Column: A visit to Fes, Morocco


Today, in the last column for now about where to go during Indiana winters, we visit Fes (or Fez), Morocco, where the average high temperature in March is about 68 degrees.

In A.D. 789, Idris I, progenitor of the Idrisid Dyasty, established Fes el Bali (Old Fes) and made it the capital of an Islamic empire controlling most of what is now Morocco and a portion of western Algeria. In 859, the Idrisids founded in Fes el Bali what is now the University of Al-Karaouine, the world’s oldest continuously operating institution of higher education. Al-Karaouine helped establish Fes el Bali as an international center of Islamic learning and culture. By the 12th century, Fes el Bali, with about 200,000 residents, was the largest city in the world. In 1244, the Marinids gained control of the area and established nearby Fes el Jdid (New Fes), where they erected a palace.

When the French gained control of Morocco in 1912, they intentionally preserved the walled cities of Fes el Bali and Fes el Jdid as “medinas” as they existed at the time and built a gate at their entrance. As a result, for current residents of the medinas, life is not much different from what it was hundreds of years ago, although electricity makes some tasks easier. Merchants in small shops along narrow streets still sell everything from fresh camel meat on hooks to fruit and fish stacked high on tables to pottery and clothing made by hand.

Major construction projects are changing the face of Morocco. The medinas of Fes el Bali and Fes el Jdid, a UNESCO World Heritage site, are protected from the rush of the 21st century and provide the closest approximation we have to a time machine to Morocco’s golden age. If you can visit only one Moroccan city, make it Fes.