Born out of the mind of Evelyne and Driss Faceh, Palais Faraj expresses the desire to share Fassi immemorial stories and Moroccan lifestyle with the world. This unparalleled and timeless retreat not only provides travelers with exceptional hospitality experiences but also offers a unique privileged access to Fès and its beautiful region.
With a most attentive concierge service, Palais Faraj will plan out individually tailor-made journeys where your desire is key. Discovering and understanding Fez within a few days is impossible, but for sure every traveler is immediately attracted to this city – its ancient culture, unparalleled spiritual heritage and the countless secrets never let the sensitive adventurer go.
History of the Palace
First, the history of the Bensouda Palace
The Bensouda Palace (which today has become the Faraj Palace/ Palais Faraj) was built by Si Mohamed Bensouda, leader of a large family of the Fassi bourgeoisie, at the very beginning of the 20th century when Morocco came under French protectorate (1912). Fez was then the capital of the Kingdom of Morocco but also – and still today is – the spiritual capital of the country, in addition to being a holy city. This imperial city is also the heart of the tradition of Moroccan craftsmanship. At that time, everything went through Fez, and Fez was the central city of Morocco. Its economy was prosperous and the city was flourishing. In 1916, the Resident General Hubert Lyautey set up an urban policy for the preservation of the Medina (the old city) and created the new city of Fez – at south, outside of the Médina – which has now become, by its size and its population, the second city of Morocco.
The Fassi bourgeoisie of that time was both very learned and a great landowner. She lived in the Ziat district on the heights of the southwest flank of the Medina of Fez. It was through the land that they marked their wealth, but also through our involvement in society. These families occupied many societal functions. If Mohamed Bensouda was at the same time a grand cadi (a judge), possessed a chair at the University Mosque Al-Quaraouiyîne (the first and the oldest university of the ancient Arab world founded 12 centuries ago) in the heart of the Medina … and was the adviser to His Majesty the King. In addition to their huge farms, these families all owned in the Medina, and especially in this district, beautiful and large residences commonly called, depending on the size, palaces or riads. The Bensouda family was grouped together in one of these streets which still bears his name: Derb Bensouda, rue Bensouda. Their home consisted of a Palace with its stables (the horse was the essential means of transport at that time) attached to 7 other riads and dars (small houses). So all the members of one and the same family were brought together and neighbors.
Birth of the Palais Faraj
In 1912, Fez lost its prestigious status as capital in favor of Casablanca. Casablanca, gradually building a
port of very large merchant capacity, became the economic and international hub of the country on the Atlantic coast. This caused the departure of many old families and an important part of the population of Fassi origin. Some will more or less abandon their immense homes that were difficult to maintain. This was also the case for the Bensouda Palace. It was gradually abandoned over the twentieth century until the year 2000, when it was completely fallen into ruins.
Its new owner, Driss Faceh explains: “This palace that I had known as a child, we acquired it with my wife Evelyne (1944-2013) that year. That was the only way for me to save it, by renovating it and restoring it to its former glory, but without betraying what it was. We then transformed it into a prestigious boutique hotel of very high standing of 25 suites, an oriental hammam and spa, an outdoor swimming pool, two restaurants and a bar with a breathtaking view over the entire Medina, which travelers and personalities from all over the world frequent abundantly and with great discretion ”.
Today, the Faraj Palace includes the Bensouda Palace, the stables converted into suites or common areas, as well as 3 of the original 7 riads. Today, 4 riads are missing to reconstitute the whole … “what will remain to be completed, one day! » says Driss Faceh. The acquisition of an additional 3000 m² of land was necessary to facilitate access to vehicles, because the Palace is located within the 18 km ramparts that surround the Medina. Access is thus extremely easy and secure, the great and illustrious of this world who frequent the place are appreciating. The Palace also has, in addition to its imposing patio covered with marble paving and zelliges with sacred geometry, a swimming pool, also in blue zellige, the famous blue of Fez, a balcony garden landscaped with flowerbeds, exotic plants and palm trees with an exceptional view of the southern Borj and the entire millennial Medina of Fez.
