Studying my guidebook over breakfast, I realised that there were some highlights in the Medina that I had missed. So I set off early again, with a better sense of a direction, and a clearer plan. At nine o’clock even the main tourist circuit of the Medina was quiet, and nearly all the shops were shut.
I had the pleasant surprise of having the usually popular Medersa Saffarine all to myself and took some great photos.
Next, I found the tomb of Moulay Idriss II, the founder of Fes. It was still early, and it was closed – but I would not have been enter anyway since in Morocco, mosques and Islamic shrines are closed to non-Muslims (except for the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca). This strange law is actually not Moroccan at all, but a relic of French colonial rule, which the locals have never bothered to cancel. The tomb is housed in a prettily decorated building, lined with the deserted stalls of candle and sweet sellers. Bees buzzed around in the still morning air, looking for crystals of sugar left over from yesterday’s sweet sales.
The shops were now beginning to open, and in the tailor’s district, this shop-owner let me photograph him filling up his water bottle for his day’s work. Public water fountains – for drinking, or for washing before prayers – are found all over the Medina. This plumbing seems to work very well for a water system that is over a thousand years old.
Returning to the main thoroughfare of Talaa Kebira, I noticed the spectacularly ornate interior of a restaurant through a half-closed door. I went in, and found the owners setting tables and sweeping the floor. They were not yet open, but I persuaded them to serve me a bottle of water, and I sat relaxing and admiring the elaborately decorated room and wonderful ceiling.
From there I found the Place of the Nejjarines, the centre for production of carved wooden goods. It has a huge museum housed in a tall building with a roof terrace. I braved the fierce sun – already very strong, even at 11 o’clock – to take some photos of the Medina’s rooftops.
I had now ticked off all the Medina attractions listed in Lonely Planet, so I decided to explore off the beaten track in the northern part of the Medina, ducking through narrow alley ways to see what I could find. Sometimes there was a dead end, with the route blocked by an intriguing looking door……
…….sometimes there were little glimpses of street life, like this child watching two tiny chicks. Why one was pink rather than the usual yellow is a mystery, as is how they could survive in a city where there are almost as many stray cats as people.
I was getting a little better at navigating, and manged to find the Bab Bou Jeloud (Blue Gate) at the main entrance to the Medina without much trouble. From there, I headed to the Jnan Sbil gardens to enjoy a pleasant stroll in the shade amongst tropical plants. I was sweating – it was 35C, with 38C forecast for tomorrow and maybe 40C the day after.
From the gardens I reached Fez el Jdid or “New Fez” – founded in the 13th century by a sultan that wanted to live far away from his subjects in the main Fez Medina. The area is still home to a functioning royal palace to this day, but it is closed for visitors and the main attraction is the Mellah, or former Jewish quarter, which dates from the 15th century. I visited two synagogues, both originally built in the 17th century and recently refurbished.
It was now one o’clock, and I was hot and tired. I took a taxi back to the hotel, and snoozed and wrote through the afternoon. I moved from the pool to the terrace to hear the six o’clock call to prayers. It was still hot, but there was a pleasant breeze, so I decided to make one last excursion to visit the 14th century ruins of the Merinid tombs that I could see from the terrace, high up on the skyline on the edge of the city. It was a complicated taxi ride, involving a long trip, the driving waiting at the ruins and then a trip back. The usual tactic of insisting the driver use the meter would not work, so I asked the hotel porter to negotiate the fare for me. This proved to be a mistake – since the negotiation took place in Arabic, it allowed the driver to claim a different fare and different waiting time to what the porter told me had been agreed. I brushed off the driver’s protests and enjoyed a new perspective of Fes from high up in the hills to the north of the city, enhanced by the light of the setting sun.
On the way back, I got the driver to drop me at Bab Bou Jeloud so I could enjoy one last stroll through the Medina before a very good dinner of lemon chicken tagine in the restaurant near my hotel. A good way to say goodbye to Fes!