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Published: September 28th 2014
Well let the title of the blog be my very disillusioning fact of the day. I went with the horribly stereotypical image of a whole city filled with fez-wearers, and left without having seen anyone apart from fat sock-and-sandal-wearing tourists in them. Apparently (despite the abundance being sold everywhere here) fezzes are not from Fez. Which probably should be spelt Fes anyway (though spelling seems to differ everywhere it's written anyway.)
The wonder that is that little red hat so synonymous with northern Africa and Dr. Who is apparently actually from Fez in Turkey and has no business whatsoever being in Fez, Morocco. Sad times.
Red hats aside, Fez/Fes is actually really quite beautiful. Still in complete ignorance over the soul-destroying fez fact, we started the day at the gate to the Royal Palace which, like so many gates in Morocco, is huge, brightly coloured and beautiful. They may not win on friendly military police or streets wide enough to have two donkeys and people on at the same time, but they definitely come out on top when it comes to hugely ostentatious gates.
Unlike everywhere else in northern Africa, so far in Morocco we had amazingly not
been bothered by street sellers. The reason the huge space in front of the palace was completely clear of them was soon clear when we turned a corner and I made the rookie mistake of casually trying to take photo of the impressive collection of police/military/military police who were gathered outside the palace. They certainly must be attuned to idiot tourists trying to take photos of them as, when fully zoomed in, they are all glaring at me. Lesson learnt!
Moving on to El Bali section of Fez. The oldest walled part of the city is most famous for being home to the oldest university in the world, the University of al-Qarawiyyin, founded in 859. Also famous for being the largest car-free urban area in the world. Great that there are no cars, but honestly replacing them with hundreds of donkeys, mules and carts doesn't exactly give a relaxed feel to the city.
Next on the agenda was a visit to what makes Fez famous - its mosaic and tile work. It is truly impressive and, if I had $3000 to spare, I would probably be the proud owner of a giant mosaic fountain for my non-existent courtyard.
I'm never sure why the artisans seem so keen to push big items on foreigners. The vast majority of visitors have neither the money nor the inclination to buy something so large and difficult to transport.
It was the same at a carpet warehouse - despite carpets outside in the medina costing from the equivalent of $20, the ones inside the warehouse were only quoted in euros, and cost from about $300. I also bounce between being exasperated at the idiocy of people who actually try it on, to feeling sorry for them when it's blatantly obvious that no-one is going to fork out $500 (plus shipping). They were rather gorgeous though. They would have fitted in very nicely with the mosaic fountain in my future mansion.
The medina in Fes is something that needs a lot of time, no schedule (it's entirely possible to get lost for a few hours so you need to account for that time) and a reasonably strong stomach. Entering through the food section of the medina my first impression was smell. Followed very quickly by the realisation that a maxi skirt had not been the best choice of clothing by the amount
of (rather dubious) stuff it got dragged through on the ground.
This was made even more apparent when, on spotting someone holding a chicken which would have made a rather good photo, he promptly proceeded to slit its throat onto the floor. Welcome to Fes!
I think my face must have said it all as the guide then decided to spend the next half hour assuring me that the rabbits and mini tortoises being sold, were intended as pets. I'm not convinced, though I still can't work out how/why someone would eat a baby tortoise.
A visit to the tannery was the next test on the stomach. We were thoughtfully given 'Moroccan gas masks' (mint) to stick up our noses to mask the smell. Even so, I have nothing but respect for anyone who actually works there (or lives with someone who does.) The smell was truly overpowering and a 15-minute photo-op was all the time I needed in the vicinity.
Final stop of the day was the Dar Batha museum, a rather welcome respite from the heat. Dar Batha is housed in a 19th-century palace and displays a diverse selection of Moroccan clothes, jewellery, ceramics
and ornate doors. More than anything it was a cool place to hide from the hustle and bustle of the city, under the shade of a giant tree that apparently kills anyone who tries to cut it - personally I would blame a lack of safety harnessing used by the tree-cutters.
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