he Holy City of Fez, a jewel of Spanish-Arabic civilization, is an outstanding and well-preserved example of an ancient capital of the Almoravids and the Almohads in the North African context, despite the destruction of the city and the transfer of the capital to Rabat. The Medina of Fez in its old, densely packed monuments - madrasas, fondouks, palaces, residences, mosques and fountains - is the memory of the capital founded in year 192 of the Hegira (808) by Idriss II.
The ancient city, home to the oldest university in the world, is composed of two distinct centres. One is the quarter of the Andalous, a population that fled from the Umayyad masters of Cordoba and who came to settle definitively on the right bank of the Fez. The other is the quarter of the Quarawiyyia, a people emigrated from Kairouan in the 11th century who chose the left bank of the river to develop their activities.
Despite the destruction of a considerable part of the city by the Almoravids, the dynasty that took power in the 11th century, the two quarters grouped around two major monuments, the Jama el Andalous (the Mosque of the Andalusians) and the mosque of El Karaouiyne, have preserved their identities intact in the old city of Fez el Bali.
In the 13th century, after the Merinid conquest, when the city found itself constrained within its walls, a new city, Fez el Jedid, was founded directly to the west, in ah 674 by the sultan Abou Youssouf. It replaced Marrakesh as the capital of the kingdom. In the 14th century a Jewish quarter, the Mellah, was joined to the newly founded city. The urban fabric and the principal monuments in the Medina date from this period.
Since then, the twin cities have led a symbiotic existence without losing their own character. Fez is at once an astonishing city-museum and one of the largest Islamic metropolises in which the various demographic strata have determined the greatest variety of architectural forms and urban landscapes.
Having been deserted since 1912 to the advantage of the modern city, the political capital of Morocco was transferred to Rabat, but Fez has retained its status as the country's cultural and spiritual centre.