Some 90,000 people still live in the Fez medina. It can seem like it’s in a state of perpetual pandemonium; some visitors fall instantly in love, and others recoil in horror. But its charms are many. Seemingly blind alleys lead to squares with exquisite fountains and streets bursting with aromatic food stands, rooftops unveil a sea of minarets, and stooped doorways reveal tireless artisans.
In its heyday, Fez attracted scholars and philosophers, mathematicians and lawyers, astronomers and theologians. Craftsmen built them houses and palaces, kings endowed mosques and medersas (religious schools), and merchants offered exotic wares from the silk roads and sub-Saharan trade routes. Although Fez lost its influence at the beginning of the 19th century, it remains a supremely self-confident city whose cultural and spiritual lineage beguiles visitors. Something of the medieval remains in the world’s largest car-free urban area: donkeys cart goods down the warren of alleyways, and while there are still ruinous pockets, government efforts to restore the city are showing results.