Question: Where in the world is a city of 10,000 streets actually the product of father-son face-off?
Answer: Fez el Bali, Fez, Morocco
When Idris ibn Abdallah built the capital of his new empire on the right bank of the Fez River in AD 789, he envisioned the beginning of a dynasty that his son would someday inherit. But a mere twenty years later, the young Idris II decided he wasn’t waiting to inherit the throne: he wanted his own city. He built one directly across the river from his dad, and declared it his capital. They refused to merge and a building war started, with Idris II acquiring an influx of refugees from the region that is now Tunisia.
After their deaths, the two walled cities remained divided, staring each other down across the water, until the 11th century arrival of the Almoravids, the new Berber dynasty that conquered both and made Marrakesh its capital instead. The Almoravids had no interest in the distinction between the two Fez cities and tore down everything they didn’t like, including the opposing city walls, and built a bridge between them. Ever since, the father-and-son cities have been one. The neighborhoods they established are together known now as Fez el Bali (Old Fez).
10 Facts About Fez
- The world’s oldest university is here: the University of Al-Karaouine, founded by a Tunisian refugee in AD 859.
- Even after being dethroned as capital of Morocco, Fez became the largest city in the world in the 11th century, with 200,000 residents.
- Because the medina’s 10,000 alleys are too narrow for cars, it remains one of the largest pedestrian-only zones in the world, and all deliveries to the many vendors and homes must be made by mules or pulled carts.
- The Dar al-Magana (clock-house) here is home to an example of the oldest time-keeping device in the world: a water clock. It dates to 1357.
- The Chouara Tannery is the oldest leather tannery in the world. After nearly a thousand years, all of its leather goods are still prepared by hand only.
- The hat known as a Fez did indeed originate here and was only considered authentic if made in the Medina by one of the “trabshi”: artisans who specialized in only this craft. Though made elsewhere now, the Fez has become an official symbol of Morocco.
- Every single neighborhood in Fez has its own mosque and some have more than one; in the medina alone you will find 200 of the city’s 400 mosques.
- Fez is a major pilgrimage site for West Africans who come to pay respects at the final resting place of Tijani, the Muslim teacher who brought Islam to Senegal, Mauritania, Côte d’Ivoire, Sudan, and much of Sub-Saharan Africa.
- Traditional Moroccan hammams (public baths) in the medina are open to western visitors, but if you come empty-handed, you won’t be able to use the facilities: you must bring your own soap, towel, and scrub brush.
- Above Fez, the 14th century Merenid Tombs are one of the most visited sites in the city, in part because they are mysterious: nobody knows for sure who built them or who is buried inside.
Fall under the spell of the medina and more in Fez, when you join our Morocco Sahara Odyssey.