Marinid Tombs, the Mysterious Necropolis of Fez

The site’s ruined qubba, standing dome-less for many years

photography by: Omri Westmark

When the Marinid tribes conquered Fez and made it their capital in 1250, the city was endowed with a medley of massive buildings and monuments. At one point, this medieval construction boom also included a series of tombs atop a hill on the outskirts of town. While not much is known about the now dilapidated necropolis, its scenic location offers a mind-boggling view of the old medina as well as the nearby verdant countryside.

For over two centuries, a Berber sultanate known as the Marinids ruled Morocco with an iron fist. Soon after the Marinid army captured the city of Fez, it became Morocco’s capital which in turn prompted a citywide construction frenzy. During the 14th century, amid the city’s rapid development at that time, a smattering of lavish tombs was constructed atop a hill on the northern outskirts of Fez.

 

The identity of those who were buried here is still a mystery, but given the necropolis’ sheer grandiosity and sophisticated architecture, it is thought that members of the Marinid royal family were amongst its deceased dwellers.

 

As of today, not much is left of the once marvelous site with most of the buildings being a shadow of their former selves. The hilltop necropolis consists of a dozen or so structures, but it is a pair of square mausoleums which outshine all the rest. The two tombs might lack much of their original ornamentation, but if you look closely enough you might find a couple of stucco remnants, a mere fraction of the marvelous arabesque which formerly covered their interior walls.

 

Somewhat ironically, over time the tombs became surrounded by the Bab Guissa cemetery, forming a seamless cluster of burial grounds across the area. The grass-rich hillsides of the necropolis are not only home for the dead, but also for the wooly living, as hundreds of boisterous sheep roam freely between the graves and the tombs.

 

Thanks to its scenic location, the tombs are bestowed with spectacular views of Fez’s old medina and its rural surroundings, making it a popular lookout among locals. The site’s unregulated nature means that public binoculars are nowhere to be found, nevertheless, if you focus your sight accurately enough, you’ll have a distant, yet fascinating glimpse of the city’s mosques, palaces and smelly tanneries.

The dirt path that leads into the tombs

photography by: Omri Westmark


The tombs’ surrounding meadow is a popular grazing site for sheep and goats as the wafting pungent odor testifies

photography by: Omri Westmark


The dilapidated ruins of a burial chamber greet visitors on their way upward

photography by: Omri Westmark


The remnants of a qubba, facing Fez’s rural periphery

photography by: Omri Westmark


A single wall is the only thing which remains of this former tomb

photography by: Omri Westmark


The Marinid necropolis

photography by: Omri Westmark


One of the site’s two mausoleums

photography by: Omri Westmark


After its wooden roof collapsed a century ago, the building now offers a framed vista of the sky above

photography by: Omri Westmark


The old medina of Fez as seen from within the chamber’s horseshoe-arched opening

photography by: Omri Westmark


The site’s pair of mausoleums amid a white blossom

photography by: Omri Westmark


The rural surroundings of Fez, viewed from the site’s northern slopes

photography by: Omri Westmark


The adjacent Bab Guissa cemetery now engulfs the 14th century tombs

photography by: Omri Westmark


The verdant cemetery and a distant view of the Marinid tombs

photography by: Omri Westmark