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Fez is the cultural and spiritual centre of Morocco. It was founded in 790 AD by Moulay Idriss II and is the oldest of the three Imperial Cities. The main attraction in this ancient city is the medieval Medina, the old part of the city, which has been continuously inhabited since the 10th century and still bustles with a bewildering throng of colourfully-costumed locals; from olive-dealers and veiled women on their way to the baths, to industrious merchants and traditional bell-ringing water-sellers. The Medina of Fez is the most complete medieval city still in existence, it's preservation having been instigated under French occupation, and it forms a working model of the way life was lived when the world was still young. The more modern part of the city is known as Ville Nouvelle, and has a decidedly French influence.
A guided tour is the easiest way to tackle the buzzing hive that is traditional Fez - but the brave can take on the teeming alleyways, too narrow for motor vehicles, and risk getting lost and having to haggle with a local to be guided back out. Laden donkeys negotiate the steep cobbled lanes, and the buzz of buying and selling is often interrupted by the urgent cries of mule drivers or deliverymen pushing heavy and ungainly carts warning shoppers to flatten themselves against the walls or be flattened themselves. A visit to the souks will undoubtedly lead to a stopover at Fez's famous tanneries, where one of the oldest arts in Morocco (and the world) is practiced, and where tourists can buy premium soft leather products to take home as Moroccan souvenirs.
The best vantage point over the ancient walled city, which lies at the eastern end of the plain of Saiss, bordered by the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, is from the ruined Merenid tombs on a nearby hilltop. From here it is possible to view the skyline with its profusion of satellite dishes, and to pick out some of the magnificent palaces, green-roofed holy places and the Karaouine Mosque, all hemmed in by workshops and tenements, souks and squares, a mass of humanity and the ubiquitous donkeys. Fez might be a secretive and shadowy place, but it is captivating and colourful at the same time, and wonderful destination for those looking to have a real cultural experience during their holiday in Morocco.