Walking: Mazing Medina

  • Start Bab Bou Jeloud
  • End R'cif Sq
  • Length 3km; two to three hours

This route takes you from Bab Bou Jeloud to the Kairaouine Mosque and then south to R'cif. It could take a couple of hours or all day, depending on the number of distractions.

Unlike much of the rest of the city walls and gates, the main entry, Bab Bou Jeloud, is a recent addition, built in 1913. Pass through it and you come upon a hive of activity. The pavement cafes here are excellent places for people-watching.

For the tour, take the first left and then right downhill along Talaa Kebira. This part of the street is a produce market – watch out for the camel butcher displaying the heads of his wares. Where the produce ends you’re at the Medersa Bou Inania, which represents the Merenid building style at its most perfect.

Opposite the entrance to the medersa (above eye-level) is the famous 14th-century Water Clock designed by a clockmaker and part-time magician. Carved beams held brass bowls with water flowing between them to mark the hours, but the secret of its mechanism died with its creator.

Continuing downhill, notice the old funduqs (rooming houses) on both sides of Talaa Kebira. These once hosted merchants and their caravans, and have rooms on several levels around a wide courtyard for both goods and pack animals. Funduq Kaat Smen is particularly interesting, specialising in many varieties of honey and vats of smen, the fermented butter used in cooking.

About 400m from the Medersa Bou Inania, as you go around an unmistakable dogleg, you’ll soon catch sight of the pretty, green-tiled minaret of the Chrabliyine Mosque (named for the slipper-makers who can still be found working in this area) straight ahead.

Still heading downhill, past the shoe sellers and leatherworkers, look out for a right turn onto Rue Lfkahrine and a sign indicating the entrance to a tiny tree-filled square (on your left) known as the henna souq – if you start walking uphill, you’ve gone too far. Cosmetic shops sell oils and henna. Pottery and bric-a-brac stalls abound, too.

Exiting the henna souq the same way you entered, turn left (south). After 50m a right turn brings you into Place An Nejjarine. The lanes immediately north of the Nejjarine Museum of Wooden Arts & Crafts form part of the Souq An Nejjarine (Carpenters’ Souq), where craftsmen create glittering wedding thrones.

From Place An Nejjarine, head back out the way you came in, turning left almost immediately and ducking under the bar that prevents the passage of mules and donkeys. The lane leads uphill between stalls piled high with candles and incense, to the entrance of the newly restored Zawiya Moulay Idriss II. Non-Muslims cannot enter but can peer inside. To Fassis, this is the heart of their medina.

Afterwards, it's simplest to backtrack to Talaa Kebira along Rue Lfkahrine. Follow the lane east – over a slight hummock and past haberdashers’ stalls – until it ends at a T-junction about 100m later, where you’ll find the Medersa El Attarine.

On emerging from the medersa, turn left (south) until the shops come to a sudden end at the walls of the great Kairaouine Mosque & University, right by Dar Al Mouaqqit. The university is one of the world’s oldest and this spot is where you'll find the main door. Again, non-Muslims cannot enter, but it's worth a peep in. Now backtrack and follow the university walls clockwise, passing Pâtisserie Kortouba. Look out for the recently restored, 14th-century funduq walls along the way.

Continue until the sound of metalworkers leads you into another small and attractive square, Place As Seffarine (Brass-makers’ Sq). With the university walls (and the entrance to its library) at your back, there is the Medersa As Seffarine on the square’s east side. Built in 1280, it is the oldest medersa in Fez, and the only one still in use.

Pass the medersa and follow the lane, turning left at the mirror stalls. Ahead is the Dyers' Souq. Walk through the souq into the R’cif market. Explore the market, or take any left into R’cif Sq where you can catch an onward petit taxi.