At more than a thousand years old, Fez the third largest city in Morocoo is often considered the spiritual heartland of Morocco. The old medina, Fez al-Bali, is a web of narrow streets and alleys made up of houses and souks, with beautifully tiled water fountains for ablution can be seen at various points. Here are some of the key landmarks to visit in the old city:
The Qarawiyyin Mosque and University
The Qarawiyyin mosque is the heart beat of Fez, with a steady stream of worshippers flowing in and out of its doors throughout the day. From a distance, viewed from the surrounding hills of Fez, the mosque is unmistakeable, with its green pyramidical roof setting it apart from its surroundings. I was struck by the sense of calm, as well as the laid back nature of worshippers; children played happily in the wudu fountain in the courtyard, while men and women sat reclining against pillars, perhaps taking refuge from the heat outside. Founded by Fatima al-Fihri as a madrasa in 859 AD, the Qarawiyyin eventually became one of the leading centres of learning in the Islamic world. Operating as both a mosque and university, the building was expanded several times over the centuries and can accommodate up to 20,000 worshippers. It is considered one of the oldest continually running universities in the world.
Located in the Souk al-Attarine, the spice and perfume market, from which it takes its name, the Madrasa al-Attarine was founded by Uthman Abu Said in 1325. In close walking distance to the Qarawiyyin, the madrasa contains rooms for teaching and a small mosque, set around its central courtyard.
Zawiya of MoulayIdriss II
This zawiya contains the tomb of Moulay Idriss II, who ruled Morocco from 807 to 828 and founded the city of Fes for the second time in 810. MoulayIdriss II is the patron saint of the city of Fes and it is believed that visiting his zawiya is beneficial for strangers visiting the city, boys before being circumcised and women wanting to facilitate childbirth. The sacredness of the shrine in particular is esteemed very great, hence why it is visited by thousands throughout the year.
The Mosque and Zawiya of Shaykh Ahmad Tijani
Shaykh Tijani (1735–1815) was a prominent scholar and founder of the Tijani tariqa (order). The zawiya was (and still is) a meeting place for his students and followers of the tariqa. It is also his burial place. The building has an exterior decorated much like the courtyards of Moroccan madrasas, with glazed tile-work and carved stucco and wood.
Casablanca – The Hassan II Mosque
The Hassan II Mosque is one of the most stunning landmarks to visit in Morocco. The mosque rises above the Atlantic Ocean. The building is built partially on land and partially over the ocean. It is the largest mosque in Morocco and the 13th largest in the world. Its minaret is the world’s tallest at 210 metres (689 ft and was completed in 1993. The walls are of hand-crafted marble and the roof is retractable. A maximum of 105,000 worshippers can gather together for prayer – 25,000 inside the mosque hall and another 80,000 on the mosque’s outside grounds. The building blends Islamic architecture and Moroccan elements, and reflects Moorish influences, while featuring an urban design. The decorations in the hall are elaborate and exquisite made possible by involving 6000 master artisans of Morocco.
Marrakech – City of the Seven Saints
Marrakech, famously referred to as the Red City or the Rose City, due to the colour of the high walls that surround the ancient medina, is also known as the City of Seven Saints – Sab’atu Rijal. They were believed to have been blessed by Allah with incredible wisdom and religious strengths. Moulay Ismail, a former Moroccan ruler, encouraged Moroccans to perform pilgrimage to the shrines in Marrakech. The sacred shrines are known locally as zawiyas and the seven saints are as follow:
- Yusuf ibn Ali al-Sanhaji (d.1197) – Just outside the Bab Aghmat in the southeast
- Qadi Iyad (d.1149) – Inside the Bab Aylan in the east
- Abu al-Abbas al-Sabti (d.1204) – By the Bab Taghzout in the north
- Muhammad ibn Sulayman al-Jazuli (d.1465) – just south the previous
- Abd al-Aziz al-Tabba (d.1508) – Just west of the Ben Youssef Mosque
- Abdallah al-Ghazwani(d.1528) – just below the al-Mouassine Mosque
- Abd al-Rahman al-Suhayli(d.1185) – outside the city to the southwest