Fes, Morocco, Africa

Fes or Fez (Arabic: فاس‎, Moroccan Arabic [fɛs], Berber: Fas) is the third largest city of Morocco, with a population of approximately 1 million (2010).

Fes was the capital of Morocco until 1925, and is now the capital of the Fès-Boulemane administrative region. The modern Turkish name for Morocco, Fas, originally referred only to the capital city.

The city has two old medinas, the larger of which is Fes el Bali. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is believed to be one of the world’s largest car-free urban areas. Al-Qarawiyyin, founded in AD 859, is the oldest continuously functioning madrasa in the world. The city has been called the “Mecca of the West” and the “Athens of Africa”.

The city was founded on a bank of the Jawhar river by Idris I in 789, founder of the Zaydi Shi’ite Idrisid dynasty. His son, Idris II (808), built a settlement on the opposing river bank. These settlements would soon develop into two walled and largely autonomous sites, often in conflict with one another: Madinat Fas and Al-‘Aliya. In 808 Al-‘Aliya replaced Walili as the capital of the Idrisids.

In the Early Modern Age, the Ottoman Empire came close to Fez after the conquest of Oujda in the 16th century. In 1554, the Wattasid Dynasty took Fez with the support of the Turks, and the city became a vassal of the Ottomans, who finally conquered it in 1579 under sultan Murad III.

The Ottoman power in North Africa focused on threats posed by Habsburg Spain and the Portuguese Kingdom. As a result, Fez was not under pressure from the Ottoman rulers. The conquest of Fez was the catalyst for the move of the capital city of the Saadi Dynasty to Marrakech. Early in the 17th century the town returned to Moroccan control under Ahmad al-Mansur.

After the fall of the Saadi Dynasty (1649), Fez was a major trading post of the Barbary Coast of North Africa. Until the 19th century it was the only source of Fez hats (also known as the tarboosh). Then manufacturing began in France and Turkey as well. Originally, the dye for the hats came from a berry that was grown outside the city, known as the Turkish kızılcık or Greek akenia (Cornus mas). Fez was also the end of a north-south gold trading route from Timbuktu. Fez was a prime manufacturing location for leather goods such as the Adarga.

The city became independent in 1790, under the leadership of Yazid (1790–1792) and later of Abu´r-Rabi Sulayman. In 1795 control of the city returned to Morocco. Fez took part in a rebellion in 1819-1821, led by Ibrahim ibn Yazid, as well as in the 1832 rebellion led by Muhammad ibn Tayyib.

Following the implementation of the Treaty of Fes, the city was heavily damaged in the 1912 Fes riots.

Fez was the capital of Morocco until 1925. Rabat remained the capital even when Morocco achieved independence in 1956.

Despite its traditional character, there is a modern section: the Ville Nouvelle or “New City”. Today it is a bustling commercial center. The popularity of the Fes has increased since the King of Morocco took a computer engineer from Fes, Salma Bennani, as his wife.

Located by the Atlas Mountains, Fez has a Mediterranean climate, shifting from cold and rain in the winter to dry and hot days in the summer months between June and September. Rainfall can reach up to 600 mm (24 in) per year. The winter highs typically reach only 15 °C (59 °F) in December–January, The highest and lowest temperatures ever recorded in the city are 46.7 °C (116 °F) and −8.2 °C (17 °F), respectively.

Fez is becoming an increasingly popular tourist destination and many non-Moroccans are now restoring traditional houses (riads and dars) as second homes in the Fez medina. The most important monuments in the city are:

  • Bou Inania Madrasa
  • Al-Attarine Madrasa
  • University of Al-Karaouine
  • Zaouia Moulay Idriss II
  • Dar al-Magana
  • Aben Danan Synagogue

The University of al-Karaouine or al-Qarawiyyin (Arabic: جامعة القرويين) is the oldest continually operating university in the world. The al-Karaouine mosque was founded by Fatima al-Fihri in 859 with an associated school, or madrasa, which subsequently became one of the leading spiritual and educational centers of the historic Muslim world. It became a state university in 1963, and remains an important institution of learning today.

The city is served by Saïss Airport. It also has an ONCF train station with lines east to Oujda and west to Tanger and Casablanca.

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