FES (808)

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The province of Fes extends over 17.945 Km2, and includes the pre-Rif, the plains of Saïss and the plains of Sbou. The population of the province is of about 1,230,000 inhabitants. The city itself has a population of about 762,000 inhabitants. The economy of the province is based on farming, livestock rising, agro-industry and handicraft. This last activity engages around 180,000 persons who make their living from this occupation. Fes, the oldest of Morocco's imperial cities, was considered as one of the most important religious, intellectual and cultural centers, not only of Morocco, but also of all North Africa. The city was renowned for its traditional crafts, and the high reputation acquired, once, by its Qaraouyine University made it be know as the "Athens of Africa".

The founding of the city of Fes dates back to Thursday January 4, 808. According to some chroniclers, Mousseab, an Arab counselor of Moulay Idriss II, was instructed by Moulay Idriss to find and appropriate land where to build a new capital. While exploring the plains of Saïss, Mousseab found the land, which met all requirements. A fertile land abounding in water sources, rivers and forests. The land belonged to a Berber tribe of Zouagha, the Bani Al Khaïr, and it was bought from them in 806. Moulay Idriss II spent three years in unifying and urbanizing his new capital city, which was named Fes.

In the year 818, the population of the Corduan quarters of al-Rabad, in Al Adalouss, rebelled against the authority, and the Omayyad Emir, Al-Hakam I, ordered the demolition of the overpopulated Rabad, and expelled more than twenty thousand proscribed Rabadis. Eight thousand families found asylum in Morocco, some established in the North, (J'bala), and others sought refuge in Fes where they founded the Andaloucian Adoua or quarter. Other Arab families made their way, from Tunisia, to the newly built Imperial City of Morocco. This time the refugees were rich educated craftsmen and merchants who were driven out of Qairaouan. They came to Fes around the year 826, and settled in the West Bank of the river, in what became known as the Qaraouyine district. Fes became a political matter of dispute, fought over by the Tunisian Fatimids and by the Omeyads of Spain. In 917 the Idrissid Sultan, Yahiya IV, was forced to acknowledge the sovereignty of the Fatimid over Morocco. Fatimid governors established in Fes from where they controlled the Idrissids’ administration of the kingdom, until 953. The Idrissid Sultan Yahiya IV fled Fes to the strongholds of the Rif Mountains, from where he fought the Fatimids and defended the country's independence until the city was restored, to be lost again, this time, to the Omeyads of al Andalouss in 956. The Omeyads of al-Andalous secured the city from the Fatimids, depriving them of the African gold brought to Fes through the Saharan trade routes. In 999, Ziri Ibn Atiya, Emir of Maghraoua tribe and ally of the Omeyads of al-Andalous, fortified the city with high ramparts, and made build the gates of Bab Ftouh and Bab Guissa as well as the actual minaret of the Qaraouyine mosque.

It is true, that none could pretend to become King of Morocco without having been recognized by the electoral school of the city of Fes, and receive the beïa (allegiance) of its nobility. After a six-years siege, the Almorabid Sultan, Youssef Ibn Tachfin, took possession of Fes in 1062. At that time, the scholar Abou Obeid Al-Bikri described Fes as two separated cities; each surrounded by a wall and separated by a fast-flowing river, crossed by many bridges, whose waters propelled hundreds of water-mills. Youssef demolished the walls which separated the quarters of Qaraouyine from that of al-Andalous and built the Kasbah of Boujloud outside the city. He enlarged the Qaraouyine Mosque and built the gate of Bab Chemaïne. The Almorabids enlarged the city and surrounded it with new ramparts, especially in the north. Overshadowed by Marrakech, the newly founded capital of the Almorabids, Fes suffered, for a while, an economic crisis. But the city remained the privileged cultural, intellectual and economic center of the kingdom.

