Author : Andreas Batsilas
I don’t really know what kept me so long from writing about Morocco and Fez. Maybe an exam period, followed by summer and another exam period, is not the best time of the year to do anything but study and enjoy the few days of vacations you get. Nevertheless now I am really hungry to relive those two days spent in Morocco by writing about them.
I wasn’t actually planning to travel to Fez. I was visiting Barcelona and a friend who studies there and in the spur of the moment we decided to book two extra days. Here it is worth mentioning that we were both flying for the first time outside Europe or the US. Though one can doubt that Morocco can offer a true African experience, for us two it was a big leap of faith to travel there and it felt way outside our comfort zone.
Fez is a city of huge contradictions that can be spotted out even from the first minutes of your visit. On the way from the airport and while you ride a bus that has no number on it, you come across villas with huge fences, luxury cars but also people walking with no shoes and dirty clothes or whole families riding tricycles. Rugs and riches existing in the same exact area. Religion also is the cause of visible contradictions which can be easily spotted, even from an outsider, on women. Some are wearing clothes that covered their whole bodies, even their eyes and others were wearing just a T-shirt and jeans. A really weird co-existence.
Our hotel was nice but the security guard, at the front door, and the huge fence made us feel that this is the life of the few and privileged here. We left our things in the room and made a quick planning with the receptionist about what is worth visiting. The old town and the medina was our first destination. We grabbed a taxi that we pre-negotiated the price -about 3 Euros for 10 minutes ride- and it got us to the blue gate, the main entrance of the medina. Here is where the real Fez experience was about to start.
The medina of Fez is supposed to be one of the most chaotic and labyrinth like, car-free, residential areas in the world. All the buildings are traditional since it is probably mandatory to follow the architectural style by law. Narrow streets and places that look alike make a wonderful chaos that is totally worth experiencing. Among the everyday buildings, were also some really unique ones, true Arabic architecture jewels. The Madrasa Al-Attarine and the Madrasa Bou Inania -Madrasa is the Arabic word used to describe any educational facility- were two buildings that when entered, you forgot about the madness and chaos outside. On their walls everything was carved with either letters or plant motives. Not only the wooden beams, every single inch of the stone wall was carved! The floors were covered with black and white tiles which followed a pattern that was harmonically blending with the carving on the walls and the roof had green ceramic tiles.
After the Madrasas we wanted to visit the place that is supposed to be the biggest attraction of Fez, the Tanneries. It was a bit hard to find them and we were getting tired of people persistently trying to sell us guiding or any kind of merchandise, form food to carpets and herbs of any kind. Anyway, after a few failed attempts, we found a shop with a balcony overlooking to the tanneries. People were painting cloths the traditional way . Colorful ponds maybe probably by clay. A beautiful vibe overall and a strange smell was the final impression. After we escaped from the, pressing to make a big buy environment of the shop, without purchasing anything but a ten euro wallet, we decided that it was time to head to the modern part of the city again.
Once we were out of the Medina chaos we wanted to eat something that was as American as it could get. We bargained a taxi ride and went to the only mall of the area. Security guards at the gates of the mall gave us again the impression that this is not a place for every citizen. After we ate it was already getting late so we decided to walk to the hotel and pass from the road where all the embassies, schools and public buildings were so we could get a taste of the city’s modern part. A clean road with palm trees, grass, fountains and golden lions surrounded by nice buildings made us almost believe it was a normal sunset in any European city. That was though before we spotted out the army guards on patrol. It was time to head back to the hotel, probably with a quick pace that had to be interrupted at intersections because pedestrian lights were not existent. Red for cars means go for the pedestrians.
Next morning instead of taking a cub we decided to walk, so we could get a better feel of Fez. We would visit the Palace and its gardens, the fort on the top of the city and some ancient remnants next to it. We were also looking for some true Moroccan food. After some walking in the burning sun- we totally got sun burnt that day- we found the palace. A huge yard, paved with marble and seven golden gates left no doubt that this was the kings place. At my efforts to photograph the gate I almost had my camera confiscated. Including a soldier in your photos apparently is not something you do there! Speaking a little bit of French that I remembered from my student years, mixed with some hand signals, I reassured them that all the photos were deleted and got my camera back.
It was the gardens time. We walked around the medina and passed through a really picturesque neighborhood that was supposedly the Jewish neighborhood of the city. We were not really sure if that was it, but asking did not seem like an option. You will be amazed with how few information there is online about Fez and how you can’t find a single map, nor at the hotel neither at shops. Once we made it to the garden the scenery changed once again. Green was everywhere .It was like an oasis at Fez, it even had a small lake. There were people reading books, couples walking around and some tourists. It was really nice to come across a Greek couple we met on the plane and trade our experiences this far.
Making the bad decision of the day, we took a 45 minutes hike to our next destination, a silly thing to do considering how much a cab costs and how hot the sun was. A big castle that stood on a hill overlooking the city. We also came across an interesting exhibition inside of it about the history of the gun with models from each different era. On the top of the castle there was a great view of the whole medina. After we left we hiked again for couple minutes and made it to the hill with the ancient remnants, because why not make the same mistake twice, right ? A half destroyed arch and a few scattered walls without any explanation of what they were did not get me thrilled. It was dinner time and we headed to the medina in order to find a restaurant to taste some Moroccan flavors.
The traditional house inside any medina is called a ryad and its basic characteristic is an interior yard. A renovated ryad was hosting the restaurant we were looking for. A really nice and cosy place. We finally got to taste some of the local spices. My friend being a little bit more adventurous than me, when it comes to food, ordered a camel burger. It was time to head back to our hotel once again since it was getting dark and the medina is a place you don’t want to be after the sun goes down. On our way back we took a cab and went to our room to put yogurt in our sunburnt faces and get a good night’s sleep since there was a lot of sightseeing to be done at Barcelona the next day.
Overall, Fez was a good experience and I would encourage anyone to visit it for a couple of days. For two Greek people who have never been outside the “western world” it was something different that got us excited to travel to other places we formerly believed to be outside of our comfort zone. Maybe it was not a true African experience but one step at a time. Fez was the best last minute really cheap Transit Travel we could make and I am happy that we did.
Next stop Barcelona.
About this Author : Andreas Batsilas