Fès (also spelled Fez and in Arabic, Fas) is the third largest city in Morocco, after Casablanca and Rabat. It lies in a valley bordered by the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, and on the old crossroads of caravan routes connecting the Saharan empires like Timbuktu with the Atlantic and the Mediterranean shipping lanes.
The most ancient and impressive of the imperial cities (Fès, Marrakech, Meknes and Rabat are known as the Imperial Cities, each having been the country's capital at some time during its history), it is still considered the cultural and spiritual centre of Morocco, the holiest city in the Islamic world after Mecca and Medina .
Fes is three distinct parts: Fes el-Bali (Old Fes), Fes el-Jdid (New Fes), and the modern, French-built Ville Nouvelle.
Fes el-Bali is the best preserved, continuously inhabited, medieval city still in existence. So precious are Fes's history, architecture, and culture, that it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Its medina is an unmappable maze of more than 9,000 alleys where mules are the only form of transport and life is a fascinating blend of medieval and modern. A far reaching conservation campaign has been attempting to preserve and interpret the remarkable historic legacy, with new uses being sought for fabulous old palaces, many of which are being restored by both Moroccan and foreign families.
Fes el-Jdid, south of the medina, is a 13th-century ‘new' town, home to the Dar el-Makhzen or Royal Palace (restored but closed to the public) and Mellah, the former Jewish quarter. The Ville Nouvelle is the city's modern business and commercial centre with wide boulevards, hotels, restaurants, cafés, bookshops, the university, the railway station and main bus terminus.