Meandering Through Old Fes

traditional-moroccan-music

You hear the bangs of coppersmiths in the labyrinth souks combined with the beat and clangs of Moroccan music and the constant calls to prayers,

fruit-vendor

add to that the intoxicating smells of fruits, spices, fresh innards and dung,

children-playing

then you see the chaos of men pushing wheelbarrows, children playing and

donkey

donkeys transporting people and things, and not to mention the vibrant colors of rugs, potteries, spices… all happening simultaneously.  The old city of Fes stimulates all the senses.

Rashid, our guide picked us up right after breakfast at Dar Labchara.  To discover the city, an official guide is essential.

crowded-medina

Ours took us around the medina, passing narrow alleys housing hundreds of merchants and craftsmen selling an assortment of products from dates to musical instruments.

Fes el Bali (Fes the old) is our baptism of fire into an exotic medieval world.  Not much seemed to have changed within this walled city with over 9,000 alleyways.

winding-alleyway

Fes el Bali is the old medina where most cultural sights are located; its labyrinth of narrow winding alleys is almost impossible to negotiate without getting lost.

collapsing-walls-with-enforcement

It is a car-free urban space and a UNESCO World Heritage Site that spans 1,300 years of Moroccan heritage.  It is the central business where 150,000 people living inside the wall – a cocktail of Berbers, Arabs, and Africans in hooded djellaba cloaks, red tarboosh hat they call fez and open heel babouche slippers – come and go, much like it was 1,300 years ago.

following-rashid

Following Rashid, we found ourselves in the market staring at a camel’s head,

camel-head

preserved-lemon-and-olives

artichoke

drooling over a variety of Moroccan food specialties, admiring vegetables I don’t get to buy in my part of the world, and devouring some beautiful, crunchy strawberries in season.

strawberries

Chaotic, overwhelming, stimulating, similar, in a certain way, to our wet market yet distinctly Moroccan in every way.

Morocco is a shopper’s delight and weaving through the maze like narrow lanes led us to various outdoor bazaars called souks.

cheese-vendor

They consist of tiny stalls displaying objects ranging from colorful scarves to buckets of olives.  It is an integral part of the medina.  It is where the locals buy their essentials.

making-breadA stand making bread

Each Moroccan town has its unique souk quarter displaying some of the fine Moroccan ornaments and crafts.  In larger cities like Fes or Marrakech, there are “specialty” souks of all kinds –

slippers

the spice souk, the carpenter’s souk, the leather souk, the slipper souk, the dyer’s souk… all within a bigger souk.  At every turn, we found ourselves in a new souk typically named after what they are selling.

seffarine-square

One such souk was at the Seffarine Square.  A delightful square that is the center of Fes’ copperware trade surrounded by artisans hammering sheets of metal into shape:  huge cauldrons, kettles, pots, plates and the likes.

craftsman

metalworks

On one side lay the Kairaouine library, on the other, the Seffarine Madrasa.  The open space is a refreshing break from the confining tight corners of the medina.

Built in AD857, the University of al-Karaouine is perhaps the oldest university in the world.

Karaouine-Mosque

Not open to non-muslim, we had to content ourselves with viewing its beautiful architecture from the entrance.  Rashid took a shot from my camera for a peek at one of the dozen horseshoe arches in the mihrab (prayer niche).

rooftop-view-of-Karaouine

A better view of the university can be had at any rooftop balcony nearby.

Rashid then lead us to another lovely square where you will find the Fondouk el Nejjarine.

nejjarine-museum

The beautifully restored building used to be a fondouk or a caravanserai, a roadside inn built to shelter men, goods and animals along ancient caravan routes.

rooftop-cafe

rooftop-cafe-view

It is today a museum of wooden arts and crafts.  It has a nice little rooftop café boasting of outstanding views of the city.

A visit to Fes will not be complete without seeing a tannery.  And at the Chounara Tannery, the smell of lye, acidic pigeon excrements and dyes drifts around the rooftop balcony, we were given sprigs of mint to mask the stench.

lye-vats

The view from the balcony allows for a site that has not changed since the 11th century –

tannery

workers balancing between stone vessels arranged like honeycombs filled with vibrant dyes.  They soak the hides in the acidic solution and then transfers them to another vat containing dyes such as henna, saffron, or mint.

dye-vats

It is a rare visual spectacle and experience not to be missed at any cost.

Now purchasing high quality leather products produced from these tanneries is another thing.  In fact, shopping in Morocco is an entertaining experience worthy of a post all its own.

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12 Responses to Meandering Through Old Fes

  1. melody says:

    Wow! These photos are just wonderful. Morocco is definitely on my list and I cannot wait to see all of this in person someday.

    Like

  2. indrani says:

    Wonderful photo essay. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the sights.

    Like

  3. BirgittaB says:

    Great and interesting photo series!

    Like

  4. Catherine says:

    Gorgeous photos and wonderful history… I would love to visit Morocco one day!

    Like

  5. Boom & Gary says:

    Fascinating!! Boom & gary of the Vermilon River.

    Like

  6. ewok1993 says:

    dream destination. do you feel that the prices in the souks are equal to both locals and tourists? did you see locals patronizing the souks?

    keeping my fingers crossed that i’ll get to see this place someday, if not soon.

    Like

  7. What a tour! Thanks for taking me around. The fact that it’s old is what appeals to me most.

    Hazel

    Like

  8. Oman says:

    Wonderful photos as usual. Would love to explore the place too 🙂

    Like

  9. Pingback: An Outing Outside of Fes: Volubilis | my adventure odyssey

  10. Pingback: An Outing Outside of Fes: Meknes | my adventure odyssey

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