Marrakech and Fes – Two Ancient Citadels, Two Very Different Vibes

Sometimes we all long to immerse ourselves in the bustle and surprise of somewhere other, somewhere truly exotic and unique. With Morocco, we in Europe have the orient just a couple of hours flight away.

Morocco has long been the trading post between Europe and Africa. The great Saharan caravans brought gold across the desert from the south and traded with produce from the silk route, Europe and Morocco itself.

The two great citadels of trade were Marrakech and Fes.

Most people think of Marrakech as their must do citadel, but don’t miss out on Fes. The two cities are like two sides of a coin. Similar, yet totally different in character.

Marrakech, with a population today of over 1 million people, was founded by the Almoravids in the 11th century. The name may mean “The Land of Gods”. It is also known as the “Ochre City”.

The Royal Palace, also known as Dar el-Makhzen was built by the Almohads in the 12th century and stands next to the Badi Palace. Both, along with the Bahia Palace look spectacular, but there are more thrills to Marrakech than viewing the homes of princes.

Marrakech is simply bursting with life. It is loud and brash, colourful and fantastical. It seethes with activity of every kind, especially in the largest Berber market, or souk, in the country. Visit Jemaa el-Fnaa, possibly the busiest square in Africa, or even the world. There, acrobats leap, dancers and singers frolic, sellers ply their trade and storytellers and snake charmers alike weave their magic amidst the crowds. At night it fills with food stalls serving everything from sheep’s heads to snails, tagine to Moroccan salads, fresh orange juice to cinamon coffee.

You will be intoxicated by the colours, flavours and smells. Dip down narrow alleyways and emerge in plazas, weave amongst red stone buildings. Stop and try the street food which can be as adventurous as you dare. Nibble at familiar calamari, kebabs, fresh fish, nuts, spiced sweets… Or go wild with sweet, pigeon-filled pastille, m’semmen pancakes and harira soup.

Whichever sense you are looking please, Marrakech offers something new (or in fact very, very old) to tempt, tease and please.

Fes on the otherhand is more humble, quieter, calmer. It is more the contemplative city. The buildings are lighter in colour, the alleyways more filled with hushed whispers, pilgrims from west Africa coming to the famous mosques, intellectual discussion and idle chit chat. Plus less tourists.

It’s setting is a little like Rome, surrounded in hills and mountains. I always imagine arriving in Fes from the Sahara would have been a bit like arriving in ancient Rome from anywhere else in Europe. The shock of the city would have been bewildering and mesmerising to weary travellers.

All the food and goodies of Marrakech are here, though served in a rather more tranquil context.

Speak to us about our trips to Morocco. Our trips are designed to give you a perspective on the Berber history and the relationship between the Berber world and the Arab world. We can take you from the Berber north to the great citadels of Marakesh and Fes, through the berber Atlas to the Sahara desert.

We also have expertise in the lesser visited Western Sahara with its fabulous wild Atlantic coast line and the Saharwiri people.