View of the Royal Palace, Fez El Jedid.

LONDON - The charm and beauty of Morocco and its rich history are known to all. A slice of this was brought to Leighton House Museum last night, warming up an icy London evening with delicious Moroccan hospitality, matched in equal measure by the warmth of the welcome extended by the Moroccan Embassy, who had organized the event.

The occasion was the launch of the important book, Fez in World History, to commemorate the 1200th anniversary of the founding of Fez as a city. Panellists from the UK, Morocco and the US spoke eloquently about the importance of Fez, whose Medina was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981. Located at crossroads leading to the Mediterranean ports to the north, the Atlantic coastal plains to the west, the Central Maghrib to the east, and across the Middle Atlas to Sijilmasa, the gateway of the medieval sub-Saharan gold trade to the south, Fez flourished in unexpected ways since its small beginnings under Idriss II.

Coloured tile detail from the Royal Palace, Fez El Jedid.

In the words of one panellist, today “Fez is the spiritual capital of Morocco, the cradle of its civilisation.” Professor Susan Gilson Miller of the University of California articulated the lesser-known role of the Jewish community in Fez and, as if this extraordinary place needed any further touristic promotion, others spoke of its monuments, architecture and history.

A diverse audience which included Middle Eastern and North African personalities as well as the lovely Countess Raine, went on to enjoy a concert of traditional music on local instruments, making this an unforgettable occasion.