At Fes train station I had to try several different taxis before I could find one willing to use the meter on the trip to my hotel (most asked for a price five times higher!). When I got there though, I was very happy. One of the joys of travelling in Morocco is the opportunity to stay in Riads – private homes converted to guest houses. My Riad had a comfortable room……
And nice roof terrace with a view over Fes, although in the late afternoon, it was uncomfortably hot.
In the evening I took it easy, taking dinner in a nearby restaurant in another Riad before getting some well-earned sleep after a hectic day.
I got up at eight, intent on setting off early before the heat struck the city in the afternoon. The hotel’s breakfast was……..very generous – enough to last me through to dinner without lunch.
I then set off to explore. The Medina, the old original city, is the main attraction. It was founded in 787 AD and became a centre of learning and craftsmanship – traditions that remain to the current time. The Medina is a city within a city, enclosed by thick walls with occasional gates (something that can make getting out difficult!). It covers an area of 220 hectares making it the largest urban area without motor vehicles in the world. In this space live some 200,00 people, resulting in a population density double that of Manhattan. The Medina is a bustling anthill, containing people’s homes and all the shops required to meet their everyday needs. In addition, it is a centre of production of leather, metalwork, carved wooden items and even honey for the rest of Morocco. And finally, in keeping with its status as a centre of learning and religion, there are many mosques, shrines of famous saints, and medersas (schools where Islam is taught). The structure of the Medina, with its covered markets and twisted lanes, has hardly changed in a thousand years, but the introduction of electricity, the internet, mobile phones and satellite TV means that life there now is fairly modern (if you can accept the ancient water plumbing, something that has not changed).
I set off into the Medina armed with the map offered by my hotel and was soon lost in the huge labyrinth of tiny passages. Getting lost is an integral part of the Medina experience, and something that every tourist should do, to explore areas that the crowds don’t reach and be treated to little sights like this donkey, which was fulfilling the role of a garbage truck for the dustmen collecting household rubbish in the morning….
Eventually I ended up on a road with cars, so knew I must be near one of the exits. I studied the map hard, found where I was and headed to Tala Akbira, one of the two main routes leading through the Medina.
I was now on the standard tourist circuit, and visited the tanneries (interesting but very smelly – they offer you a sprig of mint to hold to your nose whilst you visit)…….
And the ancient medersas (schools where the Koran is taught) dating from the 13th and 14th centuries…….
I got tired of following the crowds and dropped off into the side streets again. The real joy of the Medina though is not the standard tourist sights but the uncharted passages with little surprises like pretty mosques…..
… and local workshops, making anything from honey to metal goods.
My exploration was rewarded with a great discovery – Kassr Annojoum, a palace built in the 1800s (modern by Medina standards) and now housing an association promoting Italian-Moroccan cultural exchange. It was not listed in my guidebook or shown on my map. It had a beautiful courtyard, where I lingered over an orange juice……….
…….before I lingered some more over mint tea at the “Ruined Garden”, now a restaurant.
I got back to the hotel and chilled out in the small plunge pool before writing my blog, before heading off for an evening in the two places I had discovered earlier in the day – a guitar concert in the Kassr Annoujoum and dinner in the Ruined Garden. Getting home proved something of a challenge. The narrow paths looked different in the dark. I followed my hotel’s advice to always take the path going down, in order to end up at the river where there were several exits from the Medina……but I simply could not find any of the gates I recognised. After much walking I finally discovered a way out but then found myself at the north side of the Medina. It was a long way away from where I needed to be, and I had to take a taxi home.