Skip Navigation

Negotiating European and Local Characters: Preserving Fez during the French Protectorate

Abstract of paper to be presented by Colette Apelian at the conference "Fez, Morocco, Crossroads of Knowledge and Power: Celebrating 1,200 Years of Urban Life"

Histories of French colonial urbanism generally argue the French administration successfully preserved and, thus, fossilized Moroccan madinas, including Fez. Preservation is usually interpreted as a top-down, central government imposed program to disallow what non-Moroccan authorities in particular considered “European” elements. Besides ignoring residents circumventing restrictions, the fossilization narrative does not fit with several key factors relevant to Fez: the complex and multicultural political hierarchy, and the shifting legal definitions and morphology of the old city. Over two years worth of investigations into contemporary legislation and municipal records housed in French and Moroccan archives reveal deliberate and officially sanctioned modifications of the Fez madina from approximately 1912 to 1956. Hybrid “European” and “local” or “Fassi Moroccan” solutions and vistas resulted during, among other events, the electrification and allowance of motorized vehicles within the old city. Alterations of the madina fabric were possible due to bureaucratically instituted or accepted negotiation across social boundaries, and vague to varying urban code. These circumstances and the willingness to alter and abrogate legislation in their wake opened spaces in which French and Moroccan stakeholders could compromise between conflicting desires to preserve Fez and enjoy European comforts.

Center for Near Eastern Studies