FEZ (Fas), the chief city of Morocco, into which empire it was incorporated in 1548. It lies in 34° 6' 3" N., 4° 38' 15" W., about 230 m. N.E. of Marrakesh, 100 m. E. from the Atlantic and 85 m. S. of the Mediterranean. It is beautifully situated in a deep valley on the Wad Fas, an affluent of the Wad Sebu, which divides the town into two parts - the ancient town, Fas el Bali, on the right bank, and the new, Fas el Jadid, on the left.
Like many other Oriental cities, Fez from a distance appears a very attractive place. It stretches out between low hills, crowned by the ruins of ancient fortresses, and though there is nothing imposing, there is something particularly impressive in the sight of that white-roofed conglomeration of habitations, broken only by occasional mosque towers or, on the outskirts, by luxuriant foliage. Except on the south side the city is surrounded by hills, interspersed with groves of orange, pomegranate and other fruit trees, and large olive gardens.
From its peculiar situation Fez has a drainage superior to that of most Moorish towns. When the town becomes very dirty, the water is allowed to run down the streets by opening lids for the purpose in the conduits and closing the ordinary exits, so that it overflows and cleanses the pavements. The Fasis as a rule prefer to drink the muddy river water rather than that of the pure springs which abound in certain quarters of the town. But the assertion that the supply and drainage system are one is a libel, since the drainage system lies below the level of the fresh river water, and was organized by a French renegade, under Mohammed XVI., about the close of the 18th century. The general dampness of the town renders it unhealthy, however, as the pallid faces of the inhabitants betoken, but this is considered a mark of distinction and is jealously guarded.
Most of the streets are exceedingly narrow, and as the houses are high and built in many cases over the thoroughfares these are often very dark and gloomy, though, since wooden beams, rough stones and mortar are used in building, there is less of that ruined, half-decayed appearance so common in other Moorish towns where mud concrete is the material employed.
As a commercial town Fez is a great depot for the trade of Barbary and wares brought from the east and south by caravans. The manufactures still carried on are those of yellow slippers of the famous Morocco leather, fine white woollen and silk haiks, of which it is justly proud, women's embroidered sashes, various coarse woollen cloths and blankets, cotton and silk handkerchiefs, silk cords and braids, swords and guns, saddlery, brass trays, Moorish musical instruments, rude painted pottery and coloured tiles. Until recent times the city had a monopoly of the manufacture of Fez caps, for it was supposed that the dye which imparts the dull crimson hue of these caps could not be procured elsewhere; they are now, however, made both in France and Turkey. The dye is obtained from the juice of a berry which grows in large quantities near the town, and is also used in the dyeing of leather. Some gold ornaments are made, the gold being brought from the interior by caravans which trade regularly with Timbuktu.
As in other capitals each trade has a district or street devoted chiefly to its activities. Old Fez is the business portion of the town, new Fez being occupied principally by government quarters and the Jews' mellah. The tradesman usually sits cross-legged in a corner of his shop with his goods so arranged that he can reach most of them without moving.
In the early days of Mahommedan rule in Morocco, Fez was the seat of learning and the empire's pride. Its schools of religion, philosophy and astronomy enjoyed a great reputation in Africa and also in southern Europe, and were even attended by Christians. On the expulsion of the Moors from Spain, refugees of all kinds flocked to Fez, and brought with them some knowledge of arts, sciences and manufactures, and thither flocked students to make use of its extensive libraries. But its glories were brief, and though still "the university town" of Morocco, it retains but a shadow of its greatness. Its library, estimated by Gerhard Rohlfs in 1861 to contain 5000 volumes, is open on Fridays, and any Moor of known respectability may borrow volumes on getting an order and signing a receipt for them. There are about 1500 students who read at the Karueein. They pay no rents, but buy the keys of the rooms from the last occupants, selling them again on leaving.
The Karueein is celebrated as the largest mosque in Africa, but it is by no means the most magnificent. On account of the vast area covered, the roof, supported by three hundred and sixty-six pillars of stone, appears very low. The side chapel for services for the dead contains twenty-four pillars. All these columns support horse-shoe arches, on which the roof is built, long vistas of arches being seen from each of the eighteen doors of the mosque. The large lamp is stated to weigh 1763 lb and to have 509 lights, but it is very seldom lit. The total number of lights in the Karueein is given as seventeen hundred, and they are said to require 3 cwt. of oil for one filling. The mosque of Mulai Idris, built by the founder of Fez about the year 810, is considered so sacred that the streets which approach its entrance are forbidden to Jews, Christians or four-footed beasts. The sanctity of the shrine in particular is esteemed very great, and this accounts for the crowds which daily flock to it. The Tumiat door leading to it was once very fine, but is now much faded. Opposite to it is a refuge for friendless sharifas - the female descendants of Mahomet - built by Mohammed XVII.
It is believed that the foundation stone of Fez was laid in 808 by Idris II. Since then its history has been chequered, as it was successfully besieged no fewer than eight times in the first five hundred years of its existence, yet only once knew foreign masters, when in 1554 the Turks took possession of it without a siege and held it for a short time. Fez became the chief residence of the Filali dynasty, who obtained possession of the town in 1649 (see further Morocco: History).
The population has been very varyingly estimated; probably the inhabitants number under one hundred thousand, even when the court is in residence.
See H. Gaillard, Une Ville de l'Islam. Fès (Paris, 1905); C. René-Leclerc, "Le commerce et l'industrie à Fez" in Renseignements col. comité afrique française (1905).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)