What is a Medina?
The Riyad: Traditional Design
The Massriya in the Life of the Moroccan House
The Hammam in the Life of the Medina

Is the Fez Medina Safe?

  • The Fes medina is just as safe as Fes�s new city or Ville Nouvelle.

  • Most foreigners living in the Fes medina feel safer there than they do in average American or European cities.

  • Neighbors keep a close watch on the activity in their neighborhoods, and random violent crime and crime against women is not a constant concern for women living alone in the medina � in stark contrast to American cities today.

Looking for Fez Morocco hotels? It is very safe to rent traditional houses and experience Moroccan culture.  Visit www.FesMedina.com to make a reservation to stay in a small palace, royal suite, or traditional ryad, dar, riad, riyad, or vacation rental home in the medieval souks of Fes, Morocco � Fes Maroc � Fez Marokko

What is a Medina?

The Medina is the oldest section and the historic heart of any Moroccan city. The Medina was the center of Moroccan urban life until the colonial period, when in all urban centers a Ville Nouvelle or "new city" was constructed with wide boulevards at a remove from the historic center. The Medina Qdima, literally the "old city," came to be called simply "the Medina".

The Medina is the legendary seat of fable and the most fascinating part of any Moroccan urban center. A tangled web of winding alleys and street markets, the public spaces of the Medina offer a remarkable procession of sights and scents, where within a block one can find velvet slippers embroidered in gold, carpet shops, wood-carvers standing in sawdust of cedar, open markets selling bright vegetables, and magic shops with green lizards and charged talismans. Labyrinthine alleys pass through stages of light and shade, through narrow tunnels where one must stoop to pass.

Occasionally, a heavy studded door opens and reveals a suggestion of the secret life of Fez that remains invisible to the tourist: the traditional Moroccan house, center of family and a tranquil private oasis within the labyrinth of the souks, unglimpsed by passers-by because all windows open inward. When the massive studded door is opened, you pass from the dim alleyways into the dark vestibule of the traditional house, where a mosaic hallway leads inward. It is a shock to step from the dark vestibule into the brilliantly-lit central courtyard which rises three to five stories toward the light. Five times a day the call to prayer sounds through the open courtyard, reminding that one is at the heart of the Medina.

The Riyad: The Traditional Design of a Moroccan House

The Riyad is the traditional shape of a Moroccan house, with grand salons giving onto a central tiled courtyard. The traditional Riyad often has a garden at the center. The house typically has no windows onto the street outside. Instead, all windows open inward to the open-air central courtyard that is the heart of the house.

The Massriya in the Life of the Moroccan House

A Massriya is a separate suite located at the top of the most opulent Moroccan houses. With a separate entrance, the Massriya was often reserved for the eldest son of a major Fassi family. In keeping with the stature of the individuals allotted a private suite at the top of the house, Massriyas are often the most highly-ornamented rooms in the house.

While most traditional houses have full mosaic floors and carved plaster over doors and around ceilings, the mosaic in the Massriya often extends up the walls, and carved plaster in beehive patterns extends down the walls and is accentuated with stained glass.


The Hammam in the Life of the Medina

The Architecture of the Hammam

The traditional structure of the hammam is a series of rooms leading inward toward heat. Upon entering from the street, the bather comes to a large dressing room with wooden benches on which bathers remove their clothes and place them in bags to be deposited with the guardian. The hammam then leads inward through large and small tiled rooms - sometimes with vaulted ceilings, growing steadily hotter as they near the center room with the single water source. In this center room, water flows into two separate cisterns, one cold, and one extremely hot. The water is often heated by ovens stoked with wood chips and frequently also serves as the community bread oven. Bathers draw their own water in buckets and sit on the tiled floors along the walls, their buckets and toiletries defining their personal space in a semicircle in front of them. From this vantage point, both private and communal, one watches the spectacle of other families, talks with one's neighbor, or relaxes and scrubs contemplatively. Depending on the time of day or week, the hammam can be a quiet sanctuary or a cacophonous gallery of children's voices.

The Women's Hammam

For many women visitors to Morocco, the women's hamman will be the only experience of a women's public space. Here, the visitor is privileged to be among many generations of Moroccan women tending to their children and each other in the traditional ritual of bathing. Side by side, grandmothers wash and henna their long hair as mothers scrub their young children. Young girls scrub each other's backs and legs and wash with rich sabon bildi, the traditional salve-like soap only available in the Medina. Young boys run on bare feet with tiny buckets, doing their part in carrying the water for their mothers. In the steamy air, every stage of a woman's life is present, from adolescent girls in the flower of their bodies, to the oldest women honored and bathed by their granddaughters.

The Men's Hammam

The energy in the men's hammam is higher and the spirit can be slightly competitive, but the same intergenerational span of the family is present. Fathers bathe their young sons with hot water and a thorough scrubbing which elicits wide eyes and pursed lips, and in the youngest boys sometimes a heartfelt wail. Groups of young men joke with each other, flex their muscles, and stretch each other in slow and elaborate routines. Young boys are allowed to attend the women's hammam with their mothers until the age that they start to look around with too much interest. Once this time comes, they are banned forever from this inner sanctum of women, which they often remember nostalgically throughout their adult lives.

The unwritten rules of the hammam


A private visit to the community hammam in the company of our Moroccan team and friends is offered to all Fes Medina guests. This is a rare opportunity to experience a side of Morocco that tourists rarely dare to discover alone.