Located between the fertile lands of the Saïs and the forests of the Middle Atlas, Fès is the oldest of Morocco’s imperial cities. It is the embodiment of the country’s history and its spiritual and religious capital, and as such was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981. Idriss I founded Madinat Fas, on the right bank of the River Fès, in 789. In 808, his son, Idriss II, built another establishment, El-Alya (High Town), on the left bank. In 818, both received hundreds of Muslim refugees expelled from Córdoba and Kairouan, in Tunisia. Within a few years, thanks to these two communities, the two towns became central to the Arabization and Islamization of Morocco. 

In the mid-11th century, the Almoravids united the two towns, only for the Almohads to take what was then a city in 1145, after a long siege. Fès then became the country’s foremost cultural and economic metropolis, thanks in large part to the founding of its university. 

In 1250, the Merinids raised Fès to the status of imperial capital. To the west of the old city they established a new royal one, Fès el-Jedid (New Fès). Conquered by the Alaouites in 1666, Fès was spurned by Moulay Ismail, who chose Meknès as his capital. The city’s decline continued until the early 20th century. When the Protectorate was established in 1912, the Ville Nouvelle (New Town) was built. This was populated by the prosperous citizens of the old medina, while the rootless and poor crowded into the old city of Fès el-Bali. Fez had replaced Marrakech as the capital of the Merinid kingdom during the height of its political influence in the 13th–14th centuries. Medieval mosques, private villas and madrassas like the 14th-century Bou Inania and Al Attarine, designed with elaborate timber and tile work, still adorn the town.

Imagine narrow alleyways lined with colorful stalls, donkey carts laden with goods competing with local crowds, and the tantalizing aroma of sizzling kebabs and freshly baked breads rising from the souks. Walking down blind alleys bustling with people, expect to suddenly come up against an oasis of calm, a delicate stone fountain, or an intricately carved doorway to some medieval palace or fondouk….