Another UNESCO World Heritage Site. We started the morning with a panoramic view of the city, the former capital of Morocco up until 1925 when it was moved to Rabat. From the hill in this late 16th century Fort Borj Sud, I spotted 2 men in their djellabas and Moroccan kufi caps relaxing by a slope with a clear view of Fes. So relaxed. So tranquil. I wondered how long they’d stay there.
By the time we went to the Medina, we weren’t quite ready to be transported to medieval times. We entered through one of the imposing gates of the walled city with the distinctive Moroccan tiles and found ourselves in a labyrinth of alleys comprising the old city. From the gate, we walked towards the Chaouwara tanneries. I was so looking forward to this, deeming it the highlight of today’s tour of Fes. But we were taken to this shop with a rooftop overlooking the tanneries instead. Problem is it was an obstructed view owing to some buildings being built between this rooftop and where the tanning action is. I am sure there were better vantage points. But then again, we visited at a time when the colors are not as vibrant, perhaps even dull. Well. At least the shop is brimming with colors and many trinkets competing for one’s attention. One of the boys bought a shisha here. Me? There was a man who hounded me all around the maze-like quarters of the Medina that I ended up buying bracelets and other trinkets from him.
This I need to say. We had a most interesting guide. Ahmed is his name. Soon after he has said his spiel, he would pause and stare at you. For some reason, I found him staring at me all the time. I would almost mechanically nod in agreement or approval before he continued with his spiel. We were a team! 😄 Honestly though, we wouldn’t have found our way back or out of the Medina if not for this old character. His hoarse voice made me want to cough to clear my throat the whole time we were meandering around those alleys. I am truly impressed he didn’t lose anyone of us inside the walled city.
You think Oxford or Sorbonne is the world’s oldest, still functioning university? Not so, in Ahmed’s and Guinness books! The Kairaouine Mosque & University claims that spot. The complex is the intellectual, cultural and spiritual core of Fes, even Morocco itself. It is housed right in the mother of all Medinas dating from the 9th century. While dodging donkeys, cats and carts, you can smell spices as well as bread baking in corner bakeries. Ahmed said most households still make their own bread and bring them to neighborhood bakeries to be baked in their ovens. Ahmed repeated more than once, a Medina has 5 essential elements : a mosque, a school, a hammam, a bakery , a market or souks. Hmmmm, I guessed the 5th one. Sorry, Ahmed, can’t recall. 😪
There was a time when Fes recently experienced a boost in its economy owing to foreigners snatching up riads to convert to boutique hotels & restaurants. I am not surprised. Ahmed showed us one riad, crumbling and abandoned. It looked like it was ready to fall apart. The courtyard was strewn with derbis and dying plants. Reminded me of a scene in Hotel Marigold 😜 We stayed awhile until we remembered we hardly even have cash to buy an authentic Moroccan carpet. So out in the maze-like alleys once more!
I like Fes and I enjoyed the vibe there. Love the old world charm, the chaos, the authenticity of this thriving medieval city. I wouldn’t wish to live here but I would certainly remember Fes as a unique feast for the senses. It is not one to be seen. It must be experienced. Intoxicating Fes!