The global spread of the coronavirus is disrupting travel. Stay up to date on the science behind the outbreak>>

An open book: Fez's revival

Following a glut of restoration projects and new openings, the medieval medina of Fez has inviting new propositions for tourists

By Amelia Duggan
Published 9 Apr 2019, 00:01 BST, Updated 12 Jul 2021, 10:54 BST
Al-Qarawiyyin Mosque and university in Fez

Al-Qarawiyyin Mosque and university in Fes

Photograph by Getty Images

The imposing iron gates of the al-Qarawiyyin library have been closed to the public for so long that generations have grown up in Fez's ancient medina not knowing what crumbling architectural fancies and priceless tomes they guard. Local architect Aziza Chaouni claims she didn't know of the library — which, founded in 859, is the oldest surviving in the world — until she was approached to head up its restoration in 2012. It's been a lengthy process: ribbon cutting was slated for 2016, but is now expected in late 2017.

The influences of almost every ruling dynasty since the ninth century can be seen in the architecture, and its treasures include a ninth-century Qur'an written in ornate Kufic script on camel skin.

How to do it: Until it opens its doors to the general public, local tour operator Plan-it Morocco can organise a private visit with the restoration team. 


Medina makeover

Sleep: Opened this year is the Riad Palais Marjana, a family-run 16-room guesthouse in a 400-year-old Moorish mansion replete with antique touches. 

Eat: Check out the souk-fresh tasting menu at new restaurant Nur, run by chef Najat Kaanache who cut her teeth at haute cuisine restaurants El Bulli and Noma. 

Do: The Ruined Garden has launched a bread school, teaching the art of making baghrir pancakes and other specialities. 

Fly: There's no need to delay: Air Arabia has launched new direct flights from Gatwick starting at £81 return. 


Booked up! Other historic libraries

Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Egypt
Built in 2002, this modern complex commemorates the great Library of Alexandria that was lost in antiquity.

Library of Congress, Washington DC
The largest library in the world is the place to see George Washington's letters and Thomas Jefferson's rough draft of the Declaration of Independence.

Biblioteca Marciana, Venice
This 16th-century library overlooks the iconic Piazza San Marco. Check out the frescos in the Monumental Rooms.

Follow @ameliaduggan

Published in the October 2017 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

Read More

You might also like

Explore Celtic heritage on a one-week road trip from Wales to Ireland
Venice is planning to introduce a tourist tax. Is this a sign of things to come?
National Geographic Traveller Reader Awards 2022
Remembering Dervla Murphy: a fearless, frank and inspiring travel writer
How to plan a road trip through Gangwon, South Korea

Explore Nat Geo

  • Animals
  • Environment
  • History & Culture
  • Science
  • Travel
  • Photography
  • Space
  • Adventure
  • Video

About us


  • Magazines
  • Newsletter
  • Disney+

Follow us

Copyright © 1996-2015 National Geographic Society. Copyright © 2015-2021 National Geographic Partners, LLC. All rights reserved