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Fez

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The Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art and Architecture What is This? Provides in-depth historical and cultural information on over a thousand years of Islamic art and architecture

Fez

[Arab. Fās; Fr. Fès].

City in northern Morocco. The role of Fez as a city of artisans and commerce was assured by its location in the midst of a fertile and well-watered undulating region at the crossroads of the east–west passage from the Atlantic Ocean through the Taza Gap to Algeria with the north–south route from the Mediterranean Sea to the Sahara. The oldest Islamic foundation in Morocco, Fez preserves the monuments, souks, craft traditions and commerce of a pre-modern Islamic city. It also enjoys considerable religious and intellectual importance owing to the presence of the Qarawiyyin Mosque and University. UNESCO has funded the elaboration of a master plan for the city to help solve the problem of conserving a competitive, modern urban center within a city museum.

In 789 Idris I (r. 789–93), eponym of the Idrisids (r. 789–926), a local Shi῾ite dynasty, founded the city of Fez (Arab. madīnat fās) on the east bank of the wadi Fas, a tributary of the Jebou River; in 809 Idris II (r. 793–828) founded a new city known as the ῾Alid (Arab. al-῾aliyya) opposite it on the west bank and built his palace there. In 817–18, following a riot at Córdoba, families of Andalusian refugees (Arab. andalusiyyīn) established themselves in the city of Idris I. A short time later, refugees from Kairouan (Arab. qarawiyyīn) in Tunisia were welcomed in the city of Idris II, which appears to have had a more civilized and Arabized character than its older, more Berber neighbor. The precise plan of the two first settlements on either side of the river can no longer be reconstituted, but they were located at the bottom of the Fez basin. With the decline of the Idrisids, Fez became a stake in the wars between the Fatimid dynasty (r. 909–72 in Tunisia) and the Umayyad dynasty of Spain (r. 756–1031).

Fez enjoyed a period of prosperity and expansion under the Almoravids (r. 1056–1147), although their capital was at Marrakesh. In 1069 the Almoravid ruler Yusuf ibn Tashufin (r. 1061–1106) took Fez, unified the two districts within one wall and constructed a fortress (Arab. qaṣaba) to the west. The Almoravid fortress seems to have been located on the site of the present kasba of the Filala to the west of the city. The west bank, better irrigated than the east bank, was enlarged and developed from the base of the valley towards the citadel. The two principal streets of the medina still follow this east–west direction. The west bank thus evolved rapidly, while the east bank became the domain of more modest artisans.

The Almohads (r. 1130–1269) entered Fez in 1146 and razed the Almoravid fortress and ramparts, which were soon re-erected. Fez remained the economic, intellectual and artistic center of northern Morocco as a result of commerce between Spain and the central Maghrib, although the Almohads also preferred Marrakesh. The line of the early 13th-century ramparts has hardly changed, and the eight Almohad gates are still in place. The center of the city included the mosque of the Qarawiyyin quarter, the tomb of Idris II, the market for precious goods (Arab. qaysāriyya) and the souk. A second, less important center seems to have been located between the bridges over the wadi Fas and the mosque of the Andalusiyyin quarter to the east. These centers were linked to the gates by an irregular system of streets, for the sloping ground rendered all regular urban schemes impractical. The city walls originally enclosed vast empty areas, and the city was able to expand within its walls until the 20th century.

Fez again became the capital of a realm in the middle of the 13th century, when it was taken by the Marinids (r. 1196–1549). The period of Marinid rule was the most splendid in the history of the city. The old quarters were embellished with numerous edifices, notably madrasas and mosques. In 1276 the Marinids created a new quarter ex nihilo on the plateau that dominates the old city from the west. Called the White City (Arab. al-madīnat al-bayḍā῾), it quickly became known as New Fez (Arab. fās al-jadīd) in contrast to Old Fez (Arab. fās al-bālī). This city has a regular plan within a double wall. The palaces in the southwest (which still exist) were placed next to the administrative quarter in the northwest, which had its own congregational mosque. Further to the east extended the medina of New Fez, with streets intersecting at right angles to the principal north–south axis, souks, caravanserais (Arab. funduq), baths and mosques. The Jewish quarter (Arab. mallaḥ), another Marinid creation, lies to the south of New Fez.

