14 October 2013

Fantastic Fez

Our day in Fez was to be busy, varied and extremely interesting. This was what I had come back to Morocco to see and do.

We started at one of the Royal Palaces, there is one in every major city.

As before there were rules to follow and we were allowed to photograph this gate but not the one off to the left with guards in front of it. They waved at me when I tried. It was a friendly wave but the intent was clear.

Deterred from the side gate I paid more attention to the main gate. It was exquisite. It was typically Moroccan, just that little bit more decorative, which is what you would expect from a Royal Palace. It was a beautiful start to the day.

Next we went up to the South Fort just outside the city. There was not that much to the fort itself but going to the top of the little hill that it sat on gave some great views across the medina. I spent ages looking at the city and could have spent much longer.There is something about rooftops that get me at there were lots of them here.

The sandy colour of the city gave it a pleasing uniformity and also contrasted it to the almost excessively pink Marrakech.

The real fun started when we hit the medina.

We had been in a few on the tour so far but this was the first where not even motorbikes were allowed. So they used donkeys.

The reason for the vehicle ban was soon obvious, many of the roads were barely passable on foot because they were so narrow.

They were also very windy and confusing. We needed three guides to see us safely through and to keep the group together. This was a city that getting lost in would not be much of a challenge. In the time that we spent in there we did not find any main routes that could have been used to restore bearings.

We were lead to several notable sights that I suspect would have been impossible to find without our guides.

These usually looked the same from the outside but walk through a door and we were in a madrasa or mosque.

This was a lively lived-in and comfortable city too and I loved walking though it and being among all the people who were very tolerant of the tourists blocking their streets.

We were treated to a couple of Intense Retail Experiences but this time they were a natural and welcome part of the tour.

The first was the tannery.

Before we did the shopping we went up to the roof to see how the leather was made. We were each given a sprig of mint to sniff and we needed it. From our vantage point we could see the various vats that the leathers went through in a process that had changed little in centuries. The people in the picture show how big the operation was.

The shop was actually good and several of our group bought leather jackets or bags. I was tempted but we sort of ran out of time before I could even make my mind up on what kind of jacket I wanted. The one I bought in Vienna twenty years ago will just have to last a little longer.

The next shop was silk, or rather it wasn't. What they called silk was actually made from a plant, argan, which we had come across in Marrakech as the source of a superior cooking oil, and other magical things.

We did not spend long in the silk shop and I am not sure that anybody bought anything.

One of the prettiest places we were shown was the Bou Inania Madrasa which dates back to 1351. This was just one of the many times that I was struck by just how old a lot of what we were seeing was.

Fez was a hard place to take pictures of as most of the paths were too narrow and too full of people to be able to get a proper shot. I have got a couple of pictures of the  streets but there are the untypical wider ones.

We spent a long enjoyable time in the medina and it was late afternoon before we were shown the way out and taken back to the hotel.

I was still in the mood for a little exploring so I went for a walk in the area around the hotel. This was in a new part of town and not that convenient for exploration. There was a wide boulevard outside and the centre of that had a long garden in the centre with fountains and statues.

It was all very pleasant but completely lacked the character of the old town.

We headed back to the old town for our evening meal.

This was in a restaurant in what had been a riad, a grand house with a central courtyard garden, which had been converted by putting a roof over the garden.

The high level of decoration lay testament to the house's rich past.

We were treated to some reasonable local entertainment, unlike in Marrakech were it seemed rather fake. The only problem was the way that the evening was planned, all three courses of food arrived within an hour and then we were meant to sit through the entertainment for another two hours. There was a mini-revolt around 10:30 and several of us who were very tired and starting to get bored by then made a move back to the coach. Unfortunately that meant missing the belly dancer who was coming on as we walked out, even so it was the right decision.

We had seen a lot of Fez in a full day and seen things that were beautiful, old, different and, above all, interesting. Fez is a city that I would like to go back to and next time I would try to do it without a guide.

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