Fes was founded by Idris I two thousand two hundred and twenty three years ago, making it one of the oldest medieval cities on earth. Under the influence of the Andalusians and migrants from Kairouan (Tunisia), Fes grew as a city of Islam, crafts and trades. It is during this period that the Kairouyine mosque was built along with the Al-Qarawiyyin Madrasa (in 859), the first university in the world. Fes, twice the capital of Morroco and once a wealthy city, has always been a unique cultural place in Moroccan history. In 1912, under the French protectorate, Fes lost its title of capital in favour of Rabat. A decision taken by General Lyautey at the beginning of the French protectorate, following some riots in the city. This has an important impact for the city. It is from this period that wealthy families began to leave Fes for Casablanca (the financial capital), Rabat (the administrative capital) and other places along the Atlantic coast under economical and industrial development. Fes slowly lost its economical power and its influence while people from the countryside slowly began to move inside the Medina. A rural exodus that increased over the years, reaching its peak during the severe drought of the 80′s. By the beginning of the 21st century, the Medina of Fes was over populated and its buildings were facing significant erosion.
With its Moroccan tradition, its religious culture and historical heritage, Fes is today both the cultural capital of Morocco and a place of pilgrimage where Muslims (mostly from Africa) on the road to Mecca come to pray at the Zaouia Moulay Ahmed Tijani. Knowing this, Fes targets a cultural and religious tourists, and like many other Moroccan places, it has benefited from the recent increase of tourism despite being far behind a city like Marrakesh or Agadir in term of tourism development and accommodation. However at the airport, a second terminal is under progress to welcome more low cost flights and hence more tourists.
I really feel like Fes is a city apart from the rest of Morocco (and probably from the Arab world) with a huge historical and religious heritage. Its Medina still has an incredible atmosphere and a true Moroccan soul cultivated by its own people through thousands of years of tradition. I can only hope that it keeps its soul, its dense life, energy and culture, and that it finds its own path while increasing tourism and progressing into the 21st century.