“Fez is really just the medieval city that it was…. Fez is the soul of Morocco.  It’s the last bastion of what Morocco really is.” –  Abdelfettah Seffar, a craftsman and cultural entrepreneur  (NY Times) 


Old Fez seems to be stucked in time. The structures and ambiance were so ancient;  it gave us a sense that we stepped back in time to several centuries ago. 

Zooming in, the incongruous satellite dishes reminded us that we were indeed in the 21st century.

Exploring the alleys of the medina, an ancient Arab city situated within walls.  The medina  of Old Fes is said to be the oldest continuously inhabited walled city in the Arab world. It was founded in the 8th century as the capital of the Idrisid Dynasty. 

Initial navigation of the medina felt overwhelming. It was a sensory overload. Its narrow maze-like streets were jammed with mostly shrouded figures and donkeys, the smell changed every few feet and the touts bothered us every few inch. It felt so surreal and mystical.  At times, we felt we were in a movie set of a period movie.


This is the usual traffic jam on the 9,000 tangled streets of Old Fez, where the donkeys are the typical mode of transportation. The medina of Old Fez is believed to be the world’s largest car-free urban area. 

A donkey as garbage collector.


A donkey as Fedex service.

A donkey as a freight cargo.

We had to be attentive to the shout of “balak!” (“look out”) from the mule drivers. It was a warning that a heavily laden mule was about to approach.

The Souk of Fez

Located within the medina is an open market called souk.  It is an integral part of life in the medina.  It is where the locals avail of their essential needs and wide array of products. A souk is divided into small souks and are designated names based on the product it specialized in such as the meat souk, the spice souk, the clothing souk, the gold souk, etc.

The vegetable souk

Women in vegetable souk. This is how our memory of women in Morocco is like – a bit blurry. We didn’t have much encounter with them.

A boy hanging out in the meat souk.

Price list in the meat souk.

A spectacle of a testicle at the meat souk! The meat of the male lamb is preferred than the meat of the female as it is said to be much more tender. Hence, the display of the testicle to prove to the customer the gender of the lamb.

The pickle souk

The ceramic souk

The mirror souk


Keith watching the street scenes of the medina from high above the terrace of the Le Kasbah, a multi-level restaurant that serve good traditional Moroccan fare.


Street scene from the terrace of Le Kasbah Restaurant.

Our first meal in Fez at Le Kasbah – a vegetable tagine for me and a meat tangine for Keith plus the mintiest of mint teas. A tagine is a tradtional Moroccan stew that is named after the conical shaped earthenware in which it is cooked while the mint tea is the most traditional drink and an important part of Morocco’s food and hospitality culture. 

View of Bab Bou Jeloud from the terrace of Le Kasbah. Bab Bou Jeloud is the main entrance to Old Fez, where the two main streets of the medina start from.


Fez at Night

Outside Bab Bou Jeloud.

A lamp post.

A shop for traditional furniture and decors.

An alley starting to wind down for the day.

We were traveling in Morocco during the period of Ramadan. The streets emptied out after sunset. People ran to their homes to break their fasting for the day. 

The alley that led to the beautiful riad where we stayed.

View of Old Fez from the rooftop of our riad, Dar Roumana.

The Riad

This is the courtyard of Dar Roumana, an exquisite riad where we stayed in Old Fes.  A riad is a traditional home or palace inside a medina that is built around a courtyard.  Many riads in big cities of Morocco have undergone renovation and have been converted into guesthouses. 

A high and ornate door that leads to one of the exquisite bedrooms of Dar Roumana.

When you walk along the alleys of the medina, you will not see any windows on the walls of the homes. It is because all windows of the riads face the interior courtyard, which is a design principle that supports the Islamic privacy notion of privacy and modesty, especially for women. 

The beautiful rooftop of Dar Roumana where we had our breakfast every morning and where we unwind with a glass of wine each night. 

The broken wall of the medina as seen from the roof top of Dar Roumana.

The Artisans of Old Fez

This is one of the ancient tanneries of Fez where the hides of animals are processed into leathers. They date back from the medieval time. Their sights and smells are the city’s most iconic elements.

