Get lost…the Medina in Fes

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The babouche, is an ethnic shoe that does not lack assets. The main advantages of the babouche : as comfortable as indoor slippers; it is often referred to as the Moroccan slipper.

 

 

The only sunrise that I was awake to witness while in Morocco occurred in Fes. The East/West alignment of our accommodation confused me and I was facing the wrong direction when I stepped onto the roof. But the first rays of light made me turn in time to be enthralled by this…

Founded in 789 AD, Fes is the oldest city in Morocco and was the first capital. Today, it’s considered one of the best-preserved cities in the Arab world. With a big, busy medina and fortified walls, there is a LOT to see in this historic town.

 

 

This was the alley that led to our accommodation and if I thought that this one was narrow, what we would experience later in the Medina would make this seem like a double-lane highway.

The new city was named al-Madinat al-Bayda (the White City), but it soon became known as Fes el-Jdid (New Fez), while the old city became known as Fes el-Bali (Old Fez).

 

 

This is one of the many palaces owned by the Moroccan Royal family.

We were one of the first tour groups on-site, making it easier to get close to the doors and enjoy our time in this space before the crowds arrived.

Aside from this spectacular facade, there was not much else to look at and we wandered through the surrounding streets looking into the various shops on the way back to our coach.

Did you know? The Royal Palace or Dar al-Makhzen is the palace of the King of Morocco in Fes. It dates back to the foundation of Fes el-Jdid, the royal citadel of the Marinid dynasty, in 1276 CE. Most of the palace today dates from the ‘Alawi era.

The royal family of Morocco currently has residences in Rabat, where Dar-al-Makhzen, the Royal Palace is the main/official residence of the king. However, there are residences in Fes, Marrakech, Tangiers and Meknes.

 

 

 

This ceramic factory, Quartier des Potiers Ain Nokbi, was almost a sensory overload, which luckily was at the beginning of the day and we were still able to concentrate.(find out more about the factory and its products: ( http://www.touhafes.ma/)

I felt our group was ‘rushed’ from one production area to the next. Seemingly to get us into the on-site shop where we could be persuaded to part with currencies both local and international.

 

 

 

The finished products were spectacular and a piece similar to this now graces our home. We did spend time watching them being manufactured, but not nearly enough for the myriad of images that I wanted to capture.

My perception, and it is just mine, was that we could have slowed down or been left to our own devices in the factory as it was not vast nor was there any dangerous machinery.

To be fair, I do understand that this is a popular tourist stop and hence the staff have to keep people moving or else the flow would all clog up in the shop. But surely a compromise could be arrived at?

 

 

 

”Medina” means city in Arabic, and in Moroccan cities it refers to the historic old town, with narrow, winding streets and alleys enclosed within a stone wall, accessible via various gates, or babs (doors).

Venturing through its main gateways we immediately found ourselves in an immersive and almost bewildering foray into a labyrinth of narrow streets, lanes, and alleys lined with blank-walled houses and punctuated with dead-end squares.

It exudes an almost organic complexity: Thoroughfares twist and turn, rise and fall, among warrens of homes that meld with shared walls and rooftops.

 

 

 

For the medina, this was a super highway, devoid of people, it was easy to navigate. This changed as it grew more crowded and the alleys got narrower.

Fes El Bali is an ancient walled medina with narrow, car-free streets and ornamented entryways like Bab Guissa and the Blue Gate. Vast 9th-century Karaouiyne University is tiled in vividly painted ceramics, while the towering R’cif Mosque overlooks a lively market square. Souk vendors specialize in perfumes, spices, lamps, and leather, and dining choices range from street kebabs to stylish gourmet restaurants.

 

 

 

If you suffer from claustrophobia, then this is where you DO NOT want to be walking. Our group had been advised not to get separated, but as some of the group vanished down here without checking behind them, we almost parted company. Luckily we took a moment to regroup before moving on.

 

 

 

Walt Disney said, “If you can dream it you can be it”. I feel that the mantra of the medina should be “If you want it, you will find it here”.

