The medina is the old and fortified part of a city that where built by Arabs. Their narrow and maze-like streets confused and slow downed any invading army. Nowdays the old medina is often free from car traffic because of the very narrow streets. The winding streets continue to confuse and slow down the invading tourists.
A list of some of the most amazing old medina quarters that have survived:
The Casbah of Algiers is built on a hill and goes down towards the sea. During the Algerian struggle for independence., the Casbah was the epicenter of the insurgency. To outsiders, the medina quarter appears to be a confusing labyrinth of lanes and dead-end alleys flanked by picturesque houses. If one gets lost however it is enough to go down towards the sea to reposition oneself.
Tripoli’s medina, the part of Libya’s capital that lies inside the old city walls and out to the Mediterranean Sea, is clearly the most appealing part of town. The medina houses the Gurgi Mosque and the Arch of Marcus Aurelius, the only surviving Roman monument in the city. The basic street plan of the old medina was laid down by the Romans who also built walls as protection against attacks from the interior.
The medina of Tunis was built during the 7th century AD. From the 12th to the 16th century, Tunis was considered one of the greatest and wealthiest cities in the Islamic world. Some 700 monuments inside the medina, including palaces, mosques, mausoleums, and fountains, testify to this remarkable past.
Meknes is one of the four Imperial cities of Morocco and its name and fame are closely linked to that of Sultan Moulay Ismail. The sultan turned Meknes into a impressive city in Spanish-Moorish style, surrounded by high walls with great gates. Meknes is a popular top tourist attraction in Morocco.
Ghadames is an oasis town in the west of Libya. Designed to fight the dramatic extremities of Saharan climate, Ghadames walls enclose a crowded network of whitewashed houses and covered streets. The medina’s entire population have moved out to the modern nearby village in the 1990s but return to the old medina when the summer becomes unbearably hot.
Mdina is an ancient city inhabited and possibly first fortified by the Phoenicians around 700 BC. Higher fortifications were added by Malta’s Arab rulers and Norman rulers. After the Knights Hospitaller arrived in the mid 1500’s the importance of Mdina as the seat of power faded steadily. What was once the old capital of Malta became the ‘silent city’, almost a ghost town. Today most of the palazzos belonging to the old aristocracy are being restored and the tourists bring life to the place, but there are only 300 inhabitants left.
Located on the coast, Sousse is home to many tourist resorts and fine sandy beaches. As one of the older cities in Tunisia it also features an authentic medina of great historical interest. The medina, situated on rising ground above the harbor in Sousse, is surrounded by a wall first built in 859. The wall’s massive stone blocks came from ancient Roman buildings. Of the originally six gates only two survived.
Situated at the foot of the Atlas mountains, the imperial city of Marrakech is an interesting city full of history. The Almoravids founded the >medina of Marrakech and built its walls in the 11th century. During the Almoravidian period Marrakech prospered and became an economic, political and cultural center of Morocco. The old medina is full of intertwining narrow passageways, riads and local shops full of character.
Sana’a is the capital of Yemen. The old fortified city of Sana’a has been inhabited for more than 2,500 years, and contains a wealth of intact architectural gems. Surrounded by ancient clay walls, the old city boasts over 100 mosques, 12 hammams (baths) and 6,500 houses. Many of the houses resemble ancient skyscrapers, reaching several stories high and topped with flat roofs. They are decorated with elaborate friezes and intricately carved frames and stained glass windows.
Fes-al-Bali, the larger of the two medinas of Fes, is a nearly intact medieval city. With a population of about 150,000 inhabitants, it is the largest carfree urban area in the world by population. Transports of goods is provided by donkeys, carriages, and motorbikes. The entire medina is surrounded by high walls with a number of historic city gates. There is only one large public square, located near the geographic center of the old medina. The square is connected by a road and gives access to buses, and other vehicles.