Deep within a maze of dark alleyways in the Fes el-Bali (Medina of Fes), amidst a labyrinth of spice stalls and an aroma that I can only describe as ‘fragrant’ (sometimes in a good way, sometimes not so much), donkeys rule.
Welcome to Fes, Morocco. Firmly in north Africa, Morocco is so close to Europe that it is just a hop, skip and a jump from Spain, making the two countries a great combination for travellers. Fes is one of Morocco’s imperial cities, along with Meknes, Marrakech and Rabat. The authenticity of the ‘old’ Fes, surrounded by its ancient city walls and Bab Abi al-Jounoud (Blue Gate), will delight even the most well-travelled culture-vulture.
It’s as if time stood still here, and wandering through the small and dim alleyways it is easy to imagine how it must have been thousands of years ago. Coming to a cross-road and choosing the next path you feel like a world of possibilities lie in each direction. You might come across the ancient tannery – still in operation and full of colour – or a magic carpet shop which you cannot see from the outset but once ‘inside’, hundreds upon hundreds of beautiful carpets are displayed hanging from the walls, laying upon the floor and across the seating. It is a myriad of colour and textures, brought to life by very knowledgeable, friendly and persistent carpet sellers!
Morocco is still so authentic and thankfully the world of technology has not yet taken over, allowing the talent and culture of the people to shine. If you are interested in beautiful design and aesthetics, hand-crafted and traditional items, you’ll find a plethora of goodies. You’ll get such delight from seeing the beautiful workmanship of rugs, jewellery, tiles, furniture, copper, silver and brass items, not to mention the interaction with the Moroccan people.
Of course, the Medina is not the only part of Fes. There is Fez el Jdid – dubbed ‘new’ Fes being a mere 700 years old. Within Fez el Jdid you’ll find the Royal Palace and the Jewish Quarter with its Rue des Mérinides lined with ancient opulent homes, their intricately carved balconies overlooking the street. There is also a much newer part of Fes called Ville Nouvelle, offering a striking contrast with its modern architecture and pleasant tree-lined wide boulevards. Interesting for a visit if only to see the comparison of old and new. Nearby two highly recommended places to visit are the ancient Roman city of Volubilis and the enchanting city of Meknes.
Above all, when venturing into the winding alleys and vibrant stalls of the medinas and squares of Morocco, keep an ear out for the call to prayer and don’t forget to make way for the donkeys who rule the thoroughfares around here with a sense of entitlement born from centuries of doing just that.