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Fes Medina

Traditional Houses in Fez – Riads, Dars, Palaces, and Caravanserai

The Fez Medina is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it is filled with more than 3000 traditional houses. Many of these are available for rent or can be viewed by visitors to the Medina.

Here is a full list of hotels and guest houses in Fez, Morocco. The list includes dars, riads, hotels and guesthouses in the medina and in the ville nouvelle.

There are several types of house that visitors typically see and within those styles there is a wide range of architecture that is both beautiful and architecturally interesting.

Fez medina riad, dar

Over the next few months, I will be showcasing several of these incredible houses and introducing readers to this beautiful city that I am fortunate enough to call home. If you would like your property featured, please contact me with the details and I will arrange a time for us to meet so you can show me (and my readers) one more reason why Fez is one of the most interesting tourist spots in the world.

RIADS

 

 

Interiror courtyard in a Fez Riad

The houses in the medina are of several different types. The most well known of these is the Riad. A Riad (also spelled Riyad) is a classic example of the kind of houses that the wealthy once and still do call home. Generally, Riads are composed of several levels with at least two salons surrounding a central courtyard. Fountains made of either plaster or zellij (ornate Moroccan tile work) usually sit centrally in the courtyard and are faced by a central salon for gatherings and visitors.

A large front door containing a smaller door which is used on most occasions leads visitors from often austere exteriors to lavishly ornate interiors that will often overwhelm your senses. These doors are carved and painted on some of the better preserved or restored riads and usually have at least one heavy iron knocker on them.

Inside, fruit trees, decorative plants, carved plaster, and ornate zellij combine to form a decadent and luxurious living or entertaining space designed to awe guests.

On the ground floor, the salons are filled with woven cushions, thick rugs, and comfortable low rise couches which line the walls. At the street level all attention is focused inwards and it’s not until you climb the narrow staircases that you usually find windows. This was for the security of the family since women usually didn’t leave the house without veils but inside would often wear more comfortable clothing to manage the house and relax at home. So the security was for both safety and to protect the harem from prying eyes.

Geometric artwork in compliance with Muslim beliefs which forbid the depiction of anything that might be mistaken for an idol often adorn every surface and the high ceilings and timbered cedar ceilings are often painted in bright reds, greens, blues, and yellows.

In addition to the salons, the kitchen and toilet are usually on the ground floor, though this has been changed in many renovations. The public fountains in Fez exist mainly because running water was not common inside houses of the Medina. Today, most do have water though in the past it was only the wealthiest who could afford the terra cotta plumbing which would bring water indoors.

A very narrow staircase (or sometimes two) would often lead to the second floor. This level was primarily used for storage or entertaining of the women when male visitors from outside of the family were visiting.

The top floors were used for sleeping during the winter months when the natural rise of heat would keep them warmer than those below. The obverse was true in summer.

Fes Rooftop Riad, Dar, Medina, Fez
The roof level, traditionally the domain of women and children offers stunning views from wherever you might be in the Medina. Some rooftops also have a final beautiful salon and a terrace area for eating meals, entertaining, or these days, letting guests be filled with a sense of awe and wonder at the massiveness of the Fes Medina and its architecture. In olden times, it was common to surround the roof with high walls to protect the privacy of those who were there, primarily women engaged in washing, cooking, and preparing the food stuffs of the house.

While Riads are the most well known style of house in Fez, there are several others that visitors should be aware of.

DARS

 

 

Fes, Dar Fez, Riad, tradtional Moroccan architecture

Dars are often smaller versions of Riads, though this is not always true. Typically they contain neither the garden nor the fountain though they do have a central courtyard, albeit oftentimes smaller than that of a Riad, but again, there are always exceptions to the rules. The architecture and layout is similar though usually scaled down to a less palatial magnitude.

Massreiya

 

 

Fes,Massreiya, Riad, Dar, Medina, Fez
When you step into a massreiya, you are often met by stunningly hand carved plaster panels, huge amounts of zellij, ornately decorated cedar architectural pieces, and other sumptuous ornamentation. These houses differ from Dars and Riads in that they usually have neither a ground floor living quarter, nor a courtyard, though as with all medina dwellings there are exceptions.

Most of the massreiya in the Fez Medina were built as either guesthouses for visitors who didn’t get the privilidge of access to the family quarters or to the eldest sons. This is one of the reasons why massreiya are usually attached to dars and riads.

Often the ground floor is composed of a medina shop along one of the many derbs and alleys. An often unnoticeable and unassuming doorway will lead to narrow stairs which lead up to some of the most highly decorated living quarters in the medina.

In times past it was rare for a massreiya to have a kitchen, but today most of them do, though in those that have not been renovated or restored there is frequently still no running water.


CARAVANSERAI

 

Caravanserai, Dar, Fez, House in Fes, Riad in Fes
Caravanserai were used by travelers, often those who were traveling the great Sahara caravan routes to Timbuktu and back to Fes. Since these were not family dwellings and women didn’t travel unaccompanied, these houses were built with men in mind. Often for men with camels, horses, and large amounts of goods that needed storage and protection. Because of the mercantile nature of these dwellings they were sometimes the most ornately decorated in the Medina, though as a place that housed camels and sweaty traders this wasn’t usually the case. These days, medina dwellers often refer to them with the standard arabic term for hotel “fondouk” or even “fundook” depending on who you choose to transliterate the arabic script, though when the caravans still tread through the Sahara sands, they were called the more regionally appropriate caravanserai.

