No Fez in Fes! The Craziness of the Fes Medina

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September 13th 2018
Published: September 13th 2018
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The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it. - Rudyard Kipling

But a sprig of mint helps! More on that later. We woke up much more relaxed than yesterday, what with our three alarms, and I had a much appreciated lovely hot shower (no time for a shower yesterday what with waking up at 8 am). We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast here in the riad, with various fruit (melon, fig, pear, bananas, grapes), a yogurt smoothie drink, bread and olives, donuts, coconut cake, and egg made to order, plus good strong coffee and orange juice. It was a feast.

We headed out about 9 am, picked up our local guide Aziz, and drove to “New” Fes”(dating back merely to the 13th C.). We stopped at the royal palace (every city has its own royal palace), to admire the beautiful entry gate. The gate looks old, but was constructed in 1968, when the former king had the palace restored. It was a beautiful gate, with throngs of tourists admiring it. This is the first time there have been so many other tourists at a site here in Morocco.

We then walked into the Mellah, the historical Jewish quarter (in the 14th C Fes was a refuge for Jews fleeing Spain). We walked down the Rue des Merinides, which are lined by houses with wooden and wrought iron balconies. Unlike Muslims, Jews had balconies on their houses. Before we headed down the street, we stopped at a currency exchange to exchange some of our American dollars. We were with Barb and John, who said the others had continued on their way down the street. So we walked for awhile, then I thought, wait a minute, they wouldn’t have walked so far without us. So I called Abdul (glad again we got a Moroccan sim card for our phones) and he called Aziz, and it turned out the group was waiting for us back at the Palace! So we zipped back, met them, and once again walked down the Rue des Merinides. There was a building with at least 10 storks on the roof, along with a giant stork’s nest. So cool. Aziz said the buildings in the Mellah are still owned by Jews (who have mostly immigrated) and they are rented out. Very few Jews live in Morocco any longer.

Our driver Lahssan and Abdul picked us up and we drove to a lookout to admire the view of the Fes Medina. It really is an amazing sight. The Medina looks so quiet from the view point because you can’t actually see any of the narrow alleyways. It doesn’t look like anyone lives there. But there are over 9000 streets in the Medina. Aziz was born there and he says he still is discovering streets previously unknown to him. Of course the photos (or more accurately the photographer – me) doesn’t do the view justice because the photos don’t look as good as the real thing.

We drove to a pottery workshop, called Poterie de Fes, where we learned about the beautiful pottery made in Fes. There are two different types of kilns (the ancient method and the modern) and the ancient produces a pottery with a less shiny glaze than the new. Very lovely but very expensive, just used for special orders now. I love the pottery, and we purchased a beautiful big plate (to hang on the wall), two coffee mugs, and an olive dish. I forgot to take photos before it was all wrapped up so I’ll take them when we get home and add the photos to the last blog entry.

By the way, the hats known as the “fez” are not from Fes, or from Morocco at all. They are from Turkey. So there is no fez in Fes!

We then drove to the Medina and began our walking tour. The Medina is unlike anything we have seen or experienced before. It is sort of like the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, but older (it dates back to the 9th C). Some of it has recently been renovated and looks very nice. Aziz was in front, and Abdul in back, to keep track of all 12 of us. If we got separated from the group we would very quickly be lost in the warren of the Medina. We had strict instructions to be mindful of our purses/backpacks (wear them in front), and if we get separated stop and wait until Abdul comes back to get us.

We first saw the Andalusian section, with painted blue walls and extremely narrow passageways (the narrowest in the Medina). We then crossed the road (where the river was, now underground) which separates the Andalusian section from the Kairaouine section. We saw
Royal Palace GatesRoyal Palace GatesRoyal Palace Gates

Lots of tourists around
the outside of the Kairaouine University, said to be the oldest in the world (non Muslims are not allowed in), and continued our walk through the Medina, amazed by the narrow ancient streets and all the shops and the people. The shopkeepers did not harass you at all to come into their shops, unlike the bazaars in Istanbul and Cairo. There were young men selling small leather goods like change purses, who would follow us around for a short while, trying to get us to buy their goods, but that was it. There appeared to be lots of locals shopping in the Medina (about 70,000 people live in the Medina), so it is definitely not just a place for tourists. We saw several shops selling Moroccan wedding dresses (a bride traditionally has 7 wedding dresses).

