Museums & Traditional Palaces
Tucked into the streets of the Douh, Zerbatana and Ziat neighbourhoods, all to the south of Tala’a Seghira, are a number of splendid private palaces. Some have been refurbished and are open to the public. Many, however, were abandoned during or following the French Protectorate and their grand, decaying rooms are now inhabited by poor relatives or squatters - who often make a living by showing visitors around. These buildings are seldom sign-posted; you would be advised to hire a guide to tour the area.
Note that opening hours may vary, especially during Ramadan.
■ The Arms Museum at Borj Nord [A-1], the hillside fortress to the north of the medina, exhibits a tremendous range of weapons, from a pre-historic axe to a modern rifle with, in between, jewel-encrusted daggers, guns with inlaid butts and a 12-ton canon. The site offers fine views of Fez, particularly in the afternoon.
■ The Batha Museum (or Dar Batha) [A-3] is housed in a 19C Andalusian-style ryad that Sultan Moulay Hassan I built as a summer palace and guest house for royal visitors. A museum since 1913, its extensive collections focus on traditional Moroccan arts and crafts and include embroidered clothing, carpets, jewellery, musical instruments, ceramics and manuscripts, as well as sections of zellij, wood carvings and plaster work rescued from decaying medersas. There is also a large and lovely garden. Open 8:30am-4:30pm; closed Tuesday.
■ Dar Dmana [B-2] is a very tall, traditional house set in a pretty square with an ancient mulberry tree and fountain, the latter known as the Demnati. Note the impressive studded door on the house.
■ Lovely 17C Dar Idiyel [B-2] (or Adiyel) has recently undergone a restoration funded by the Italian government. It was built as a residence the governor of Fez and served many different purposes before its current incarnation as a conservatory of traditional music. The guard will let you in for a look when there are no classes; small donation expected.
■ Dar Ba Mohamed Ben Chergui [B-2] is an impressive albeit dilapidated palace complex that belonged to a pasha of Fez. There are two houses, the main house for the men and a smaller one for the harem. The latter has an unusual garden with star-shaped flower beds and, inside, a hammam. Open 9am-6pm.
■ Ryad Mokri or Dar El Mokri [B-3] (not to be confused with the Mokri Palace) would be interesting for its architecture and decoration alone, but it’s also home to the Institute of Traditional Building Crafts where students learn carpentry and traditional painting and plaster work. It has lovely gardens, too, with orange trees and a fountain. It’s not technically open to tourists but the guard will often let you have a quick look around.
■ Dar Glaoui [B-3] is a 19C private compound which belongs the Glaoui family, southern rulers who aligned themselves with the French Protectorate and were chased out of the country after independence in 1956. Their property in Fez, along with all their other former palaces, has almost fallen into ruin but it’s an extraordinary sight nonetheless and comprises some 17 houses, stables, a mausoleum and cemetery, Quranic school, hammam, garages and two large gardens. Visits by appointment with Abdou, tel 067 366 828, an artist who was born in the palace and doubles as caretaker. He will expect a small donation. Afternoons only.
■ Set in a large 17-19C ryad, the privately-owned Belghazi Museum [C-2] offers insight into a wealthy family’s lifestyle in that period. Clothing, ceramics, jewellery, furniture and carpets from all over Morocco are displayed in very nicely restored rooms. The museum has a beautiful courtyard with a coffee shop, and a rooftop terrace with a great view. Open 9:30am-6:30pm daily.
■ Museum of Wooden Arts and Crafts in the Funduq Nejjarine [C-2] ‘Nejjarine’ means carpenters and this lovely building was once a funduq (or fundouk), essentially an inn, for merchants arriving in Fez to sell their business. The exhibits are very nicely presented and focus on woodworking, including include tools, beautiful carved doors and furniture, musical instruments, household items, etc. There’s a coffee shop on the roof with nice views over the city. The museum stands in a square of the same name, one of the most picturesque in Fez for its canopied mosaic fountain. Open 10am-7pm daily.
■ The Museum of Andalusian Music [C-3], along with a library, a conservatory and an art gallery, is housed in a beautifully restored ryad on Derb Cheikh El Fouqi.