This covers the 19th and 20th of September.

Overview of the Medina of Fes

Wednesday was another busy day. We kept moving from early morning until early evening.

We started by looking at the mausoleum of Moulay Idriss. [Foreshadow: we saw a Moulay Idriss celebration Thursday afternoon.]

We spent time in an ancient Jewish cemetery. Fes used to have quite a large Jewish population. Mustapha says they were well integrated into society. I believe that, but the area.we were in was called the Jewish Quarter, so I wonder if there was some segregation. In any case we learned a good bit there

Then we drove up to get a panoramic view of the medina (old section). We got good pictures, but I don’t think they really captured how crowded and twisty-turny the area is. One of the areas in some of our pictures captures a university that was started in the 9th century—far older than any European university.

At the Pottery Co-op

We drove next to a ceramic factory—for education, you understand. This cooperative is about 60 years old. Our guide, a factory employee, showed us the many steps in the preparation of the clay (from caves around Fes) and how the initial shapes are made, to the first firing, the second shaping, glazes and painting, and final steps. It was actually pretty interesting. In case we were wondering, they told us they could ship to any part of the world and even showed us the packing they used. They did that right before we were left in the showroom—with no obligation to buy. Of course we did buy a little.

In the Souk

After another quick stop for more panoramic photos, Adil, who is a great driver, dropped us off at the edge of the medina. This area is a real labyrinth. I was far too hasty when I used the word before. This was the real deal. Theseus would not have made it out of here without help. Fortunately, Mustapha moved through there confidently, stopping from time to time to point something out to us. I may be misusing the word, but I would call this a souk, sort of like Khan el Khalil i in Cairo. There are different sections where things like certain kinds of foods are grouped together, where you find things related to music, and so on. We saw people using traditional techniques to make things from copper and brass. A local woman, not a vendor, told Patricia which copper pans were best for certain kinds of cooking.

Metal workers using traditional methods
At the leather artisans co-op

We spent some time in the leather artisans area. This traditional area has been operating for hundreds of years. They process hides from goats, cattle, camels, and something else. They do cutting and dyeing and manufacturing using traditional methods. But because of economic conditions, there are fewer and fewer people employed in the area. Nothing that I saw going on there would make me think about changing careers. Our guide (employed by the co-op) was informative. He said his father had worked there for more than 50 years. He explained many of the functions we could see being carried out below. I took a lot of pictures because I had never seen anything like that. We were up on a terrace overlooking the work area. Before we went up, we were each handed a small branch of mint—just in case. It turned out not to be necessary, but I would not want to spend my life there. On our way down we were invited to see some of the products made with the leather processed at the co-op. No obligation to buy, of course. Our guide told us he was smiling when we came in and he would be smiling when we left, whether we bought anything on not. We had to help the local economy a little bit.

We had our first real Moroccan food for lunch. Patricia didn’t want meat after the leather co-op. I suppose what we got was an approximation of Moroccan food, but there were a lot of tourists in the restaurant. We both enjoyed our meals. Patricia and I were both surprised by the fact that I tried so many of dishes—and liked most of them.

In the medersa

We spent a good bit of time with Mustapha in a medersa (I think we say madrasa) not only looking at the architecture but also discussing the sociology of such places. I think all of us learned something. On a purely practical basis, even though we think of a madrasa as being a simple school, this one, which is more than a 1000 years old, and no longer in use, was used primarily as a place for students who went to universities to gather and discuss what they were learning. That is, this was not a school, but more a dormitory and discussion area.

From the medersa we moved on to a place where we could learn about carpets. Someone was available to tell us how they were made and what the different types were. [We really appreciate all the learning opportunities—I suppose.] I knew I was in trouble when they immediately offered mint tea and Patricia accepted. We had an entertaining time.

Donkeys waiting for work

I mentioned that the area we were in was made up of narrow, cobblestone “streets,” and narrower alleyways. How narrow? Certainly narrow enough that cars can’t pass and in most places neither can motor scooters. How do supplies move around in there, you may be wondering. Small pushcarts do some of the hauling, but a lot of it is done on the backs of donkeys. One, two, or several tied together carry large loads. There is a word which sounds like “bullock” to me which means “get out of the way; I’m talking to you, there bud.” You only get a quick warning and you had better get out of the way NOW.

Outside Dining at Riad Fes

We spent a pleasant time sitting in the outdoor dining area of the Riad Fes, where we are staying. Our room overlooks the courtyard where people eat. This is not a large place and the dining does not make enough noise to bother us.

Cooking School

On Thursday Patricia had a cooking class at the Clock Café. It is within easy walking distance of our Riad. Mustapha walked us over and while Patricia and 3 others went out to buy ingredients and then started cooking I went to the terrace of the café and spent a pleasant time. I could hear the laughter and the talk rising up from the kitchen below me. I know Patricia had a good time because I could hear her laughing for a long time. She said there was a lot of “women talk” so I am glad I declined the invitation to join the class. After a while, I took myself off to walk through the medina. I was pretty sure I could find the riad and find my way back to the café. I had been looking for a SIM card for my phone so I could get on the internet without spending a fortune. I found a small phone shop—all the shops are open to the street—and through gestures and drawings and taking apart my phone to show what needed was able to communicate with the young man running the shop well enough to get a new, working SIM card that fit my phone. I can’t get on the internet with it, but if I want to make any local calls I am all set. It was great fun and I was really pleased that I could find my way around in limited way in a place where I could not even read the script, much less the street signs. Actually, I used some of the signs on stores that were written in French as pseudo street signs. My theory—shaky though it was—was that if I could remember the locations of a few stores I could orient myself and by counting left and right turns nothing could go wrong as long as I didn’t go too far.

Watching to Learn

After the cooking class we went with Adil and Mustapha to a museum to see archeology from Fes. We were initially disappointed because the museum rooms were closed. Disappointment quickly was replaced by pleasure because we discovered that we had arrived just in time for the start of a procession related to a festival for Moulay Idriss, the reputed founder of Fes. There were men (exclusively) in tribal regalia playing traditional kinds of music and crowd of people with many children excitedly watching the preparations. We saw demonstrations of several kinds of traditional music and dancing and adults and children who could not stand still.

Showing off for Patricia

We saw the beginning of the procession, which was headed a long way off to the mausoleum of Moulay Idriss. This is a lunar festival and we were just lucky to be there on the one day of the year when the festival started. The local people were really very happy and we felt very welcomed there. The procession turned the already bad traffic in the area into a real mess and it took Adil and Mustapha a long time to find a way back since many of the streets were jammed or closed. It is now about 10:30 at night and we can still hear the music from the procession and celebration. From our terrace we could see people on other terraces not far away looking down on the procession as it passed close by our riad.

On the terrace of Riad Fes

We have re-packed everything and will be on our way to Marrakech tomorrow. It will be another long drive but I am sure we will see many interesting things.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Great post, Dad! Did you use a ball of thread to find your way out of the labyrinth of the medina? Glad you didn’t run into the Minotaur! 🙂

  2. Like Kate, I was wondering if you left a trail of breadcrumbs or something to find your way back… I love the picture of Mom on the terrace. It sounds like such an interesting trip so far. We can’t wait to see more of the pictures!

  3. No strings. Only my memory, and possibly the fear of the consequences if I went too far wrong

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