moroccan Cuisine. My weary mood and been a long day travel, I just wanted to have a quick bite. One of the hotel staff has escorted me to a nearby restaurant, and on the way we drop by at the phone shop to purchase a local sim card. After savouring my first authentic Moroccan lamb tagine, with my satisfied full tummy and suddenly I felt so tired. So I decided hit the sack, to catch up badly needed sleep for the following days full pack adventure.

On the following day, upon studying the map and assessing my bearings. I was ready and eager to wander around the Medina. Meandering around and stumbling from the labyrinth of narrow alleys to the different souks. The everyday chaos, the echoing sounds around is so enchanting. Or even confusing my sense of direction, getting lost in the narrow alleyways. The smells of different spices and my admiration to the vibrant colours, the pungent odours that stings the nose, that awakens every fibre of my senses. The higgledy-piggledy of rubbish on every corner, next to a bread vendor’s cart. The colourful dresses and carpets hanging on the walls, and the pedestrians wading their way to their daily life routine.

As I walk passed a group of tourist with their maps and cameras, with their curious looks or should I say a looking loss. Fes Medina is the oldest and comprises of 9,500 alleyways, I wouldn’t be surprise if how many tourist get loss around each day.

As I continue to venture and find my way to the tanneries for some photography. On my way I met a Thai girl, solo travelling as well and we just got on well and walked our way to find the Leather Tanneries. We first stumble in a small tannery with only a few men working. They are processing the sheep skin these area, where they scraped off the hair and sent the woolly hair fibre to the carpet makers. And the skin will be sent off to the main tanneries site for dye treatment.

We visited two further tanneries and the one of which was the biggest tanneries in the city. The Chouara Tannery was built during the 11th century. It’s so fascinating watching the same method which was used thousand years ago. Where the workmen dye the animal skin to different colours transforming to a fine leather. We were guided to the viewpoint by the leather store owner, they even offer to have a mint leaves to masked of the rotten and pungent odour of the place. The smell didn’t bother’s me at all, after a few minutes you get used to the smell. I was just busy clicking my camera capturing the workmen in the tanneries.

After the visit to the tanneries, I decided to go for my architectural photography stroll. It’s so fascinating  wandering around admiring the old buildings,  beautiful wood carvings and those intricately designed tiles thats perfectly  laid on the main entrance.

I first visited the Madrasa, it’s an arabic word for any type of eduational institution. Al-Attarine Madrasa is located near the spices and perfume market, where it takes it’s name from Souk al-Attarine. It was built by the Marinid dynasty, sultan Uthman Abu Said. The central courtyard displays the traditional pattern of artisanship of the dynasty as evidence of the stunning zellij ( tilework).

While walking around the lunch time call for prayers, as so many mosque around it was echoing in the air in every direction. The haunting sounds that almost gives you a goose bump hearing it. Every mosque was busy this time of the day, and the doors are widely open to have a nose, its a bit strict only Muslims are allowed to get in, so I was just happily taking photos from outside.

But the funny thing I almost got into the Al Quaraouiyine Mosque as they greeted As-Salaam-Alaykum and I greeted them back Wa alaykumu Salam and they asked me if I was from Malaysia or Indonesia but I say No. Al Quaraouiyine Mosque was built in 9th century and still functioning todays as the major religious centre that dominates the Muslim festivities across the country. It features the stone minaret and lovely marble fountains in the centre of the courtyard.

Looking for a place to see the world go by head towards the Blue gate there’s a plaza few steps away. Why not join the locals to chill out there in the afternoon, there are food vendors like Escargo and chickpeas with hot soup. There’s even an entertainment. The vibrant atmosphere is so fascinating, kids running around, you can see their excitement.

If ever you want a good view of the entire Fes City, I highly suggest to walk outside the Medina, passing through  the old gate  and head towards the Marinid tombs and Borj Nord. Best to go there is just before the sunset, and the panoramic view of the city is so stunning. And the city lights slowly lit up and the evening prayer call echo’s in the air. It’s a fascinating evening or a romantic place to watch the world go by.

