Famous Cities in Morocco Series (Episode 3 of 13): Fes
By: Claire Boyle / Arab America Contributing Writer
Morocco has so many interesting towns and cities as well as beautiful landmarks. From the astonishing city of Casablanca to Marrakech, Fes, and Rabat, Morocco has everything one might hope to experience. These places boast historical monuments, such as the Hassan II Mosque, the Jemaa el-Fnaa, and many others. In this article series, we will be featuring cities and landmarks in Morocco that are historically and culturally significant. In this third installment, we will be traveling to Fes to traverse through the famous Bab Bou Jeloud (the Blue Gate) and educate ourselves about the world’s oldest university: the University of al-Qarawiyyin. Finally, we will learn about the history of the cities themselves as well as some of their famous landmarks.
Historical Synopsis and the Background of Fes:
The city of Fes in Morocco is one of its most majestic in that it boasts something for everyone. There are hilly cliffs, beautiful landscapes, riads, mosques, and, of course, fascinating examples of Moroccan architecture. Geographically, Fes is in the northeast portion of Morocco. The cities of Meknes and Rabat (the capital) are both west of it. Chefchaouen and Tangier are at the northernmost tip of the country. Fes is Morocco’s oldest imperial city since it was founded in 809 AD. Fes is also a historically significant city because it has played host to numerous dynasties and treaties. It also became a major learning and commercial center within Morocco. Finally, the Islamic dynasties of the Almoravids and Marinids were incredibly influential in shaping Fes to be a city of learning. They established the University of al-Qarawiyyin, which was started as a madrasa and mosque.
Historical Landmarks—the Blue Gate and the University of al-Qarawiyyin:
Al-Bab Bou Jeloud (the Blue Gate):
Al-Bab Bou Jeloud (the Blue Gate) is a famous landmark in the city of Fes. It is also a dividing line that separates the new city of Fes from the old city or medina. The Blue Gate dates to 1913 under the French administration. But, it has its roots in a tradition of city gates that go back centuries. The current Blue Gate is more of a cultural icon. However, the prior one – the old Blue Gate – was like to have been built for soldiers or the military to guard. The important thing to know is that since the [new] Bab Bou Jeloud was established in the 1900s, the French wanted the city to have a “grander appearance,”. That was why they built this gate or wall.
Additionally, the gate was designed to reminisce traditional Moroccan architecture. Since the Bab Bou Jeloud is the entrance to the medina, it signifies that cars cannot drive through as it is a cavernous souk where people walk. Finally, the inside of the gate is a sort of greenish color that is equally just as interesting as its blue-gate counterpart on the outside.
University of al-Qarawiyyin:
The University of al-Qarawiyyin is a university in Fes, Morocco with rich cultural roots regarding its heritage. It was established in 859 AD. It has evolved from a madrasa to a mosque, and finally to its current status as a state-run university. A madrasa typically has two meanings/functions. It is a school for elementary-age students, and it also serves as an Islamic school. The school ran as a madrasa until World War II, and it was also used as a mosque. Finally, in the 1960s, it became a full-fledged university. Because of its long history, it is considered the oldest university or higher learning institution in the world. Another cool fact about the University of al-Qarawiyyin is its establishment by a woman, Fatima al-Fihri. How is that for female empowerment?
The university continues to educate its students in Islamic law, religion, and Classical Arabic linguistics today. It is co-educational, and the classes are taught in Arabic, French, and Tamazight – the Berber language in Morocco. It is a special place because multiple Islamic philosophers, writers, and others have attended the university. Finally, there was a modern library put into the university, and they continue to teach traditional Islamic education as well.
Thank you for joining me on this third episode of the series “Famous Cities in Morocco,”. This time, we journeyed to the wondrous city of Fes. In my opinion, it is one of the most stunning places on earth due to its beautiful architecture! Stay tuned for the next installment featuring the amazing city of Meknes! I hope you got to learn a little bit more about the majestic landscapes and landmarks of Morocco. If you are ever in Fes, I highly recommend you visit the city, the exquisite al-Bab Bou Jeloud, and finally, take a walk around the University of al-Qarawiyyin. You will not be disappointed!
This is the third installment in a series of thirteen focusing on cities in Morocco with an emphasis on its history and landmarks. Each article will feature a historical synopsis about the city and 2 to 3 significant landmarks. Keep an eye out for the next article about Meknes, Morocco coming soon. Thank you for reading!
To read episode 2 which featured Marrakech, the Jemaa el-Fnaa, and the Koutoubia Mosque, please click here!
Check out Arab America’s blog here!