Discover Palais El Glaoui, Fez’s Hidden Architectural Gem

On our second trip to Fez, discovering Palais El Glaoui was a delightful surprise. This palace, hidden away from the UNESCO-protected Fez medina, is a treasure most Morocco travelers miss.

Our curiosity was sparked when Google Maps showed this historic spot with a special icon. Following this tip, we found one of Fez’s gems! Palais El Glaoui gave us a peek into the luxurious life of Moroccan aristocracy in the early 20th century. This hidden gem, found in Fez’s maze-like streets, mixes grandeur with a hint of past glory and was a highlight of our return to the city.

We highly recommend making time for this unique site. This blog post dives into the beautiful palace tucked away in Fez’s narrow lanes.

Palais El Glaoui Fez

The Palace’s Story

Palais El Glaoui tells the tale of the Glaoui family, key figures in Moroccan history. This was the home of Madani and Thami El Glaoui, showing their rise to power with Sultan Muhammad IV and those who followed.

Originally, the palace was built by the finance minister of the time in a green, upscale part of Fez. Here, many palaces and mansions were being built. However, the minister didn’t get to enjoy his palace for long. The Glaoui family’s story with the palace began after Madani Glaoui, the clan leader, supported the winning side in the Hafidiya civil war.

For their loyalty, Madani and Thami received high-ranking positions, like Vizier and Pasha of Marrakech, which they held until Morocco gained independence in 1956. Along with their power, they also gathered great wealth, becoming some of the richest people in the world. This palace in Fez, taken from the old minister and given to Madani, was where their wealth started.

This grand palace was just the start. Across Morocco, the Glaouis built more palaces and castles, like the magnificent Glaoui Palace in Telouet. The palace in Fez was where the family lived in luxury, known for its modern features, including electricity and Morocco’s first modern bathroom.

During the French rule, the family sided with the French. After Morocco became independent, they lost their power and wealth, leading to the palace’s decline.

Some say the palace is now owned by several families who can’t afford its upkeep. Others say it might be for sale. While reliable details are scarce, perhaps that mystery adds to its charm. Today, locals manage and maintain it, charging a fee for entry and tours.

Palais El Glaoui Fez

The Stunning Architecture of Palais El Glaoui

When you step into Palais El Glaoui, the stunning beauty of this historic monument captures you instantly. Even with its clear signs of aging, the legacy of its grand past proudly stands. The architecture of the palace is a beautiful blend of traditional Moroccan elements: detailed zellij tiles, impressive wood carvings, and soft, delicate paintings decorate the walls and ceilings. What really strikes us is its size. It’s amazing to find such a grand palace hidden within narrow streets.

True to traditional Moroccan architecture, the palace is built around a large, open courtyard. This space is the palace’s heart, surrounded by elegant archways, with a rectangular pool in the middle. This central courtyard connects to other rooms and halls, arranged up to one story high around it.

There’s also a smaller courtyard, complete with a fountain and lots of mosaics. Nowadays, the only way to this quaint space is through the kitchens, guided by a small sign inviting you to enter a narrow passage. To our surprise, this almost insignificat sign led us to another charming courtyard.

The once opulent rooms and halls now stand empty and abandoned, or oddly used as storage, sleeping areas, or display spaces for the caretaker’s art. One room is nearly filled with paintings by the caretaker. Other corners are oddly packed with piles of old TVs or other discarded items.

Palais El Glaoui Fez

How to Visit Palais El Glaoui

The Glaoui Palace is located outside the medina in a quiet street (location on Google Maps). Its almost hidden entrance is marked by posters and newspaper clippings about the palace. Reading “Palais El Glaoui” above the door confirms you’ve arrived.

After paying 25 dirhams per person to the caretaker, we step into an unremarkable hall. Is this all there is? We follow a hallway that leads to the palace’s real wonders. The simple entrance opens to the central courtyard, which is anything but simple and impresses everyone who sees it.

From this courtyard, you can enter several ground floor rooms and halls. There’s also an upper floor, but it’s closed to visitors. Perhaps due to safety or structural reasons. The most breathtaking and well-kept (or restored?) room has a large window that overlooks what used to be lush palace gardens with orange trees. Now, it’s mostly overgrown with weeds and wild, yet the orange trees still stand.

Make sure to visit the old kitchens in the corner. There, a small sign points to a hallway, or maybe it’s a storeroom? Walk through, and suddenly, you’re in another beautiful, smaller courtyard. Since we didn’t know what to expect from the palace, discovering each room and this second courtyard was an unexpected joy.

Beyond the blend of decay and grandeur, Palais El Glaoui in Fez is an intriguing place. The caretaker – who collects the entrance fee – is also a painter, displaying his work in several rooms.

The palace is in a state of neglect, with debris scattered around, a dog barking in the courtyard’s pond surrounded by mess, an odd collection of old TVs in a small room, and some areas seemingly used as makeshift sleeping quarters by someone, maybe the caretaker?

With its mix of stunning architecture, intricate woodwork, stained glass, and mosaics, it’s clear why this palace leaves visitors with a lasting, curious impression.