Insiders Tips :

  • When arriving from the airport its better to pre-arrange  a taxi from your hotel. Or if taking an airport taxi before  getting on, you need to agree with the price to avoid  conflicts later. Price range should be between  150 MAD to 200 MAD

  • Try to stay near the Medina to fully immerse yourself to the chaotic and bustling life of the locals.

  • You don’t need a guide to go around the Medina. It’s better to wander around and discover  every corner or even better get lost in the small  alleyways.

  • If you are loss on your trails and  locals offer you to show you the right direction, say that you are not paying them so that they wont expect anything after. Or if your feeling generous just give a small tip.

  • When visiting the tanneries it’s best to go in the morning. You don’t need to pay a guide to go there, you just need to go a leather shops and they will gladly take you to their viewing point.

  • Do check out my other Morrocan blog adventure link below:

  • Chefchaouen

  • Marrakesh

79 thoughts on “The Enchanting Ancient City of Fes!

  1. After reading, I get understand and have more respect with the workers on the tanneries. It seems that its a tough jobs, and its sad that many businesses pay them cheap.

  2. I love your photos! Very stunning architecture and landscape of a unique country! I especially like the Al Quaraouiyine Mosque. Can’t believe it was built in the 9th century wow!

    1. Indeed a place MUST SEE!
      Fascinating history, great food, amazing architectural designs and friendly people. Oh and it’s cheap/reasonable place to travel around

  3. Morocco has been on my travel list for so long! The architecture and the amazing food (I can’t wait to try that lamb tagine as well), plus the oriental feel always made Morocco a fascinating destination. I will surely add Fez to my itinerary for when I will finally go.

  4. Wow. Looks splendid. I love to visit UNESCO sites too and right now I’m visiting one in India. The architecture there looks mind blowing! The mosaic work is just awesome!

  5. I’m hoping to go to Morocco soon so this was really helpful. The tanneries look amazing and well done for not passing out over the foul odour. Nice that the owner offered you mint leaves!

  6. First of all, congrats for the photos! You have some skills! Do you do bracketing I suppose? Some of them are really breathtaking! Second, congrats for traveling alone in Africa! I have never done it, and I will not do it in the future, as I am married with a daughter 🙂 This place looks familiar to me because when I used to be a travel agent it was one of the good selling destinations 🙂

  7. All those colors really make the statement. I have never been to Morocco before, nor any Muslim country in Africa before, that is why your post was even more interesting. And Al Quaraouiyine Mosque looks really amazing!

  8. Congratulations on your first time in Morocco and Africa! I am from South Africa so yay for you! And props to you for traveling there solo! Im glad you got to meet someone else traveling solo there too – it certainly helps if you are feeling a little overwhelmed on your own. Your pictures are beautiful and Morocco remains high on my list!

    1. Thank you.
      My time and experience in Morocco is unforgettable. A place I can tell I will go back again. I am in a look out to visit another place in Africa.

  9. The tannery is quite fascinating. And I love the exquisite interiors of the mosque. So much of culture and heritage…Fes sounds amazing.

  10. I have heard a lot about Morocco and the tanneries from Fes. Your photos have captured very well the hard work labour the workers are putting into their job, at the tanneries. The Mosque is impressive as well, with all its architectural small details.

    1. The tannery smell awakes every fibre of your sense. Visitors/tourist goes there and utter Yuck what a smell? What more for the people who endures it everyday? My great appreciation to the hard work and their sacrifice to produce high quality fine leather.

  11. Your photos really capture the beauty of the city. I love seeing the tradesmen working at the tannery and how they dye the wool. The daily life scenes you describe really match my impression as an overload of the senses. I love how beautiful (even from the outside) the mosque is.

  12. I’ve heard wonderful things about Fes, much better than some other cities in Morocco. The photo of the spices would be enough to get me. But…no photos of food (except snails)? How was the food there?