In 1145 the Almowahid Sultan, Abdelmoumen, besieged the city of Fes for nine months, and once captured, he made demolish the Almorabid’s Kasbah of Boujloud and the ramparts. The Sultan Abdelmoumen exclaimed: "Our ramparts are our swords and our Justice! ''. The city, by then, had acquired an important economic and cultural status, and became a center for both learning and trade. The Fassi merchants dealt with Spain, Genoa, Normandy as well as with the Middle East. During the first half of the 13th century the Merinids, taking advantage of the Almowahid's power decline, captured Fes in 1250, and made of it their administrative capital. The monarchs of this new raising dynasty lavished their blessings upon Fes, converting the city into a splendid monument of the Moorish architecture, and making of it the most important trading and cultural center of North Africa. The establishing of the Merinid Sultans in Fes was a strategy to extend their authority over North Africa and to control the traditional roads linking the north with the south and joining the Continent with Spain. Fes, which was situated in the crucial hub of these roads, was given a new administrative center, Fes el Jedid (New Fes). It was the decision of the Merinid Sultan, Abou Youssef Yaâcoub Al Mansour (1258-1286), to build the New City or "Fes J’did". The Grand Mosque was built first, followed, afterward, by the souks and baths of Bab Semmarine. A royal quarter was raised with its royal palace, and was fitted up with annexes for the suite, the domestics and the imperial guard. Abou Youssef Yaâcoub Al Mansour was the Sultan who defined and set the trends of the Merinids' architecture. He endowed the new city with water conduits and with a draining canalization, and made build the Medersa Seffarine (ex Medersa Halfaouyine), the tower of “Borj el Mektoub” of Bab Ftouh, and restored Bab el-Guissa. The European quarters of Dar Dbibagh were built by the French colons, just after the signing of the protectorate treaty in 1912.

The Qaraouyine: (856)

It is during the ruling of Yahiya Ibn Mohammed; grandson of Moulay Idriss II, when art and science flourished in Morocco and Fes reached its high prestige. In the year 856 AD, Fatima Oum Al Banin Al Fihrya, having inherited of an important fortune, after the death of her father, made a generous donation for the building of a mosque in the Qaraouyine quarter. The Qaraouyine Mosque went through several transformations, and it holds the oldest minaret of the Islamic world. The Andaloucian Omeyad Khalif, Abdurrahman Annacir made build this minaret in 956 AD, after imposing his authority over Fes. The tower and its adjoining room, were successively used as an astronomy observatory, and held very old Clepsydras (water clockwork). Some of these clocks were built by the eminent astronomers, Ibn Al-Habbak, Al-Karastony and Al-Jabi. The eleven centuries old Qaraouyine extends over an area of 5,000 square meters, and it is fit up, in its surroundings, with Medersas (schools with shelters for the students). Fourteen big doors, illustriously modeled, lead to the prayer hall, which contains 16 naves and is supported by 270 pillars. Its octagonal stalactite or circular copulas, its white marble-columned pavilion, the arched vaults, and the fringes of its portals are all master works, which reflect the genius of the Maghrebian architects and craftsmen. The souvenirs of the Alhambra of Grenada come to memory when glancing into the large inner courtyard and its two marble-pillared pavilions, reminiscence of the Court of lions, sheltering two ablution marble fountains, which are symmetric to a third one in the center. One of these pavilions was a gift of the Saadian Sultan, Abdullah A’sheikh. The Qaraouyine was the only monument in Fes fed on water from five different sources, intended to supply in water the edifice and its dependencies all the year round. Few water conduits were so judiciously conceived, and the mosque was never short in water, even during the hard draughty seasons. A large number of historians consider the Qaraouyine as the oldest university in the world. Its foundation was traced back to the year 858, while that of Al-Azhar University of Egypt dates to 955, Bologna University dates to 1119; Oxford to 1229, and the Sorbonne to 1257. The Qaraouyine University lodged illustrious students and eminent scholars such as Ibn Tofaïl, Ibn Rochd, Ben Mimoun and the bishop, Gerbert of Aurillac, the famous alchemist who introduced the Arabic ciphers to Europe, and became Pope in 999, under the name of Sylvester II. The Qaraouyine Mosque contains priceless relics, including an Almowahid chandelier dating back to 1203, and a minbar (pulpit) of the same epoch, made in Cordoba. The Qaraouyine library was established during the 10th century, and was reorganized during the 14th by Abou Innan, who transformed it into a large hall, housing manuscripts transferred from the library in the Sultan's palace. With its collection of 30,000 volumes, including 10,000 manuscripts, the library is considered as the largest one in Arab world, and its reputation attracts eminent specialists of the Islamic culture. Among its valuable manuscripts is the rare copy of a 9th century Quran, made by the historian Ibn Khaldoun in the 14th century. Medersa Attarines (1323) In 1323, the Merinid Sultan Abou Said Othman ordered the building of a school in the proximity of the Qaraouyine, at the entrance of the grocery market. Finished in 1325, it was named the Medersa Attarines (the grocer's school). The building of the school was supervised by the Chamberlain, the Sheikh Ben Aba Mohammed Abdullah Ben Qassim. Its timber framework is made of palm-wood beams, which, though pliant, have proved strong enough to withstand the test of time. The ornamentation and decorum of the Medersa were exclusively executed in finely carved stucco, combining rigid geometrical designs, representing polygonal stars and delicate floral motifs. The prayer hall has some very old stained glass windows and a bronze chandelier, decorated with Quranic inscription, and has the name of the Emir, Abou Saïd engraved on it. Medersa Bou Inania: (1350) Built by the Sultan, Abou Inane Ibn Al-Hassan in 1350, this Medersa was first known as Al-Moutawaquiliya. Named Al Bou Inania after the Sultan Abou Inane, this Medersa was the largest and the most important of all the Medersas in Fes. Supplemented with a Mosque-Cathedral, this Medersa possessed a chair for Fridays' preaching, and a school of theology and science. The wonderful stuccowork, the cedar-wood paneling, the bronze, marble and onyx decorations, and the windows with moukarnas decor (stalactites) are all classical Merinid architectural features. Under the green-tiled roof, the walls of the inner courtyard are decorated with mosaic and stucco. The prayer hall has superb stained glass windows and a magnificent minbar (pulpit). Abou Innan endowed the Medersa with a water clock whose function was to strike the prayer time. The clock had thirteen cymbals placed on carved cedar-wood supports, bellow thirteen windows from which the clockwork made a clapper emerge and strike the cymbal. This hydraulic carillon was engineered by the eminent astronomer and philosopher, Ali Ibn Ahmed at-Tilemsani, known as Ibn Al Fah'ham (1357). The Medersa Al Bou Innania is the last architectonic work executed during the Merinid epoch.