 

 

 

Visitors should remember that this market is not just for tourists to shop at. Yes, there is that aspect but the majority of the stalls cater to the everyday needs of the locals. Fruit, vegetables, meat and fish are all on offer at what I assume are reasonable prices.

That said, I cannot recall seeing a supermarket of any description. Small shops abound in the major centres and there you can get basic necessities like you would in any ‘corner cafe’ in South Africa, but supermarkets similar to Pick ‘n Pay, I did not see, Perhaps those are found in the suburbs, rather than in the tourist hubs?

 

 

 

Not everyone wanted their picture taken, but this lady did not seem to mind. She was busy making what looked like a large, thin pancake which I assumed would be filled with a variety of edible treats that were both sweet and savoury.

 

 

 

The aroma of freshly baked bread drew me to this doorway. In exchange for the photograph, I was presented with this delicious flatbread which was just out of the oven and piping hot.

BTW: If you are carb-unfriendly, then Morocco is NOT the place for you. Every meal comes with bread that is irresistible and the bread baskets are refilled almost as fast as you empty them! If you are on a tight budget, then a bowl of soup for lunch/and or dinner will suffice as it comes with an almost endless supply of…yes, you guessed it…bread.

UNESCO listed Fes el Bali, along with Fes Jdid, as a World Heritage Site in 1981 under the name Medina of Fes.

The 1200-year-old walled medina of Fes, which has 9454 cobbled alleyways and 300 mosques, is both the world’s largest living medieval Islamic city and its largest pedestrian zone.

Fes has been called the “Mecca of the West” and the “Athens of Africa”. It is also considered the spiritual and cultural capital of Morocco.

 

 

 

Some of the stall holders wanted to ‘perform’ for my camera. I seem to remember that this fellow was lip-synching to a song playing on his radio.

 

 

 

Outside one of the many Mosques in the medina. I was not allowed to take pictures of the interiors of the various mosques, but I was able to capture a moment like this which spoke volumes.

Did you know? In the Arab world, no shoes are allowed indoors, as the shoes’ soles are seen as dirty and unsanitary. Arab Muslims are required to remove their shoes when entering a mosque, as are all adherents of Islam.

 

 

 

I was told that locals light these candles to keep evil spirits from getting into the mosque. Judging by the amount of wax in this doorway, this has been going on for a long while.

 

 

 

Just when you thought that it was only people that frequented these narrow confines, along comes this…

Despite the narrow confines of the alleys, the people made room for this animal to get through without being hindered.

Given that we did see much horse-drawn transportation, we saw very little horse poop on the streets.

 

 

 

For just a moment you could be forgiven for thinking that you were in Venice, Italy and not in Fes, Morocco.

Far from resembling an aspic-preserved museum, the Medina remains a living car-free town thanks to its 200,000 residents. Apart from electricity and improved plumbing, little has changed.

 

 

 

This coppersmith tried to ‘buy’ one of the ladies on our tour. He did offer a large amount of money in exchange for her hand in marriage, but even though he offered her his ring, when she declined they both parted smiling.

He was a coppersmith and the work that surrounded him was all handmade. He was working on a piece while we looked on in awe.

Although our group spent almost a full day here, it was not enough to fully appreciate all that this Medina or the city has to offer.

Immerse yourself in the sights, sounds and fragrances of this age-old market and be prepared to allow yourself to experience all that it offers.

 

 

This was the company we utilized for our tour.

There were issues along the way, but nothing that could not be resolved on the spot. It did give value for money and if Morocco is a bucket list destination then the tour host, Linda, will give you that in spades.

As I have said many times before, if you go with no expectations then you cannot be disappointed. All my wife and I require is a comfortable bed, reasonable connectivity, hot water(most of the time) and a breakfast that sets us up for the day. On this trip, we almost had a full house of requirements. Those that were lacking, we accommodated and smiled. Making it all part of the overall experience and adventure.

 

 

 

Travel is the proud winner of this prestigious award from the digital British lifestyle magazine Luxlife. The award is in the category Best Travel & Experiences Blog 2024 – South Africa

 

 

 

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