Things to Do in Northern Morocco
Located 7 miles (14 kilometers) west of Tangier, near Cape Spartel, the Caves of Hercules is one of the area’s top attractions. Discovered in 1906, the cave extends for 18.6 miles (30 kilometers) and is both natural and man-made. It features two openings, one to land and one to sea, with the latter known as the “Map of Africa” for its distinctive shape.
Forming the northeast corner of Fez, the Medina of Fez (Fes El-Bali is a dizzying introduction to the city’s culture, crafts, and commotion. Dating to the ninth century, the UNESCO-listed warren of lanes, shops, and souks is girded by 13th-century walls and ornamental gates.
Located west of Tangier, Cape Spartel is the northwesternmost point of Africa, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Mediterranean Sea. Rising 1,000 feet (305 meters) above sea level, Cape Spartel is known for its stunning views and dramatic coastal roads, and includes a lighthouse dating from 1864.
This well-restored former fondouk – a place where traders took lodgings and stored and sold their goods during the 18th century – is now home to the Nejjarine Museum of Wooden Arts and Crafts (Musée Nejjarine). Opened in 1998, the museum allows visitors to marvel at such artefacts as craftsmen’s tools, prayer beads, ancient chests, and musical instruments.
Much care has been taken with regards to the presentation of the displays, and the Nejjarine fondouk is almost an attraction in itself, although photography is now allowed. Displays are presented within an attractive inner courtyard, in rooms through intricately-carved wooden archways, and beneath cedar ceilings.
The Nejjarine Museum of Wood Arts and Crafts is located in the picturesque setting of Nejjarine Square. Here you’ll find one of the medina’s best-known mosaic fountains, plus small alleys that lead off to the Nejjarine Souk, where carpenters still chisel, carve, and sell their cedar wood items.
Stretching atop the Jebel Zerhoun plateau in northern Morocco, the Roman ruins of Volubilis are a striking sight, especially in summer when its abloom with wildflower Some of the best-preserved ruins in Northern Africa, this UNESCO World Heritage site offers a glimpse into ancient Morocco—and makes for a nice day trip from Fez or Meknes.
Formerly the main residence of the sultan, the Royal Palace of Fez (Fes Dar el-Makhzen) is still used by the King of Morocco when he is in the city of Fez. Surrounded by high walls, it spans an area of 195 acres (80 hectares). It is closed to visitors, who can only admire the imposing and ornate main entrance from the outside.
Established in 1438, the Fez Mellah (Jewish Quarter) was the first of its kind in Morocco, a walled Jewish quarter that segregated the Jewish community from the predominant Muslim communities, and was locked during the evening hours to ensure the safety of its residents.
After WWII, the majority of Fez’s Jewish population left, with the quarter’s schools, synagogues and markets falling into disrepair, but a small, yet vibrant Jewish community still remains and the district is being slowly restored thanks to UNESCO funds. For visitors, a walk around the mellah offers a glimpse into one of Fez’s most unique neighborhoods, with contrasting architectural styles to the rest of the old medina. Highlights include the newly restored Ibn Dahan synagogue, which dates back to the 17th-century, the Jewish Cemetery and the Gold souk, as well as a number of quality antique furniture stores.
Whether you spell it Bab Bou Jeloud, Bab Boujeloud, or Bab Boujloud, you’ll most likely pass through the famous “Blue Gate of Fez” on any visit to Fez Medina. Decorated with fine mosaic tiles, blue on the outside, and green on the inside, the triple-arch gate is less historic than you might think. French colonialists built it in 1913.
There’s really nowhere quite like Gibraltar: a little piece of England looking out from Spain to the coast of Africa with a rock fabled in ancient mythology and the only wild monkey population in Europe. Gibraltar was handed over to the British by Spain in the 18th century, and British it has remained ever since, despite Spain's best efforts to get it to accept its sovereignty. The famous Rock of Gibraltar is a chunk of limestone rearing up over the city and overrun by Barbary macaques—legend says that if these monkeys leave the rock, so will the British leave Gibraltar.
One of the most beautiful Islamic colleges in all of Fez, the 14th-century Al-Attarine Madrasa (Medersa el-Attarine is a tribute to medieval Moroccan craftsmanship. Gorgeous mosaic tiles, filigree plasterwork, and fine carved cedar decorate the courtyard and the prayer hall, while the upstairs rooms show how simply aspiring scholars lived.
More Things to Do in Northern Morocco
A mound of whitewashed buildings framed by lush mountains and olive groves, the hilltop town of Moulay Idriss, also known as Moulay Idriss Zerhoun, is a striking proposition, and it’s a suitably picturesque setting for one of Morocco’s most important pilgrimage sites. The town takes its name from one of Morocco’s most revered saints, Moulay Idriss I, famous for bringing Islam to Morocco and founding the country’s first dynasty. Today, the grand Mausoleum of Idriss I is the focal point of pilgrim’s visits and plays an important role in celebrating the annual Festival of Moulay Idriss.
Although traditionally non-Muslims were unwelcome at the holy site, attitudes have relaxed considerably in recent years (although non-Muslims are not permitted access to the mausoleum) and Moulay Idriss has become a popular addition to tourist itineraries, often combined with a visit to near Meknès and Volubilis.
Holding the Guinness World Record for the oldest continually operating university in the world, the Kairaouine Mosque (Mosque of al-Qarawiyyin is one of Fez’s most important cultural landmarks. Established in 859 AD, its latticed minaret and series of green-tiled roofs are visible from rooftops across the medina.
Founded in the 11th century, mellow little Meknes is the most intimate of Morocco’s imperial cities. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, its regal remnants pay tribute to Moulay Ismail, sultan from 1672 to 1727, with gorgeous tilework, elegant madrasas, a splendid mausoleum, and perhaps Morocco’s most spectacular gate—the Bab Mansour.
Small but perfectly formed, cobbled Nejjarine Square (Place Nejjarine is one of Fez’s most atmospheric little squares. It’s known for the 18th-century Nejjarine Fountain, with its gorgeous zellige mosaics, and the Nejjarine Museum of Wooden Arts and Crafts, housed in the Fondouk Nejjarine, a historic trading inn.
The Zaouia of Moulay Idriss II (Zaouia de Moulay Idriss II, sometimes spelled “zawiya,” is one of Fez’s most sacred places. A religious school and mausoleum, it houses the tomb of Moulay Idriss II, who made the city great in the ninth century. His body, apparently uncorrupted, was discovered in 1308, when most of the structure dates from.
One of Fez’s most notable museums, home to a vibrant collection of Moroccan arts and crafts, the Dar Batha Museum (Museum of Moroccan Arts) makes a worthwhile additional to any sightseeing trip, offering a unique insight into Fez’s artistic heritage.
The vast permanent collection includes everything from hand-painted ceramics to antique Berber carpets to gold-plated astrolabes, alongside traditional jewelry, leatherwork, earthenware, woodwork and embroidery, with artifacts dating from the 14th century to modern-day. The surroundings are equally impressive, with the museum housed in a beautiful Hispano-Moorish palace built by Moulay el Hassan in the 19th-century and featuring a tranquil garden and café.
Please note: The Dar Batha Museum is temporarily closed for renovations.
A sea of startling blue buildings set against a backdrop of the rugged Rif Mountains, Chefchaouen (pronounced “shef-sha-wen”) is a real gem in Northern Morocco. There’s no mistaking where the “Blue City” gets its nickname—with its brightly painted walls, doors, and stairways and red-tiled roofs, it’s a city begging to be photographed.
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