Fes has become THE destination for those seeking a genuine, move that ass, and I’m-totally-lost experience. It is one of the four so-called “imperial cities” in Morocco (the others are Marrakech, Meknes and Rabat) and it is Fes, not Fez (that’s a hat).
Fez is the country’s oldest centre for culture with colourful tiled palaces and centuries-old souks. The medina is exactly as imagined, crowded, loud, and confusing. An unbelievable labyrinth of over 9,500 lanes and alleys that see far fewer tourists than Marrakesh.
It’s impossible not to lose yourself; you really need to leave a trail of breadcrumbs like Hansel and Gretel. Everything is transported by mule through the narrow twisting streets, and every inch of space is used for somethings, from selling to storing garbage. Despite the chaos, the medina presents a beguiling mix of activity and repose. Men in djellabas doze on piles of carpets while craftsmen beat patterns into metal trays and hole-in-the-wall tailors make bespoke suit in a couple of hours.
I snatch a photo of a sunlit mountain of fruit, then another of a fly-dotted camel’s head hanging outside a butchers.
Modernisation is evident since our last visit, there are cashpoints by the Hamman and satellite dishes adorn the buildings, but beneath this thin veil, this is very much a real city, with people going about their lives and plying their trades as they have done for hundreds of years.
We peer inside the mausoleum of Fez’s founder Moulay Idriss, the Kairaouine Mosque and the medersa, a theological college that dates back to 1300s with its beautiful courtyard, carved wooden arches and mosaics. Then we moved on to the famous Chouara tanneries
As we went through the shop to the top floor and viewing platform, we were given mint leaves to place under our nose, as the smell is eye wateringly bad. Here workers toil in the sun treating hides in a colourful array of oversized inkwells. The process is easy, the work hard. They had some beautiful leather goods in the shop and every inch of wall was crammed with belts, slippers, bags and clothes some sooo unbelievably soft.
This was followed by a trip to a pottery, although the work is labour intensive compared to the tannery it appeared easy despite having to sit amidst cracked china. Our final stop of the day was to a carpet shop where several in our group bought exotic Berger rugs but I was content to sip the delicious mint tea.
At the end of a long day, we headed back to our hotel – Jim and I had actually visited our hotel (although not stayed there) back in 2009 and admired an ashtray that we were given and still sits on my patio table. Small world!
Come sunset, sitting on our balcony there was a sense of peace watching hundreds of swifts swooping above the rooftops in a tangerine sky as they did 1,000 years ago. Let us hope, that Fes does not change too much. Inshallah!