Fes – Home to The Oldest University in the World

For the longest time I used to think that Al-Azhar University in Cairo was the oldest university in the world.

Dar al-Magana - the Water Clock that used to tell time back in the days.

Dar al-Magana – the Water Clock that used to tell time back in the days.

However in Fes I was to learn that Al-Qaraouiyine (al-Qarawiyyin) University was in fact the oldest. Guiness Book of World Records and UNESCO Wolrd Heritage List both attest this claim.

It was founded in 9th century (859) by Fatima Al-Fihria, a noble woman from al-Kairouan (al-Qayrawan). Later on when I would visit al-Kairouan, now in Tunisia, I would learn that people hold it to be the fourth holiest place in Islam (More on this later).

The plaque outside the university mentions distinguished philosophers like Averroes (Ibn Rushd), historians like Ibn Khaldun, doctors-philisophers like Maimonides, and Sufis and mystics like Abu Madyan and Abd as-Salam ibn Mashish amongst those who studied and taught here.

The only street in Fes where political parties are allowed to display their electoral symbols

The only street in Fes where political parties are allowed to post their electoral symbols

The biggest pedestrianized Medina in the world is also in Fes. An interesting fixture I saw in Fes was the Dar al-Magana (clockhouse) opposite Madrassah Bou Inania. The clockhouse used to consist of 12 windows above 13 carved wooden shafts that would hold brass bowls. One could tell the time by looking at the brass bowls that were filled with water. How the entire mechanism worked was a secret that the mechanic who devised it took to the grave.

On Friday 8th May I did a day trip from Fes to Moulay Idris Zerhoun, which has the Shrine of Moulay Idris – the founding father of the Kingdom of Morocco. He came to Morocco in 789AD bringing Islam to the region. He is revered by all the Moroccans, and is descendant of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) through his grandson Imam Hasan (RA). 5 kms from Moulay Idris are the ruins of the Roman city of Volubilis which was founded in 3rd century BC.

Fortunately on the hike from Moulay Idris to Volubilis we ran into two archeology students who were staying there for a conference and and gave us a private tour of the site – Thank you Zeineb and Eman!

From Fes I hired a taxi with three other travellers I met to make the 8hr ride to Rissani, a small city in the Eastern part of Morocco close to the ruins of Sijilmasah. Back in the fourteenth century Sijilmasah used to be a thriving town when Ibn Battutah visited it on his way to Mali

Moroccan version of the  Horse Shoe Bend in Arizona

On the road from Fes to Rissani I came across the Moroccan version of the Arizonian Horse Shoe Bend

I first reached the city of the Sijilmasah, a very beautiful city. It has abundant dates of good quality. Here I stayed with the jurist Abu Muhammad al-Bushri, whose brother I had met at Qanjanfu in China.

This beautiful city, now in ruins, is approximately 10 kms from Rissani. We reached Rissani around 3pm and after a quick bite and stocking up on our water supplies we jumped in a 4×4 to make our way to Merzougha inside the Western Sahara


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