Located in the north of the country, Fez is the oldest of Morocco’s four imperial cities having been founded in 789 by the first of the Idrisid sultans. Today it is famous for its historic medina, where talented artisans still practice many of the crafts that their long ago ancestors used to beautify the city’s many mosques, medersas, and palaces. Walking through the medina’s twisting alleyways is a history lesson in itself; but if you want a deeper insight into Fez’s past, consider a visit to one of its fascinating museums. From weapons to woodwork, there are treasures aplenty to be found at the attractions listed below.
Borj Nord Arms Museum
The arms museum at Borj Nord is one of the city’s most popular. It is located atop a hill with majestic views of the medina, in an imposing fortress commissioned in the Portuguese style by Saadian Sultan Ahmed el Mansour Eddahbi in 1582. Built to protect Fez from invaders, it is fitting that the fortress now houses more than 5,000 examples of rare and beautiful weaponry. The collection originates from a total of 35 countries (with many items given as gifts by visiting royalty) and spans Moroccan history from prehistoric times to the 20th century.
There are 13 rooms in total, with the collection of Moroccan weaponry being of particular interest. Artifacts include ornate rifles and bejeweled daggers; as well as a 12-ton cannon used in the 16th-century Battle of the Three Kings. Displays are augmented by archival photography and informative display boards. Borj Nord is open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. with a two-hour closure from midday to 2 p.m. every day.
Dar Batha Museum
Located at the western edge of the medina, Dar Batha began life as a summer palace commissioned by Alaouite Sultan Hassan I in the 19th century. After years of French occupation, the palace was converted into a museum in 1915. Today it has become a repository for more than 6,500 examples of traditional Moroccan arts and crafts, many of them rescued from medina mosques and medersas that have fallen into disuse or been repurposed. Treasures on view at Dar Batha include artisan wood carvings and zellij mosaic work, Fassi embroidery, and Berber carpets.
Highlights include the remains of the Andalusian Mosque’s ninth-century minbar, and a fabulous collection of the iconic local pottery known as Fez Blue. Characterized by their ornate, cobalt blue designs, some pieces are almost 700 years old. After your visit, take the time to wander the palace’s Andalusian gardens. With their musical fountains and lush greenery, they provide a welcome respite from the heat and hustle of the medina. Currently undergoing renovations, Dar Batha is usually open from 9 a.m to 5 p.m. every day except Tuesday.
Nejjarine Museum of Wooden Arts and Crafts
If you find yourself enthralled by the woodwork at Dar Batha, take a wander to the other side of the medina to discover the Nejjarine Museum of Wooden Arts and Crafts. Located on Nejjarine Square (known for its ornately decorated public fountain), the building that houses the museum was once an 18th-century funduq or caravanserai, a place for merchants to rest, stable their camels, and store their goods after their arduous journey across the Sahara.
Now the building has been painstakingly restored, and the rooms that once housed the caravaners and their wares act as a wonderfully authentic backdrop for examples of traditional woodwork from across Morocco. Look out for elaborate screens, doors, and window shutters; traditional wedding furniture and carved prayer beads. Some are rendered in the Berber style, while others are distinctly Andalusian. The museum also has a rooftop café with exceptional medina views, and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Riad Belghazi Museum
A three-minute stroll from the Nejjarine Museum takes you down a tangle of narrow, winding alleyways to the Musée Riad Belghazi, a private museum housed in the former 17th-century riad of a wealthy Fez family. The museum has four distinct rooms, all filled with artifacts that range from intricate silver and gold jewelry to Moroccan caftans, carpets, and embroidery, wedding chests, and musical instruments. Some of these treasures are for sale, making for souvenirs with a thrilling story.
A highlight for many visitors is the museum’s tranquil courtyard garden. Here, you can sit down for a cup of refreshing mint tea or freshly squeezed orange juice in the shade of slender citrus trees, surrounded by the zellij-inlaid columns of the courtyard colonnades. Musée Riad Belghazi is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday through Thursday.
Technically, Medersa el-Attarine is not a museum but a former medersa, or religious school. Here, students learned Sunni teachings before graduating to the next-door Kairaouine University, thought to be the oldest university in the world. The medersa itself dates back to 1325 and is considered one of Morocco’s finest examples of Marinid architecture. It is located in the heart of the medina, at the entrance to the spice and perfume market from which it takes its name.
Unlike the university and its affiliated mosque, Medersa el-Attarine is no longer in use and can be visited by non-Muslims. Come to gaze in wonder at the incredibly detailed embellishments of the galleried courtyard and square prayer hall, where fine zellij tiles, carved stucco, and cedar woodwork take center stage. In 2019, the upstairs sleeping quarters that would once have been occupied by the medersa’s students were also opened to the public; in contrast to the courtyard and prayer hall, they are far more austere but no less interesting. Medersa el-Attarine is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Medersa Bou Inania
Saving the best attraction for last, 14th-century Medersa Bou Inania is another theological college that could easily double as a museum. Often considered one of the most architecturally splendid buildings in the city (especially after a recent renovation), it can be recognized from some distance away by its beautiful, green-tiled minaret. The internal courtyard boasts all of the elements expected from the Marinid sultans; including carved stucco, zellij tiles, and exquisite latticing carved from dark cedar wood.
Unusually, the medersa includes a full mosque rather than a simple prayer room. Although this section of the college is off-limits to visitors, Bou Inania stands out as the city’s only in-use religious building that welcomes non-Muslims inside. It is open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. except during prayer times.