Mosques, Medersas & Mausoleums
■ Fez el-Jdid’s ‘Grand Mosque’, the L’kbir, was built in the 13C by Merenid sultan Moulay Abou Youseef Yacoub. From the entrance you can see a courtyard with green tiles and decorative plaster work.
■ 14C Al-Hambra Mosque (the ‘Red Mosque’) was legendarily founded by a ‘red’ woman from southern Morocco; an alternative theory posits that it was named after the Alhambra Palace in Granada. Since the decorations are neither red, nor typical of southern Morocco, nor in any way resembling the Alhambra, it remains a mystery. It’s a fairly austere structure with the exception of its tall, square and tiled minaret.
■ Sidi Bounafa Mausoleum was much visited by the prostitutes of Fez, who come here to pray for assistance in leaving the profession.
■ Jnane Sbil, or Bou Jeloud, Gardens is a large 12C park through which Oued (River) Fez runs. Opened to the public since the 19C, a walk among the orange, lemon, myrtle and pomegranate trees makes a refreshing change from the medina.
■ Petit Mechouar (a mechouar is a gathering place) is an enclosed square bordering on the Palais Royal and served as an outdoor waiting room for citizens wishing to petition the king. There are five entrances to the square. The one to the east opens to the Avenue des Français; to the south is the double-arched Bab Baghdadi leading to the Grande Rue El Jdid; to the west, the Bab Moulay Abdallah opens to the district of the same name (once the French entertainment district), and the Bab Mechouar to the grounds of the Royal Palace. The 13C, triple-arched Bab Dekkakin (‘Gate of the Benches’), better known as Bab es Seba (or Bab Sba’a, ‘Gate of Seven’ after seven brothers of Moulay Abdallah who reigned during the 18C) divides the Petit Mechouar from the Vieux Mechouar. Here the Infante Ferdinand of Portugal was hanged in 1443.
■ The Bab es Seba leads from the Petit Mechouar into the Vieux Mechouar, also known as Moulay Hassan II
Square. Dating from the end of 19C and formerly used as a parade ground, its walls are made of rammed earth
using a technique known as pisé. The northern gate of the royal palace, Bab Makhzen, stands here. is the Makina, the mechouar which provides the main venue for the annual Fez Festival of World Sacred Music. The European-looking building facing the mechouar is Dar Makina, an erstwhile arsenal that now contains a rug factory, among other things. The Bab Sagma gate, with its two octagonal towers, is beautifully decorated with zellij and was named for a pious woman buried here in 1737.
■ The Royal Palace, Dar el-Makhzen, dominates Fez El Jdid but a view of its exterior is all most visitors will have as the complex is still used by the king during his visits to Fez. It comprises 80 hectares/200 acres of palaces and gardens entered through a set of very imposing and heavily guarded brass gates on the Place des Alaouites.
■ 13C Bab Semmarine with its two horseshoe-shaped arches is a large Almohad gate that was once the southern entrance to Fez, later marking the division between Fez El Jdid and the Mellah. There’s a jeweller’s souk at its base, and on its eastern side one of the city’s main fruit and vegetable markets.
■ The Mellah (Jewish quarter) is next to the Royal Palace. Initially, in the mid 1400s, it was considered a privilege to live in the Mellah: the quarter was one of large and lovely residences protected by the palace guards
against Arab attacks. In 1465, however, following revolts in the wake of the appointment of a Jew as vizier, all
the city’s Jews were forced to relocate there and with time and the growth of the population it became poor and overcrowded. The quarter has its own distinctive architecture, including wooden balconies overlooking the streets.
■ Set in the south-west corner of the Mellah, the Jewish Cemetery is a sea of almost 13,000 white tombs washing down the hillside. One of the oldest, up high against the northern wall, belongs to Rabbi Vidal Hasserfaty who died in 1600. Further down is the turreted tomb of Lalla Solika Hatchouel, a 14-year-old girl who had her throat slit after repelling the advances of the governor of Tangier and refusing to convert to Islam.
Mezzanine, 17 Kasbat Chams, Fez el Jdid (5 minutes’ walk from Bab Bou Jloud), is where the local Beautiful People go. Three floors of lounges plus a roof terrace, all urban chic, and oh, food is served, too. Open daily noon-1am, happy hour 6- 8:30pm Tel. 535 638668