In recent times the imperial city of Fez has been overlooked by tourists in favour of Marrakesh, but now Morocco’s “spiritual” capital is bustling with visitors due to major renovations and low-cost flights.
“It is an open air museum, with the largest pedestrian zone in the world and its 10,000 alleyways,” said Yassir Jawra, vice president of the Fez tourism commission.
Fez “is the spiritual capital of Morocco, famed for its culture and its (age-old) handicraft work,” he added.
Since 2013, more than one billion dirhams (92 million euros, $103 million) of investment have been poured into Fez to restore the 9th-century walled medina and develop tourism.
The medina, home to the world’s oldest working library, was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981 for its “outstanding universal value”.
Guardian of priceless treatises in Islamic studies, astronomy and medicine, the library is nestled in the maze of narrow and dark alleyways which tourists and donkey-drawn carts can struggle to navigate.
Like many monuments it has been renovated after the authorities in the late 1980s sounded the alarm in a report saying that more than half of the buildings in the medina were crumbling and 10 percent were threatened with ruin following years of neglect and a lack of public funds.
Behind the high crenellated walls that surround the medina lie 9,000 historical houses, 11 madrassas, 83 mausoleums, 176 mosques and 1,200 handicraft workshops.
Patrician palaces with their secret gardens and terraces, elegant fountains and ancient caravansary, or inns, are among the jewels lying there to be discovered.