Morocco, situated in North Africa, boasts one of the world’s oldest cities, Fez. The oldest educational institution or campus known to humanity lies within this ancient city. The University of Al-Qarawiyyin, founded in the early to mid-9th century, precisely in 859 AD, holds this prestigious title.
Initially, the place where the campus stands today was a complex of learning, complete with a mosque, established by the wealthy merchant’s daughters, Fatima and Mariam, under the guidance of Mohammed Bnou Abdullah.
Over the centuries, Al-Qarawiyyin in Fez evolved into a globally renowned institution offering degrees in various fields, including religious studies, linguistics, grammar, law, music, Sufism, medicine, and astronomy.
The History of Fez
Leaders Idris I (on the east bank) and Idris II (on the west bank) founded Fez, one of Morocco’s oldest cities, known as Medina. In the 11th century, two separate parts of the city were merged into a grand city by the Almoravid dynasty. This union marked the beginning of Fez’s development into a center for learning and trade under the Marīnid rule during the Middle Ages.
Surrounded by low hills, the city is renowned for its olive trees and fertile orchards. Fez is divided into two main parts: Fes el-Bali, the old city with a rich history, and Fez el-Jedid, the new city built by the Marīnids (a branch of the Zanātah group) in the 13th century.
Fes el-Bali is home to several significant historical sites, including the Qarawīyīn Mosque and a famous Islamic university, as well as the holy sites of Idris I and the tomb of Idris II. Moroccan Islamic culture and history consider it a vital location.
On the other hand, Fez el-Jedid is a newer city built in the 13th century, featuring a beautiful Royal Palace and a grand mosque with a polychrome minaret. This area serves as a mesmerizing example of architectural heritage from the past.
Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Due to its incredible historical significance, the Old City of Fes el-Bali has earned recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. According to UNESCO’s official website, this city, which traces its heritage back to the Idrisid dynasty (789-808 AD), was chosen as a World Heritage Site for meeting specific criteria. It has had a significant influence on architectural development, monumental art, and urban planning in various regions, including North Africa, Andalusia, and sub-Saharan Africa.
Moreover, the Fez property has clearly defined and adequate boundaries, along with buffer zones to protect its visual integrity. Despite challenges such as building deterioration and population density, non-construction zones are being preserved.
Furthermore, all the key elements that comprise the property effectively reflect its “Outstanding Universal Value.” Traditional architectural knowledge is still preserved and can be used to safeguard the property’s values.
Today, Fez is protected by local and national laws that establish guidelines for preservation and appropriate use. The local government has also undertaken security and rehabilitation measures to safeguard this World Heritage Site.
In conclusion, Fez, Morocco’s ancient city, is not only known for its rich history but also for housing the world’s oldest campus, the University of Al-Qarawiyyin. Its historic significance and preservation efforts have earned it the prestigious title of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, making it a must-visit destination for history and culture enthusiasts.