We went into a leather shop called Abdessalem El Msiyah, at No. 10 Derb Chouwara, (which Lonely Planet says has one of the best views, lucky for us!) where we went upstairs to the terrace to view the tanneries. We were given a sprig of mint to hold to our noses to help with the smell, but I actually didn’t find the smell that
Fes MellahFes MellahFes Mellah

Jewish Quarter
bad at all. The tanneries are an amazing sight. They have been in operation since medieval times, and have used the same tanning technique. After viewing the tanneries we checked out the leather products in the shop. Susan wanted to buy a hassock, and we ended up getting two (both with a design including a camel on them). She said she wanted a hassock before we even came to Morocco, so we are happy we found nice ones for what seemed to be a fairly reasonable price. Susan engaged her Arabic speaking negotiation skills. I’m crap at bargaining.

It was about 1:30 by now so we stopped for lunch at Le Patio Bleu, and shared a vegetable tagine (with preserved lemon which was delicious) and Moroccan salads (which are a variety of mostly cooked vegetables), and fruit. It was a very good lunch we all enjoyed. After lunch we continued with our walk in the Medina, stopping at a few shopping opportunity places (beautiful bronze metalwork and agave silk weaving – I bought a scarf).

While in the Medina, we went to the Nejjarine Museum of Wooden Arts and Crafts, located in a beautifully restored foundouq (a caravanserai
Storks in the Fes MellahStorks in the Fes MellahStorks in the Fes Mellah

They are such cool, huge birds!
for travellers and their animals). The museum was quite interesting and had lots of beautiful wooden artifacts.

We went past the American Foundouk earlier in the day, which is a nonprofit veterinary organization caring for the mules and donkeys of the Fes Medina (they are widely used as pack animals and are often in need of veterinary care). I think we will make a donation to this organization when we get home. It has operated in Fes since 1927 and was started by an American woman. Speaking of animals, it is quite heartbreaking to be a cat lover and to be here in Morocco, but especially in the Fes Medina. There are countless street cats everywhere in the Medina, who all look to be in quite poor condition. There are scads of tiny kittens about and it is so sad not to be able to do anything about them all. The Moroccans don’t seem to treat their animals very well, from what we have seen. I’m sure some do, but generally the attitude towards animals is vastly different from ours. I forgot to mention earlier, when we were in Poterie de Fes, we were shown a mosaic, all laid out in a pattern, which was partially completed, but some cats had scrambled up a section of it. Karma! I guess it was like a giant cat toy.

We got back to the riad about 4:30 ish, and have been relaxing in the room with a Casablanca beer. Tonight we are going to have a light dinner and what Abdul calls our “spiritual drinks” (aka alcohol) up on the riad rooftop. Tomorrow we have a longish drive, through the High Atlas Mountains to Midelt.

Just a quick note - we are back in the room after dinner now. We had a fun time up on the rooftop terrace, despite the rain and the thunder and lightning! We had a variety of Moroccan salads which were really good, plus I had a gin and tonic, and we shared some of our travel companion‘s wine. Annie and Linda and Susan and I solved the problems of the world over a few glasses of wine, and had lots of laughs. I’ll finish for now - see you in Midelt!

Additional photos below
Photos: 21, Displayed: 21


Anadalusian section of the Fès Médina Anadalusian section of the Fès Médina
Anadalusian section of the Fès Médina

Narrowest street in the medina.
The boys at the pottery shopThe boys at the pottery shop
The boys at the pottery shop

The women are shopping, the men are sitting!
Mule in the Fès Médina Mule in the Fès Médina
Mule in the Fès Médina

Beasts of burden in the Medina
Lori at agave silk weaving shopLori at agave silk weaving shop
Lori at agave silk weaving shop

The shopkeeper used me as a model!

14th September 2018

So what is a hassock? I like that term “spiritual drinks”. I had some of those tonight, and I plan to get very spiritual this weekend too! Very interesting reading Lori, you remember everything with amazing detail, including unusual names and places. Sounds like an exotic adventure.
14th September 2018

A hassock is a round floor cushion, that you can sit on or put your feet on. Like a beanbag foot stool.
16th September 2018
Lori at agave silk weaving shop

Suits you :) Did you pay attention to how it was tied? May come in handy for the camel ride...
22nd September 2018

Solving the problems of the world...
...over a few glasses of wine! I love this :) A great blog entry, I'm glad you were able to enjoy the winding and beguiling streets of the Fes Medina. I think I went to the same place as you guys for the view over the tanneries :) I do recall getting lost though, not helped my numerous, hassling local "guides" who followed me requesting money to lead me out again. Glad you had some good guides :)
23rd September 2018

Solvin the problems of the world ...
Thanks Alex! I sure wouldn’t want to venture in the Fes Medina on my own, it’s crazy!

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