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How do you use Fez?
The oldest of Morocco's imperial cities, Fez has been an important center of trade and learning in North Africa for centuries. It boasts some of the oldest centers of craft and Islamic education in the world, and the old quarters of the city today are a UNESCO Heritage site.
There were two cities that grew up on either bank of the Wadi Fes, first on the east bank in 789 by Moroccan sharif Idris I, and the west bank in 809 by Idris II. The oldest madrassa in Fez, and indeed that of the Islamic world, is the Al Quaraouiyine, dating to 859 CE, which might be considered the oldest continually-operating and first degree-granting institution in the world (this is a matter of dispute with Bologna, see that City-State entry for another claim of oldest university).
The two settlements were united by the Almoravids in the 11th Century, and by then the region had been infused with Arabic and Berber cultural traditions, and the Almoravids are generally credited with reinvigorating the city as a result of this unification. Fez became the capital of the Moroccan Marinid Dynasty in the early 13th Century, and much of the classical Moroccan architecture that defines the city was introduced during this period of time.
The Marinids strongly encouraged the construction of madrassas, which further increased Fez's preeminence as a center for Islamic jurisprudence, particularly the Sunni Maliki school. Fez was also remarkable for the size of its Jewish Quarter, and the quality of the work by its goldsmiths and jewelers. The world-famous traveler Ibn Battuta passed through Fez at the beginning of his journeys in 1325, and would not return to the city again until 1349.
Numerous caravansaries existed within the city as well, as the trans-Saharan trade goods made their way towards the Mediterranean ports, like Algiers. The city was famous for its tanneries, and the Chouara Tannery has been tanning leather in traditional fashion since the 11th Century. The city was walled and fortified, and these walls still exist in good repair to this day.
Fez's fortunes have waxed and waned as the capital of Morocco shifted to Marrakech. Its madrassas remained important centers of learning during the time, making the city the intellectual center of Morocco. Its location inland made it an important trading nexus, and the hills above the city grow olives and fruit trees. Today it is a popular city for tourists who come to admire its old quarter, and the city boasts an enormous, pedestrian-only region at its heart. Guests may stay in villas or in traditional Moroccan inns called funduqs.
A word on the fez as headgear: The exact historical source of the tarboorsh (the short, brimless, truncated conical hat) is hard to pin down. However, during the Ottoman Empire, the size of a man's turban was considered to be a mark of his importance in society. Consequently, fashions involving turbans had become more and more complex, including being subject to sumptuary laws. The fez (or a fez-like hat) served as the core around which the turban was rolled, and Fez was the source of most of these. In 1829, Sultan Mahmud II embarked on a series of reforms that included abolishing turbans. He himself adopted a simple, red fez in daily wear, in what was widely hailed as a magnanimous, egalitarian gesture.
- Fez's City State symbol is based on a stylized version of Morocco's former flag.