The animals skin are soaked in these ancient vats filled with natural pigments — red from poppies, orange from henna, brown from cedar wood, white from mint, etc.

Before the skins are soaked in natural pigments they must first be placed in vats filled with limestone, water and —– pigeon excrement! The last ingredient is said to contain ammonia that makes the leather supple.

The techniques and mechanisms used in the tannaries are still very medieval. 

Skins and wool being dried.


The finished leather products.   Choices, choices….. 

And the painful negotiation begins……..

The best location to witness the activities in the tanneries is from one of the terraces of the leather shops that lined the street along the tannery area. A salesperson from the leather shop will serve as your guide and will explain everything there is to know about the tanneries. They say it’s a free service, but they will expect a tip and a huge sale from you.  Be warned, the vendors turn from gentle guides into hardcore, aggressive salespersons. Expect to be yelled at if you don’t make a purchase.

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19 responses to “Morocco: Navigating the Ancient Maze of Fez

  1. Roderick Mclennon

    I like this blog. Glad I observed this on google. Nice photos and information on Fez. I’m visiting next month and I look to see the scenes in your photos.

    • Traveling Solemates

      Hi Roderick, thanks Have a wonderful time in Fez.

  2. Shana Simril

    Just found your website. Very interesting. I love the photos and captions. I saved to bookmarks.

    • Traveling Solemates

      Thanks Shana.

  3. Brad Quad

    What an interesting photo essay about Fez. You made me feel I was there with you. I’m planning to visit Fez with my wife and your site informed me what to expect and what to do. The riad where you stayed is beautiful. It definitely looks like the kind of place we would like to stay. We’ll definitely look into it. Do you think two full days is enough time to explore Fez? Do you recommend to get a guide to make sure we cover everything in 2 days?

    • Traveling Solemates

      Hi Brad, glad the site was helpful to your trip planning. Two full days in Fez will give you enough time to cover the medina. If you’re adventurous, I say do it on your own. You’ll definitely get lost at some point but that’s part of the Fez experience. But if getting lost is not your thing, then having a guide is a good idea. One thing you should stress to your guide is that you don’t want to go shopping. Otherwise, they will bring you to every store so they can get commissions. Have a great time in Fez with your wife.

  4. Sarah

    Love these photos!!! You are very talented! It takes me back to my visit to Marrakesh a few years ago, and I would love to return to Morrocco to see these scenes for myself. The souks are a sensory overload hey?!

    • Traveling Solemates

      Hi again Sarah,
      Yes, it was a sensory overload indeed. Fez is still a lot more authentic and I think you will like Fez more than Marrakesh. Glad you enjoyed the photos.

  5. Kara D.

    I’m glad to have stumbled on this really wonderful post. Your photos took me there! And your captions are very informative. This is very helpful and makes more excited about my trip to Fez in September. I’m going to Marrakesh and the Sahara desert as well. Did you travel there, too? Would love to see your pics and notes if you did. Thanks again for the wonderful post.

    • Traveling Solemates

      Hi Kara, we’re glad you liked the post and found it helpful. Yes, we did visit the Sahara and Marrakesh. The Sahara will actually be our next post. So please visit back or you may subscribe to receive notification of our new posts. The camel trekking and overnight camping in the Sahara was one of our favorite experiences in Morocco. We’re sure you’ll enjoy it as well.

  6. Cindy

    What a wonderful blog you have!

    I am so excited to see your posts on Morocco as we are headed there in two weeks. I’m already overwhelmed by (but totally excited about) Fez based on your story and pictures. I’ll be spending some time exploring here in the next two weeks. :-)
    Cindy recently posted..Remembering DaveMy Profile

    • Traveling Solemates

      Hi Cindy, we’re glad you enjoyed the blog and the Morocco posts. Have a wonderful time in Morocco. We’re sure you’ll have an incredible experience.

  7. thank you so much for posting your photos and notes of your travels to Morocco!! I will be going there solo, for the first time in late Sept, this year. This is invaluable!

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