A restoration in the purest Arab-Andalusian architectural tradition
Already in 1990, Driss Faceh created an association to safeguard the Medina of Fez. And his passion for this secular Medina – one of the capitals of Arab-Muslim civilization – has never left him. “She has given me so much. The Faraj Palace is for me the way to give her back what she brought me “he said, the native of Fez (1947), youngest of a family of nine children. “The Medina can only be saved by people who restore it, by creating museums, guest houses, foundations… this is the only way to contribute to its preservation. Let us remember, it is the oldest Medina in the world listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and which remains the largest pedestrianized city in the world ”. He believes that he has contributed to the challenge by reviving this place, as a self-made man, founder of the network of tourist agencies ‘Objectif Maroc’, for a long time president of the Regional Council of Tourism of Fès-Meknes … “Visitors and guests will be able to benefit from it for generations. I did it to provoke a positive emulation which pulls up a permanent and necessary restoration of the Medina, but also to raise the standard of the existing riads and palaces. I called on Jean-Baptiste Barian *, architect and interior designer of the late Majesty King Hassan II, a specialist in Arab-Andalusian architecture and also contemporary decoration. In addition, he had the knowledge of luxury hotels in Morocco having worked on projects such as La Mamounia in Marrakech and Michlifen in Ifrane “.
Jean Baptiste Barian, who himself wanted to leave his signature in Fez, took up the challenge, and from photos and architectural elements still existing, preserved, renovated and embellished the place in the purest tradition of Arab Andalusian craftsmanship, while bringing, in some newly created parts, a very contemporary decorative touch.
* Jean-Baptiste Barian was one of the close collaborators of André Paccard (1929-1996), then appointed decorator to the late Majesty King Hassan II, who for 15 years worked on the decoration or renovation of many Royal Palaces throughout Morocco. André Paccard has, moreover, published what remains today the fundamental work offering the most complete documentation ever assembled on Moroccan decorative art, commonly called “Le Paccard” and whose title is ‘Morocco and Traditionnal Islamic Crafts in Architecture’ (Editions Atelier 74). Bible in 2 volumes, 6.8 kg, 1100 pages, 1200 illustrations and photographs … which served as a reference for the renovation of the Faraj Palace.
Remarkable exemples of restoration
The zouaks (paintings on wood) on the doors and ceilings were partly erased and only a few traces of color remained on some of them. They have been restored to their original appearance and as it has been done for centuries with egg white binders.
The zelliges on walls and floors (mosaics) have been preserved for those that existed or restored identically with old salvaged materials.
The lace of white gebs (stucco) damaged by time have been completely rehabilitated and carved on the walls and ceilings.
This entire renovation was carried out with the support of the best Maâllims (Master craftsmen) of Morocco, who themselves had already worked in the Palaces of His Majesty the King of Morocco and who are holders, each in his specialty, of the ancestral know-how of Moroccan artisan tradition. The contemporary touch has not been forgotten. It holds its place, even if it remains confined to spaces newly created for the needs of a luxury hotel.
Thus, traditional decoration and contemporary decoration are skillfully associated with “hidden comfort” and excellent service, the prerogative of any exceptional place.
An authentic museum of arts and antiques
The corridors were decorated by the late Evelyne Faceh. “From our private collection, I wanted to share paintings made by contemporary and Moorish style masters, collections of old photos of the Medina of Fez from the 1900s, century-old Fassie pottery, carved bronzes and brass, ethnic jewelry, ancient Berber, Kabyle and Tuareg carpets, African sculptures, Dogon doors; antiques and modern consoles from contemporary designers … Thus, in addition to the architectural beauty of the place, the corridors and various spaces of the Palace offer to eyes and heart a real palette of art and antique culture “.
The Palais Faraj : a jewel in the Médina of Fès
“The Faraj Palace takes its name from the diminutive name of my father Si Faraji” adds Driss Faceh. “I am proud that this achievement bears his name and above all that it conforms to what I had in mind.” And to conclude: “The consecration came on the day when His Majesty King Mohamed VI honored us by visiting Palais Faraj”. Conserving and respecting tradition while moving towards to modernity is what Palais Faraj represents today. Thanks to its owners, who have revived it from its oblivion, it simply follows the evolution of the times, adapting to them, while preserving the traditions to which it is inevitably attached.
Many thanks to Jean-Claude Cintas, who narrated the History of the Palace to you