    1. Yes Fes is my favourite to be honest my very first Moroccan city and its overwhelming. Food photo if I put one I might ended up putting tons. I can assure you Moroccan cuisine is the best no food photo needed!

  13. Morocco is so on my list of places to visit! The colors and the architecture is truly amazing and your photos are just fantastic – I love all the vibrant colors. I would have never thought to go to the tanneries so I will have to add this to my list of TO DO while in Morocco. I like the wander and walk no need for a guide, as we have 3 kids so I am always looking for things we can do on our own. Thank you for sharing! 🙂

  14. Never knew about Tannery. They are beautiful but I am sure sticky too. loved the way you mentioned all the details and captures those intricate designs of architecture.

  15. Fes has some incredible doorways! I love the little things like this when you visit a city – they really give you insight into what it’s like and make you feel connected to the city. Gorgeous pictures!

  16. great post – you have some fantastic photos! You did alot better than I did at the tanneries! I found the smell very full on. But like you it didn’t stop me taking loads of pics!

  17. That architecture is oh so beautiful. The details always get me. You can find similar details and architectural styles in Spain. Thanks for introducing me a new place to visit!

  18. I was just in Fes! But I was with a tour group. I really enjoyed visiting the tanneries and I agree that you get used to the smell. It sounds like you had a great time on your own. I would like to go back and visit on my own some day too!

    1. The great thing about wandering around on your own is that you take your time whatever you want to do than with groups. Definitely you need to go back and immerse yourself in the place and get loss around the medina Its more FUN!

  19. The colors all throughout the city are beautiful. From the spices to the architecture to the shoes! Hope to get a chance to explore Morocco one of these days.

    1. Yes Fes has the largest Medina around it is indeed the best place to get loss and finding and discovering beautiful little things on the way or find the perfect souvenirs to take home

  20. We read the tanneries in Marrakesh were notorious for ripping people off so we gave them a miss. It was great to see through your eyes/photos what the inside of one is like. It must be such hard word for such little pay – and they create such beautiful things. Even working with the horrible smell is something they should get danger money for!

    1. Totally agreed I also went to Marrakesh tannery they charge you when you get in and it’s very small space not much to see. I suggest go to Fes it has bigger tanneries and free to watch too!

  21. Beautiful pictures, which complement an interesting story. Very impressive leather processing. It’s such hard work. But the view from the top looks unusual, like a jars of paint.

  22. This is beautiful! What a great experience to go to a tannery. My friend recently went and felt constantly bombarded by the men there. What was your experience?

  23. Wow I have to add Fes to my itinerary when I go to Morocco! I love the idea of wandering around all those alleyways. It kind of reminds me of the hutongs in Beijing!

  24. I’ve always wanted to visit Morocco! The biggest draw for me would be the architecture. I love how detailed and elaborate it is. And thanks for the tip about visiting tanneries. I would have never thought to do that!

  25. Fes looks absolutely stunning. I’d like to visit it for the history and culture, and to get a first hand experience of a place I’ve only seen in movies. Those huge pits filled with dye, I’ve seen photos of those for year, and they’ve always fascinated me.

  26. Fes looks fabulous, how is it as a solo traveler though? Good you met another girl but then I was planning to go alone and I was warned against it. ( Yes, I know people always say this and I barely listen ) but they were so stern about Fes and solo travels. Now, reading your blog, I’m thinking, I should just do it.

    1. I travelled solo around Fes and other cities in Morocco. And yes I met a girl on my way to the utannery and we just spent maybye 30 minutes together. My suggestion when your solo wandering around try to wear headscarf you wont get any locals attention.

  27. Fes is my favourite city in Morocco. We visited twice. I love your photos and descriptions, it brought me right back to the old Medina. I especially love your tannery photos. We only looked at it from above.

  28. I love Fes. I was there a few months ago on my first ever trip to Morocco and fell in love with the country. I can’t wait to get back to Morocco one day. The medina was a fantastic place to get lost around but the views over the medina from the hill tops was great. 🙂

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