Fes – The Mother of Medinas
Fes, the former Moroccan capital, is home to the Mother of all Medinas. Dating back to the ninth century and known as El Bali, this walled medina has thirteen mighty gates, eight miles of sandstone walls, ten thousand alleys, three hundred mosques and three hundred thousand inhabitants. A World Heritage Site, Fes Medina is the largest car-free urban area in the world.
The Medina is a tumultuous labyrinth, where men in djellabas sprawl on piles of carpets, while others carve intricate patterns into wood panels. This is an original live/work neighbourhood, filled with backstreet bakers, hole-in-the-wall shoe and dressmakers, weavers, and smiling stallholders offering a wide range of dates, spices, fruits etc. A beguiling mix of the sensual and the nauseous.
The cool sanctuary of the Riads offer calm, their interior walls decorated with intricately patterned tiles, and bring a relief from the hustle and bustle of the souk. The streets are so narrow in places, that people who are prone to being overweight will either struggle, or, find it impossible to pass through them. There are no signs to indicate where you are, so the hiring of a local is highly recommended when you go for a wander. (You will have no problem finding a ‘guide‘ as they meet every bus or taxi that brings tourists to the Medina).
Another great feature is the ancient tanneries. There are three ancient leather tanneries in Fes, the oldest, and most popular with tourists is the Chouara Tannery. Michael Palin’s series “Sahara” featured the tannery in one episode and it’s over 1000 years old. If you’re visiting the leather tanneries of Fes and want to make a beeline for them, I suggest following your nose! As you get closer, the stench will fill your nostrils, and you’ll see a steady stream of donkeys carrying animal skins. It’s a good sign you’re heading in the right direction. Leather making is a 7000-year-old craft and in Fes, the manufacturing process has changed little over its existence. The traditional guild workers run under a hierarchy, (no women in the tannery), although judging by the stench, I’d say it’s no hardship for any female. Health and safety are non-existent.
next – Fes: Ancient Tanneries