Labelled as “The Athens of Africa”, “The Queen of the Maghreb” or “The Baghdad of the Maghreb”, Fez is also described as “The most perfectly preserved and working Mediaeval city in the world”. Cradle of knowledge, for which its superb medersas and the Qaraouyine mosque, known as the oldest university in the world, are a flamboyant symbol. It was a great metropolis, compared to Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo. It also played a role in the expansion of Islam, particularly on the African continent, and was thus considered by some as the second holy city of Islam after Mecca.
The profusion of historical monuments (up to 14,000 according to the census) makes Fez a unique living and universal museum. Al-Marrakchi once said that ”Fez is the capital in which was accomplished the symbiosis of the science of Kairouan and Cordoba; it is the Baghdad of the Maghreb”. Ali Bey El Abrassi considered Fez as “the city that you can see as the Athens of Africa”. William Lithgow visited Fez around the year 1617 and was amazed at the grandeur of the mosques and palaces and caravanserais, which made it, according to him, second only to Cairo, equal to Constantinople, and far superior to Aleppo, these four cities being the greatest he had ever seen at home or abroad. Even when rivals like Marrakech deprived Fez from being the political capital, it in fact remained the intellectual and spiritual capital of the Islamic West. This is supposedly the result of the blessings its founder, Mulay Idriss, asked God to shower on it. Raising his hands to the sky, he had prayed: “O God, make this place to be the abode of science and wisdom.”