Fez is the cultural capital of Morocco. WIth its neverending medina streets, medieval arch ways, and ancient ways of creating art, it feels like a country all on its own. There is so much to do and see in Fez that it is important to have a plan when you arrive. To say you the trouble, I have compiled the perfect one day in Fez itinerary for your quick stop to this beautiful city on your tour of Morocco.
Visit The Medina
The medina in Fez is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also called the Fes Al-Bali. This ancient medina was founded somewhere around 800 AD and is one of the oldest still running markets in existence today. The streets in the medina are filled with markets, stalls, and souks. You can buy anything and everything in the medina, but be aware that you will have to carry everything you buy out of the medina. No cars are allowed in the majority of the medina as the narrow corridors do not have enough space for them.
Even if you are not looking to shop, simply viewing the architecture of the gates and the walls is a site worth seeing. If you do choose to shop though, beware that they will actively try to rip you off. NEVER take the first price offered to you, and do your best to haggle it down as far as you can get it.
Normally, I would never suggest paying for a guide because I believe that getting lost is part of the fun. However, this medina has over 9000 streets that curve and twist in a way that makes navigating them yourself virtually impossible. In fact, you can only become a certified guide of the medina if you grew up there for this very reason. It takes a lifetime of walking the streets to know exactly where you are going. Go ahead and plan for a guide, you will not need to book one in advance as your accommodations will be able to set you up with a guide.
Visit the Ceramic Factory
Morocco is famous for its incredible mosaics that cover the walls and floors of the mosques and palaces, and the majority of those tiles are made locally right outside of Fez. On your one day in Fez itinerary, you should include time to hire a driver (or ask your guide) to take you to the outskirts of the city where the mosaics are produced. While the locals call it a ceramic “factory,” it is a not a true factory my any means. There are no machines making the items, simply men with skill.
At the factory, you get to see the mosaics from the time they mix the cement in the ground, to when they are fired for the last time. The process to make the mosaics is a long one. It involves two completely separate firings in giant gas kiln. They used to use a coal kiln, but it has since been outlawed due to the pollution it was causing in the city. Individual arts chip away at the fired clay until it becomes the perfect shape. Then other artists hand paint each individual tile. After, they are re-fired and then left to cool before being glued together for the final piece.
As you visit the factory, you get to view each step of this amazing process. It is truly fascinating to watch.
See the Beautiful Mosques
Morocco is famous for its architecture. This architecture and craftsmanship is most notably utilized in the mosques as they are usually the most beautiful location in an Islamic city. In your one day in Fez itinerary, you need to make sure to leave time to visit the mosques and see the beautiful architecture for yourself. One of the famous mosques of the old city is The Great Mosque of the Fes Al-Jdid. It has a tower than can be seen from miles that sets it apart from the others.
Inside the medina, you can also visit the Bou Inania Madrasa. A Madrasa is the berber word for a place of religious study. This incredible building (as seen below) is a small university of religious studies. However, it also doubles as a Muslim place of worship. You can go inside for a few dollars as long as it is not a Muslim holy day.
Visit a Tannery
One of the things about Fes that truly makes it feel as if you took a time machine is visiting the old tanneries. These tanneries have been tanning animal skins and making leather the same way since the 11th century! In order to turn animal skins into leather, they have to follow a very specific process. First, they soak the animal skins a solution that removes the hair and hardens the skin. This process takes 12 days of soaking. Then, the take the skins and put them in the color that they are going to be dyed for two days. Afterwards, they lay the skins out to dry until they are ready to be worked with.
You can witness each step of this process at the ancient tanneries in Fes. It is something that I have never seen before, and it was truly a unique experience. I will warn you though, it smells like dead animal. You will either want to breathe through your mouth instead of your nose, or pay a local for a piece of mint to keep under your nose as you visit the tannery.
Fes has three different tanneries, but only ONE of them is an actual working tannery. The other two are borderline tourist traps. So if you make your way to Fes and want to see a tannery, make sure to visit the Chouara Tannery during your one day in Fez itinerary.
Bonus fact: They use pigeon shit to soften the animal skins because of its acidic nature.
View the Creation of Fabrics
One thing that makes the medina of Fez so unique is that the people who create their crafts there will happily show you HOW they create them. This is part of their gimmick in order to sell the crafts, however it is very informative and interesting to see. One thing that you can do is go to a weaver in the medina, and they will take you to the back room where they have the loom. They have two separate types of looms. One is vertical, for women, and the other is horizontal, for men. They claim the difference in the design is due to the type of strength each type of loom requires.
As you watch them use the looms to weave fabric, you can often see them make blankets or scarves. The scarf shown below (which I did end up buying) is made actually from what they call “cactus silk.” It is not silk at all, but rather the fiber from a cactus plant that is woven in the same manner as silk. It is also not flammable as shown below. The locals love to pull out a lighter and prove the quality of something by how it doesn’t catch on fire. I saw this trick at both the weavers and the tannery with the leather. It was cool nonetheless.
Fes is a place to witness craftsmen in their natural element. You can witness the creation and production of a product, and then even buy it for yourself if you so desire. What makes this special is that you know that the items are locally made, and you feel like you were there from the moment the item began. It definitely makes for a cool story when you get home, and the shopping is truly a fun experience.
Where to Stay for Your One Day in Fez Itinerary
I HIGHLY recommend staying at a RIAD while you are in Fez. Riads are essentially old rich people’s’ homes that have been converted into boutique hotels. They truly feel like a luxury experience, but are completely affordable. I personally stayed at the Riad Fez Baraka and I would stay there again in a heartbeat. I highly recommend it for your one day in Fez itinerary.