The Marinid period was followed by more than two centuries of troubles, interrupted only by a short period of prosperity at the end of the 16th century. In 1641, when the city was conquered by the Berber confederation of the Dila, the citizens appealed for help to the ῾Alawi sharifs (r. from 1631), who established power there in 1666. Under the ῾Alawis, Fez had many changes of fortune: al-Rashid (r. 1664–72) devoted himself actively to its embellishment, Isma῾il as-Samin (r. 1672–1727) ignored it in favor of Meknès, and ῾Abdallah (r. 1729–35) made it his capital, causing widespread destruction in his struggle to gain power. The majority of ῾Alawi sovereigns undertook major constructions, although the urban character of the double city was hardly modified. Al-Rashid rebuilt the walls of Old Fez and constructed the kasba of the Shararda (Cherarda) to the north. ῾Abdallah had the Dar al-Dabibagh (1729), a new kasba, erected about 5 km to the southwest, incidentally destroying the principal gates of Fez. Neither of these kasbas was ever integrated in the city. In the second half of the 19th century, the empty land between Old Fez and New Fez was filled with palaces and gardens. The surrounding hills received sumptuous habitations, notably in the southwest of Old Fez. At the beginning of the 20th century, the empty land between the Almohad rampart and the actual city was used for schools, playing fields and residences. During the French Protectorate (1912–56), a separate new city was created to the southwest; it did not modify the existing urban structures and continues to expand.

The oldest and most venerable of the many celebrated monuments in Fez is the Qarawiyyin (Karaouine) Mosque. Although its foundation goes back to the 9th century and its minaret to the 10th, its present form dates from the Almohad renovation of the mosque in 1134–43. It is one of the largest mosques of Morocco, measuring 82×68 m. The prayer-hall has 10 aisles parallel to the qibla wall, each with 21 bays. The line of central bays is covered with a series of richly decorated muqarnas cupolas, from which hang several bronze chandeliers made from bells captured from the Christians in Spain. The minbar, probably made in Córdoba and presented to the mosque in 1144, is a masterpiece of medieval Islamic woodwork: its triangular sides are decorated with deeply carved small panels and marquetry strapwork in a pattern generated from eight-pointed stars (see Woodwork, §I, C). Other fine woodwork includes the ῾anaza (1289), an auxiliary mihrab in a grille in the court façade of the prayer-hall. Although its exterior surface is heavily weathered, the interior preserves its inlaid interlace decoration and kufic inscriptions (see Woodwork, §II, A). Behind the qibla wall of the mosque lie several annexes, including a library and a small triangular oratory to which bodies were brought before burial (Arab. jāmi῾ al-janā῾iz, jamaa el-gnaiz, Fr. mosquée des morts). Under the Sa῾dian dynasty (r. 1511–1659), the small court was embellished with two pavilions (see color pl. 2:II, fig. 2) modeled on those in the Patio de los Leones (Court of the Lions) at the Alhambra in Granada (see Granada, color pl. 2:V, fig. 1) Under the Almoravids the mosque became a center of learning that was the core of an important Islamic university. The Andalusiyyin (Andalous) Mosque, also founded in the 9th century and given a minaret in the 10th, is largely a creation of the Almohad period. The plan is a reduced version of that of the Qarawiyyin Mosque. The mosque preserves several important bronze bell lamps as well as a wooden minbar of the 10th century.

Madrasas were first built in Fez under the Marinids, and several fine examples are preserved. The Saffarin (1271), Sahrij (1321), Saba῾iyyin (early 14th century), ῾Attarin (1323–5; see Architecture, color pl. 1:III, fig. 4) and Misbahiyya (1347) madrasas are all located relatively near the Qarawiyyin Mosque. The Fez al-Jadid (1320) and the Bu῾Inaniyya (1350–55) madrasas are situated further to the west; each is distinguished by a minaret. In general they are small buildings with a central court containing a basin, a hall for prayer and instruction, chambers for students and faculty, and latrines. The Bu῾Inaniyya is exceptional in having a congregational mosque. The buildings are notable for their refined decoration in carved plaster and wood and glazed tile (see Architecture, §VI, D, 2). The immense Sharratin (Cherratine) Madrasa (1670), replacing an earlier structure, has poor and monotonous decoration in comparison to the decorative programs of the Marinid period.

