Draft:Fortifications of Fez

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The Fortifications of Fez comprise a complex circuit of ramparts and gates surrounding Fes el-Bali and Fez el-Jdid, two urban agglomerations that compose the old "medina" of Fez, Morocco. The also include a number of kasbahs (citadels) and forts which were built both to protect and to control the city. These fortifications have been built up over many centuries and the parts that exist today date from many different periods.

Role of the city walls[edit]

As with other pre-modern city walls, the ramparts of Fez served both a defensive and a controlling function. They protected the city from attack and kept out strangers. City gates were typically closed and locked at night; travelers would not generally have been able to enter the city at a late hour.[1] The walls and gates also controlled the comings and goings of the city's own inhabitants, preventing anyone from leaving if the authorities desired. One of their most important functions in controlling access was to control the flow of goods and to ensure they were properly taxed. This ensured the efficient collection of revenues on behalf of the authorities (keeping in mind that all the important souqs (markets) were within the city).[1] Finally, a more subtle or symbolic function of the city walls was to formally define the borders of the urban space, within which certain rules, principles, or regulations might apply.[1]

With the advent of gunpowder , the medieval walls became partly redundant as military defenses against other armies; however they remained essentially unchanged in the following centuries and were not rebuilt or redesigned to protect against artillery.[1] This is partly because Fez was a central inland city and rarely faced external threats from armies equipped with such weapons, unlike the Atlantic coastal cities of Morocco which were frequently threatened or occupied by Portuguese and Spanish forces. (Only on one occasion was Fez taken by a foreign army: the Ottomans, with the help of a Wattasid dynasty survivor, occupied it in 1554 for less than a year before the Moroccan Saadians took it back. The Saadians later built the only fortresses in Fez designed to resist gunpowder technology, and even these seem to have been intended more to impose Saadian control on the often rebellious city.[2])

Local Bedouin and raiders from the countryside, were rarely equipped with artillery, so the existing walls were sufficient to defend against them.[1] The «, the walls continued to play their more administrative functions. The city gates accordingly came to be seen as more formal and decorative in purpose, sometimes serving as monumental entries to the city; the eventual construction of the strictly ornamental 20th-century gate of Bab Bou Jeloud by the French colonial administration can be considered the logical conclusion of this shift in purpose.[1]

Constructions methods and maintenance[edit]

General example of rammed earth (pisé) wall being built (with metal instead of wooden scaffolding).
Restored (left) versus unrestored (right) section of pisé wall near Bab Guissa, in Fes el-Bali.

The walls of Fès, like those of most historic cities in Morocco, were built in rammed earth (also known as "pisé" and "mud-brick"). This material consisted of mud and soil of varying consistency (everything from smooth clay to rocky soil) usually mixed with other materials such as straw or lime to aid adhesion. (The walls of Fez and nearby Meknes, for example, are composed of up to 47% lime.[3]) The walls were built from bottom to top one level at a time. Workers pressed and packed in the materials into sections ranging from 50 and 70 cm in length that were each held together temporarily by wooden boards. Once the material was settled, the wooden restraints could be removed and the process was repeated on top of the previously completed level.[3] This process of initial wooden scaffolding often leaves traces in the form of multiple rows of little holes visible across the face of the walls. Sometimes, walls were covered with a coating to give them a smooth surface and partially protect the main structure.

This technique had the advantage of being very economical, as it used cheap and plentifully available materials, and it had other advantages which made it useful for many other structures (including houses) throughout Morocco, Africa, and other parts of the world. On the other hand, this type of construction required consistent maintenance and upkeep, as the materials are relatively permeable and are easily eroded by rain over time; in parts of Morocco, kasbahs (fortified buildings and citadels) begin to crumble apart in less than a couple of decades after they've been abandoned.[4] As such, old structures of this type remain intact only insofar as they continuously restored; some stretches of wall today appear brand new due to regular maintenance, while others are crumbling.

Historical evolution of the city walls[edit]

Fez before the 11th century: the approximate outline of the dual cities of al-'Aliya and Madinat Fas, with their own walls (according to Lévi-Provençal). The river (not traced here) runs between them. The grey lines represent the outline of the walls today.

Early history of Fez: dual cities[edit]

Almoravid and Almohad era: the unification of the two cities[edit]

The walls of Fez under the Almohads (13th century), after the unification of the two cities under the Almoravids. The Almohads rebuilt the walls and added the Kasbah en-Nouar in the west. The walls of the Kasbah Bou Jeloud and from there to Bab al-Hadid (see dotted line) no longer exist today.

Marinid era: the creation of Fes el-Jdid[edit]

The walls of Fes el-Bali and Fes el-Jdid during the Marinid era. Fes el-Jdid is subdivided into two Muslim neighbourhoods, a Jewish neighbourhood (the Mellah), and the Royal Palace (Dar al-Makhzen).

Saadian era: controlling Fes el-Bali[edit]

Fez under Saadian control. The Saadis built several new fortresses (outlined in red) around Fes el-Bali in order to impose order and improve defenses. Borj Nord and Borj Sud were built outside the city walls on the hills to the north and south, respectively. The Kasbah Tamdert was built next to Bab Ftouh (south-east). Three bastions were added to the defenses of Fes el-Jdid on the east and south sides: Borj Cheikh Ahmed, Borj Touil (or Borj Twil), and Borj Sidi Bounafaa.

Alaouite era: linking Fes el-Jdid with Fes el-Bali[edit]

The walls of Fez today, with the Alaouite-era additions (outlined in red). Moulay Rachid added the Kasbah Cherarda north of Fes el-Jdid, while Hassan I finally linked Fes el-Jdid and Fes el-Bali with walls in the late 19th century. The area of the Royal Palace was also extended with a vast walled garden called the Agdal (or Aguedal).

The city walls today[edit]


Gates of Fes el-Bali[edit]

Bab Mahrouk[edit]

Bab Ftouh[edit]

Bab Guissa[edit]

Bab Bou Jeloud[edit]

Gates of Fes el-Jdid[edit]

Bab al-Amer[edit]

Bab Semmarine[edit]

Bab Dekkakine[edit]

Fortresses and kasbahs[edit]

Kasbah Bou Jeloud[edit]

Kasbah en-Nouar[edit]

Kasbah Tamdert[edit]

Kasbah Cherarda[edit]

Borj Nord[edit]

Borj Sud[edit]

The bastions of Fes el-Jdid[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Métalsi, Mohamed (2003). Fès: La ville essentielle. Paris: ACR Édition Internationale. pp. 29–42. ISBN 978-2867701528.
  2. ^ Abun-Nasr, Jamil (1987). A history of the Maghrib in the Islamic period. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 157. ISBN 0521337674.
  3. ^ a b "Matériaux de construction traditionnels : Un bilan des recherches et des expériences". L'Economiste (in French). 1992-06-25. Retrieved 2018-02-10.
  4. ^ The Rough Guide to Morocco (11 ed.). London: Rough Guides. 2016. p. 390. ISBN 9780241236680.

External links[edit]