Medersa Cherratine (1670)

The Medersa Cherratines was built in the corders' quarter, near the Qaraouyine. It was built just over the foundations of the former Merinid Lebbadine’s Medersa, which was demolished by the Alaouite Sultan Moulay Rachid, because its students waged serious disorders. The sultan made built a new imposing Medersa in 1670: the Cherratine. This Medersa is immense, and is considered as the largest of all the known Medersas, with enough rooms to shelter more than hundred and thirty students, but its decoration is poor and monotonous. Medersa Seffarine Bordering the Qaraouyine mosque stands the Seffarine (former Halfaouyine) Medersa, the first to be built by the Merinids, in 1280. Abdelkrim Al Khattabi, the leader of the Rif fighting against the Spanish and French in 1925, was one of the many famous alumni of this Quranic School, which is located in the quarter of the copper and brass-workers.

Medersa Bou Inania: (1350)

Built by the Sultan, Abou Inane Ibn Al-Hassan in 1350, this Medersa was first known as Al-Moutawaquiliya. Named Al Bou Inania after the Sultan Abou Inane, this Medersa was the largest and the most important of all the Medersas in Fes. Supplemented with a Mosque-Cathedral, this Medersa possessed a chair for Fridays' preaching, and a school of theology and science. The wonderful stuccowork, the cedar-wood paneling, the bronze, marble and onyx decorations, and the windows with moukarnas decor (stalactites) are all classical Merinid architectural features. Under the green-tiled roof, the walls of the inner courtyard are decorated with mosaic and stucco. The prayer hall has superb stained glass windows and a magnificent minbar (pulpit). Abou Innan endowed the Medersa with a water clock whose function was to strike the prayer time. The clock had thirteen cymbals placed on carved cedar-wood supports, bellow thirteen windows from which the clockwork made a clapper emerge and strike the cymbal. This hydraulic carillon was engineered by the eminent astronomer and philosopher, Ali Ibn Ahmed at-Tilemsani, known as Ibn Al Fah'ham (1357). The Medersa Al Bou Innania is the last architectonic work executed during the Merinid epoch.

Medersa Cherratine (1670)

The Medersa Cherratines was built in the corders' quarter, near the Qaraouyine. It was built just over the foundations of the former Merinid Lebbadine’s Medersa, which was demolished by the Alaouite Sultan Moulay Rachid, because its students waged serious disorders. The sultan made built a new imposing Medersa in 1670: the Cherratine. This Medersa is immense, and is considered as the largest of all the known Medersas, with enough rooms to shelter more than hundred and thirty students, but its decoration is poor and monotonous.

Medersa Seffarine(1280)

Bordering the Qaraouyine mosque stands the Seffarine (former Halfaouyine) Medersa, the first to be built by the Merinids, in 1280. Abdelkrim Al Khattabi, the leader of the Rif fighting against the Spanish and French in 1925, was one of the many famous alumni of this Quranic School, which is located in the quarter of the copper and brass-workers.

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