Former capital of Morocco 808–1062, 1296–1548, and 1662–1912, in the Fès valley north of the Great Atlas Mountains, 160 km/100 mi east of Rabat; population (2004) 946,800. Textiles, carpets, and leather are manufactured, in many cases on a craft basis, and the fez, a brimless hat worn in southern and eastern Mediterranean countries, is traditionally said to have originated here.
History Fès was reputedly founded in 808 by the Moroccan ruler Idris II and became the capital of the West African Muslim states. In the 10th century pilgrimages were made to Fès instead of to Mecca. It was incorporated into Morocco in 1548.
Features Fès is situated on the Wadi Fès just above where it joins the Wadi Sebou which flows into the Atlantic to the west; the valley is surrounded by orange groves, olive plantations, and fruit orchards. The mosque of Qarawiyin was formerly the largest in Africa and is used by over a thousand students who pursue courses in classical Arabic and Islamic jurisprudence and theology. The mosque of Mulai Idris, built nearly 1,100 years ago by the reputed founder of Fès, Idris II, is held to be so sacred that any approach by Christian or Jew is forbidden. The old city retains much of its character, and is now an important tourist attraction.
The Qarawiyin Mosque is claimed to be the oldest mosque in North Africa, while Qarawiyin Islamic University dates from 859; a second university was founded in 1961. The city is linked by rail to other major Moroccan cities and is served by an international aurport.
Economy Commercially, Fès is one of the busiest centres of northwest Africa. Exports are olives, olive oil, citrus fruit, hides, and dressed leather and silk products. There is a regular trade with the interior cities of Africa. Industries include production of leather goods, pottery, and ornamental brassware.