As a Fassi and daughter of a history teacher, I was brought up in a household submerged by the love and the pride to belong to the rich cultural and religious diversity in Fez. The spiritual and cultural capital of Morocco, Fez, also the capital of the Fez-Meknes administrative region, is the third largest city of the country.
It is a medieval city and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where life has mostly remained unaltered for centuries. Fez has become a melting pot of languages as a result of globalization; The majority of its youth are fluent in Arabic, French, English, and a variety of other languages. As well as a center of religions and beliefs throughout history.
So sit tight dear reader, as we unravel together the rich history, architecture, and cultural and religious diversity in Fez city.
Cultural and religious diversity in Fez: History
The oldest of the imperial cities, Fez was founded in 789 AD by Idriss I, a descendant of the Prophet. His son, Sultan Idriss II, decided in 809 to establish the headquarters of the dynasty. In 818, the sultan welcomed 8,000 families of Andalusian Muslims into his city. Seven years later, this new population was reinforced by the arrival of Jews and Kairouanese (Tunisia). Rich of these multiple architectural heritages, the cultural and religious diversity in Fez, has helped it quickly become the religious and cultural center of Morocco.
Fez holds great historical importance as it was the administrative capital of almost all dynasties that ruled the country; under the Idrisid dynasty, (from the beginning of the 9th century to the year 974). Under the Marinid dynasty (from 1244 up until the year 1465). During the 15th century Idrisid interlude (1465-1471). Under the Wattasid dynasty (1471-1554).
Then During the Saadian dynasty reign (1603-1627). During the 17th century Dila’ite interlude (1659-1663) where Marrakesh became the capital. It was only when the founder of the Alaouite dynasty, Moulay Rashid, took Fez in 1666 that the city saw a revival and became the capital again until 1672. Then for a final time, the city had served as the capital of Morocco from 1727 until 1912 when the country was colonized by the French.
Cultural and religious diversity in Fez: Monuments
The cultural and religious diversity in Fez is without a shadow of a doubt, the most unique in the world; that is also translated through the must-see sights and monuments in the old medina.
The Qarawīyīn Mosque
The Qarawiyin Mosque (El karaouiyin) is the center of the oldest university in the world that was founded in AD 859; several of its schools (madrasahs) are grouped around it. The university has been renowned since the European Middle Ages as a center of Islamic culture. When the Muslims were expelled from Spain beginning in the 13th century, many came to Fez and Qarawiyin, bringing knowledge of European and Moorish arts and sciences; furthering the cultural and intellectual power of the city.
You can not visit Fez and not go through the breathtaking doors of Beb Boujloud, the main access to the old medina, at least once!
The blue gate was built in 1913, making it one of the most recently built architectures in the medina. It is one of the most recgonized sights in the entire city, making it a perfect
Chouara tannery (Dar dbagh).
Entering one of the huge stores of Dbagh Chouara, in the heart of the old medina, you’ll find yourself in one of the oldest tanneries in the world, a feeling of vertigo takes the visitor: thousands of bags, jackets, slippers accumulated on all sides impregnate the rooms of a very strong perfume of leather.
The fassi merchants hasten to offer the customers branches of mint that must be “put under the nose and breathed very hard like a gas mask”, before leading them to the roof.
Cultural and religious diversity in Fez: Religions
Fez had served throughout the history as the home of many jews, a minority of christians and plenty Islamic scholars. All these different religions and backgrounds living together in the alleys of the old medina in total harmony.
And to help everyone celebrate and practice their religious freedoms, the cultural and religious diversity in Fez is shown through the diverse religious attractions the city is full of; the Mausoleum of Moulay Idriss II, the Andalusian mosque, Slate al fassiyin synagogue, and the catholic church, just to name a few.
Not to forget one of the most influencial religious destination in the city, which is:
Ahmad al-Tijânî sanctuary : the piligrimage of Africans
Founded by Ahmad al-Tijani in 1781-82 as a sufi brotherhood. After the death of the founder in 1815, who was buried in his zaouia, Fez became a place of pilgrimage where followers regularly come to collect on his tomb.
the Tijaniyya established itself in a remarkable way in sub-Saharan Africa, in particular in Senegal, and contributed to the construction of transnational cultural spaces extending on both banks of the Sahara.
Ever since the dissemination of the teachings of this brotherhood in sub-Saharan countries, the pilgrimages of the spiritual masters to the city serve to strengthen and maintain the relationship between the West African Tijan communities and the Fez Zaouia.
The diversity of the religious destinations in the city, fits most of the tourists beliefs, allowing them to practice them fully and freely; hence, furthering the idea that the cultural and religious diversity in Fez, throughout the 14 centuries of its existence, has made it the capital of diversity in the kingdom.
Cultural and religious diversity in Fez: Sufism
The cultural and religious diversity in Fez makes it also the home of sufism in Morocco, ample of Zawiyas, known as the Sufi lodges or brotherhoods, fill the old medina.
Another act of showmanship of the city’s sufism and spirituality demonstrates itself in The Sufi related festivals that the city holds annually:
The Sufism Cultural Festival is an annual 8-day event held in the imperial capital in April to commemorate Sufi music and spirituality. Sufi religious leaders and artists from all over the world attend the festival. The event allows tourists to learn about Morocco’s spiritual legacy while also displaying a side of Islam that is rarely seen.
The Fes Festival of World Sacred Music is a 10-day event conducted in the middle of summer (late May or early June). Faouzi Skali, a Moroccan academic and philanthropist, organized the festival in 1994 to highlight significant musical traditions of sacred, spiritual, and global music. The festival is unique in that it is based on spiritual ideals and invites audience members to participate actively.