Other buildings, including several caravanserais, monumental fountains and ancient palaces (transformed into commercial centers open to the public), have parts dating to the 16th and 17th centuries, although the architectural conservatism of the city makes it impossible to establish exact dates on stylistic grounds. The most venerated monument is the tomb of Idris II and the adjacent hospice (Arab. zāwiya). Although it was founded in the Idrisid period, the present structure dates only from the 18th century. The Batha Palace (19th century), converted during the Protectorate into a museum of the arts and traditions of Fez and its region (Mus. Dar Batha), preserves many features of Hispano-Moresque secular architecture.

Fez has been a noted center for the production of textiles and leather goods since the Middle Ages. The Fez style of embroidery is done in counted cross-stitch in red or blue silk on cotton. The designs are largely geometric or geometricized vegetal patterns and have been used, at least since the 18th century, for cushion covers, curtains and towels (see Textiles, §II, C, 2). A more elaborate type of embroidery is couched in gold and silver thread on velvet or leather. Many traditional textile techniques have been preserved in the production of the traditional wedding costumes of Fez: silk-weaving on draw looms, for example, was still practiced in the 1980s to make sashes and belts. The tanneries of Fez, with their open dye vats, are one of the most picturesque, if malodorous, sights in the city.

Bibliography

  • Enc. Islam/2: “Fās”
  • C. Terrasse: Médersas du Maroc (Paris, [1927])
  • E. Lévi-Provençal: “La Fondation de Fès,” An. Inst. Etud. Orient. U. Alger, iv (1938), pp. 23–52
  • H. Terrasse: La Mosquée des Andalous à Fès (Paris, [1942])
  • R. Le Tourneau: Fès avant le Protectorat (Rabat, 1949)
  • R. Le Tourneau: Fez in the Age of the Marinides (Norman, OK, 1961)
  • H. Terrasse: La Mosquée al-Qaraouiyin à Fès (Paris, 1968)
  • J. Revault, L. Golvin and A. Amahane: Les Palais et demeures de Fès, 2 vols. (Paris, 1985–9)
  • T. Burckhardt and W. Stoddard: Fez: City of Islam (Cambridge, 1992)
  • E. Wirth: Die Medina von Fes (Erlangen, 1992)
  • H. Irbouh: “French Colonial Art Education and the Moroccan Feminine Milieu: A Case Study from Fez, 1927–30,” Maghreb Rev., xxv/3 (2000), pp. 275–88
  • G. D. Porter: “The City’s Many Uses: Cultural Tourism, the Sacred Monarchy and the Preservation of Fez’s Medina,” J. N. Afr. Stud., v/2 (2000), pp. 59–88
  • G. Guadalupi: “The Colleges of Islam: The Madrasahs of Fes,” F.M.R. Mag., cxi (2001), pp. 20–33
  • S. Miller, A. Petruciolli and M. Bertagnin: “Inscribing Minority Space in the Islamic City: The Jewish Quarter of Fez (1438–1912),” J. Soc. Arch. Hist., lx/3 (2001), pp. 310–27
  • S. O’Connor: “The Madrasahs of Fes,” F.M.R. Mag., cxi (2001), pp. 34–48
  • A. Corty: “Fes, la belle endormie,” Conn. A., dcxxxviii (2006), pp. 84–93
  • S. O’Meara: “The Foundation Legend of Fez and Other Islamic Cities in Light of the Life of the Prophet,” Cities in the Pre-Modern Islamic World: The Urban Impact of Religion, State and Society, ed. A. K. Bennison and A. L. Gascoigne (London, 2007), pp. 27–41
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