We planned for a long time to stay a month in the Fez medina. Now we are here in a riad of our own.
There are lots of surprises in the medina. No cars are allowed in most of the area, but donkeys and horses clop back and forth. The animals give you time to get out of the way, but the motorcycles are a menace.
We’ll start with a neighborhood landmark, Bab Rcif. There are 15 of these large gates around the city of Fez. Fortunately, each seems to be a landmark for taxi drivers, so we can now get home from anywhere by saying “Bab Rcif”!
There are a lot of different kinds of buildings, new and old. The walk takes us past homes, workshops, and other riads.
By the time I took these photos we had three days to walk around–it’s takes some time to start learning your way around the Fez medina. We started by taking a walk with a guide for a couple of hours, and got a sense of the main route home. Our guide, Khlafa Elasefar, was excellent. His English was very good, he understood our goals and only pressed us to do a little that we didn’t want to–and that was to spend more time at the historic sites. We saw a few of the sights during our orientation. “Agave silk” is beautiful. I didn’t know that agave fibers had such a luster. (I’m going back to buy a scarf.)
There are fragrant heaps of spices in the market, but for freshness and purity, closed jars are preferable. Our guide brought us here and we bought all we need for our stay.
We took in the mosque (no photos) and the Attarine Mederesa, formerly a school with 150 rooms for boarding students who came from far beyond Fez.
We also visited the Sidi Moussa tanneries. The traditional tanneries of Fes are a big attraction, despite the smell they generate during hot weather and the colorful and possibly poisonous runoff. After some debate about whether to move the tanneries out of town, Fes seems determined to keep this tourist attraction and the Sidi Moussa tanneries have recently been renovated. Now the larger, better known Chaouwarra tanneries are under renovation and only the Sidi Moussa tannery is active. The benefit of a tour guide was finding this out before the hike to the closed tannery. It did not smell very much during our visit, but the weather is cool, it’s spring, not summer. We were given a sprig of mint to sniff, and that was pleasant, if not strictly necessary.
The white vats are the smelliest, where a mix of limestone and pigeon poop softens the skins and removes the hair. The dye vats are the brown ones. Huge cylindrical machines wash hides between phases. The finest skins take a month to be processed and dyed. The balconies overlooking the tannery all belong to merchants selling leather products. A young salesman said they could complete a custom leather jacket in three hours.
It was a lot to take in. What you don’t see here is our efforts to buy cups of coffee, fruits, vegetables and meat, water, salt. Even more difficult is to ask directions. Or to not ask directions, because sometimes people want to help you when you don’t want help. “I am not lost, thank you. I am taking a walk. Yes, walking. No, thank you.” Etc. People mean well, but it’s not very relaxing.