KSAR

 

Dar, Riad, Palace, Caravanserai, Fes, Fez, House in Fes, Royal Palace Fez, Sultan's palace Fes
Finally, for those who were of the ruling classes, of course there were true palaces which were constructed on the same general plan as a Riad but on a far larger scale. These palaces are called Ksar (think ‘castle’) and usually are made up of extensive grounds, several houses, and a level of opulence that literally stunned visiting European royals. One example that is easily visited is the Batha Museum which once belonged to a Moroccan Sultan.

zellij, Moroccan tile work, Morocco, House in Fez

Dar el Menia – a traditional house in Fes

To experience the wonder of staying in an incredible tradtional Fez house visit Dar El Menia on the web.

Staying in a traditional house in the Fez medina can be one of the most memorable things about your time in Morocco. There is something beyond magical about looking up at high beams hewn from Atlas Cedar before you close your eyes and drift to sleep. And of course, the feeling of exhilarating relief as you wind your way through the souks and derbs, getting lost, finding your way, asking directions, stopping to eat a delicious bit of bastilla or sip a bit of sweet mint tea, and finally coming to a recognizable metal studded wooden door and knowing that for the moment, you are home.

This, perhaps, is the thing that never ceases to amaze me about the many types and styles of home in the Fes medina. Upon entering, they all feel like home. Whether it is the warm tapestries or a psychological result of the zellij, I can’t say, but I’ve talked with a lot of tourists, residents, and travelers about this and the feeling is nearly universal. And that, is a very good thing, because be warned, the medina can be overwhelming to all of the senses to even those who are most used to it. That sense of comfort that comes from being home, whether you are staying in a massreiya, riad, or dar is a necessary psychological adjustment to the exotic chaos that is ever present in the Fes medina.
dar, massreiya, riad in Fes, Riad in Morocco
One such home away from home that is a favorite resting point for everyone from dignitaries to lonely planet writers is Dar El Menia. Situated near one of the many pulsing veins of the medina, Talaa Kebira, this traditional family Dar is approximately 250 years old and fully restored in traditional style with a few modern amenities added on in ways that don’t distract from the craftsmanship, design, and overall aesthetic of the world’s largest car free urban zone.
Morocco Riad, Fes Riad, Riad in Fez

Fes is the largest medieval Islamic city in the world that is still occupied and as such staying in a place like Dar El Menia puts you firmly within a living museum. By making a traditional Fassi house like Dar el Menia your temporary base, you make every facet of your stay in this ancient fortified city a historical journey and put yourself within easy reach of the famous hammams, tanneries, mosques, medersas, and living museums.
Dar in Fes, Moroccan house, Dar in Fez
From the original marble floor to the fully restored plaster and zellij tile work, Dar el Menia oozes luxury and comfort without giving an inch to compromise. The courtyard carries cool breezes down from the roof where epic views of the medina will fill you with wonder at any time of the day or night. Dar el Menia is the personal project of Graham Coules, a friendly Englishman whose face is familiar to everyone who spends any amount of time in the medina. Day to day running of the dar is taken care of by a local Moroccan family that have lived and worked in the medina for generations.
zellij, Moroccan tile work, Morocco, House in Fez
They say that you haven’t experienced Morocco until you have been invited into a Moroccan home, and a stay at Dar el Menia counts as such. Um Klthum, who acts as housekeeper and manager is an incredible Moroccan cook and loves to make traditional foods to share with guests. When you eat her Friday couscous on the roof of Dar el Menia, you will know why every Moroccan’s mom makes the best couscous in the world. Her tajines, bastilla, fresh baked khobz (bread), and salads bring the many spices, fresh ingredients, and traditional cooking techniques together in a meal that you will certainly consider a masterpiece.

To book a room in Dar El Menia go here

Mustapha, the household manager also oversaw restoration and construction on the house and is knowledgeable about the many techniques and styles of building and craftsmanship within the medina.

Abdul, who speaks English, Spanish, French, Derija, and modern standard Arabic is more than just the family linguist, he is a ready and willing conversationalist and historian who is both willing and capable to help you understand the many incredible things you will see throughout your days in this traditional home. And if you are lucky enough to be around when he picks up a guitar, you’ll find that music is another language he speaks fluently. The chance to interact and become friends with this local family is one of the things that truly makes Dar el Menia stand out among the many houses in Fez that you can choose to stay in.

Moroccan music, traditional Moroccan house, Fes, Fez

Dar el Menia can sleep up to eleven guests and if you are part of a group, the entire house is available for rental. Because of its reputation and comfort, it is adviable to make reservations well in advance of when you will be in Fes. King size beds, fans, wi-fi, a roof top shower, full baths and showering facilities, a large communal kitchen, and stunning views over the Merenid tombs and large sections of the medina from the rooftop terrace all make your stay here one that is comfortable, memorable, and a relief from the rigours of world travel.
traditional Fes house, traditiona dar, traditional Riad
Um-Klthum will provide you with lunch or dinner if you wish to arrange it and breakfast is served for all guests each and every morning. Everything from towels to blankets are provided and in the colder winter months, each room has a heater too. Prices vary according to season but a stay in Dar el Menia can cost as little as 450 dirhams per night. Of course if you want an en-suite bathroom or to rent the whole house, prices will be a bit more. Dar el Menia has been recommended by everyone from Lonely Planet to the Sunday London Times.

To arrange a stay at Dar el Menia or to find out more about this incredible traditional house in Fes, take a look at the website Graham has built for it.

There you can arrange bookings, make inquiries, or just browse the galleries of stunning photos of the house, guests, and life in this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
view from Fez, Dar el Menia, Fez Medina, Fes medina, tradtional house in Morocco