Nejjarine Fountain and Museum

From Lodging House to Tourist Attraction

The Fez medina's Nejjarine Museum of Wooden Arts and Crafts has not always been a museum. It was built in 1711 as a fondouk (fondak), a lodging house for travelers that included a courtyard where merchants stored and sold their wares. Its name was Fondak En Nejjarin or Caravanserai of the Guild of Carpenters, and the carpenters' market is still nearby. The scales merchants used to measure their goods before sales remain in the courtyard. While commercial activity centered on the ground level, merchants' quarters were upstairs.

Like most medina lodgings, the fondouk was built around this courtyard, where a fountain helped weary travelers keep cool during the hot months. Ornately carved columns that support the next two levels surround the courtyard, which was once open to the sky. Each floor has a balcony that overlooks the interior fountain, its woodwork attesting to carpenters' skills. 

The Nejjarine fountain, covered in zellij tilework, stands just outside the building. Although it might seem to be an independent structure, its typical horseshoe arch and other details match the fondouk's architecture, an intentional choice, since it was erected in the first half of the 19th century. Underneath the fountain's small arch is decorative zellij tile work, which also surrounds the basin in a simpler form. Even the fountain's ceiling is tiled, its design employing thicker lines of yellow tile. along with darker blues and reds. The fountain was used for ablutions, where visitors performed the ritual purification known as wudu--the washing of hands, feet, mouth, face, nose, head, and ears with intention.

In 1916, the Moroccan government recognized both fondouk and fountain as national monuments, pieces of history worth saving. Their restoration, sponsored by the Fondation Mohammed Karim Lamrani, was completed in 1998, and the former fondouk became a museum that features Morocco's famed wood carvings. With its luxurious interior, it is in a fortunate state of preservation. Other fondouk structures in Fez and elsewhere in Morocco are undergoing restoration with World Bank funds. Some may be repurposed, while others plan to revert to their original lodging function.



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