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0226. The Biggest Medina in The World (Mor 074--revisit)

Fez Travel Blog

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An American fellow told me that if anyone wants to experience Morocco, they should go to Fes--Fes is the epitome of Morocco.  Now I find that a bit simplistic--even to say that Fes is the ultimate medina experience disrespects they many amazing old medinas around Morocco.  But the Fes Medina Experience is certainly something unlike anything anywhere in the world.

Another Flashback…

February, 2002… on a sort of “honeymoon trip” with my wife, we did a weeklong lightning trip around Morocco.  After looping around from Agadir to Ouarzazate to Errachidia, we took the long bus ride up across the mountains to Fes.

  Along the way, I saw my first Moroccan pine forests and was quite inspired by the sight…In Fes, we found a nice hotel right outside the old medina, and after my wife went to bed, I snuck out to explore the city a little bit.  After all the stories I’d heard about how “dangerous” the city is, I was a bit trepidatious, going down a couple of  dark alleys and then going back…not wanting to push my luck…

Next day, the medina felt a lot friendlier, but for my wife’s sake, we opted to hire a “guide” the first time I’d done so willingly in Morocco.  Just figured it would make the tour less stressful for her.   It was fun to share this “new discovery” together as we visited the tannery and the oldest university in the world…

Now I’m back… and this time I’m definitely not hiring a guide to show me around the city… I’m going to conquer Fes on my own.

  I’m determined to wander all around the Old Medina until I’m confident that I can get from any point A to point B without getting hopelessly lost.

That might take a while.

The taxi drops me off at the south end of "New Fes"--a totally separate and modern city built by the French.  Have a rather uneventful hike up through town to the train station--from there I follow a wide highway with an old castle wall along one side to what I think is the old city way off on a hillside... Reach there only to find it’s just another neighborhood--"Old Fes" is off somewhere in the darkness to the east...

Apparently, the French chose to build "New Fes" really, really far from "Old Fes"--making life very difficult for people like me who are determined to walk everywhere—but at the same time, it helped insure that the old city would preserve it’s “look” and not get diluted by a bunch of modern neighborhoods.

I decide to head up to the neighborhood in the hills and head east from there--figuring that that will be more interesting than following an empty highway... good choice... the neighborhood is alive with folks shopping and taking late night Ramadan strolls... there is even a sort of fair going on with rides and everything... Along the road are benches where you can sit and enjoy the view of New Fes far below... I head to explore the market area and came to an old city wall... The Fes Medina?  Wrong again... Now this is getting to be downright annoying...

I reach another big party where all the kids are dressed in their Ramadan best... and then darkness again... where did the city go? There are a lot of people walking up and down a street down the hill between two cemetaries.

.. Maybe...

Sure enough, I go to the edge of a cliff and there is Old Fes down below in all its glory...

It feels great to walk in through the stately gateway... and into another world...

Find a decent little place to stay and head down an alley to look for something to eat... a couple of little restaurants along the alley are clearly catering to tourists, so I was going to pass them up--but then I notice that one restaurant is serving bstilla... something I've had a hankering for quite some time... manage to bargain it down to 30 Dh and sit down to enjoy...

It being Ramadan, the city is still alive late into the night, so I head deep into town to explore it a bit.  Yes, it is an extraordinary experience--although passing groups of senior citizen package tour groups does put a bit of a damper on the feeling of adventure--and then, there are signs around the city pointing the way for suggesting walking tours, making it a bit hard to get too lost.

.. and even a few maps set up here and there... and of course, lots of hustlers and "guides" everywhere... But with a bit of imagination, it is still a visit to a completely different world in a completely different time...

DAY 2:

On my first tour of Fes yesterday, I start tofeel like I was going on forever and ever down endless claustrophobic alleys without a single inch of open space--after a while I just wanted to scream for air...

The next day I realize that I had been going in circles much of the time and, although the Medina is huge, it is not endless... And there are, in fact a few open spaces and even some alleys that cars can squeeze through.  But overall, it's just a huge 1,200 year old twisted labyrinth where horses and donkeys are the main means for carrying goods because they're the only "vehicles" that can maneuver the stairs, tight turns, tunnels--and the horses especially are trained to just plow through the crowd.

.. as the fellow shouts out dire warnings to whoever might consider not getting out of the way.

I'm getting better at figuring this out--and so far have been successful at escaping the clutches of the "guides" that chase me around...

Finally I reach the far east edge of the town, where there's another cemetary--I decide to head up the hill to what looks like a cluster of homes, just to take a break from the crowds for a bit.  Turns out that there's a whole new city up in these hills with panoramic views of Fes and the arid mountains and valleys  to the north.  I head up to the very top--just to make sure that this is, yes, the true edge of the city...

While taking a couple of shots of the city, a couple of guys in a little electronics repair shop invite me in to sit down--it's a welcome break to be able to interact with "normal people" who are just trying to make money off of me.

.. We chat a long while about the hardships of life in Morocco and the aspirations of Moroccan youth... I sing a couple of songs for them and head on my way...

Head back into old Fes, back to the far west side--then head out to explore "Fes Jdid"--or "New Fes"--not the New Fes built by the French, but an older "New Fes".  I guess when a city is 1,200 years old, "new" is relative...

Fes Jdid is definitely an old medina, but not with all the intricately designed doorways or mysterious tunnels--bit it does host the Royal Palace--where I managed to do a video clip while the guards were having their Ramadan breakfast...

 

Have my ftor and contine exploring... the southwestern neighborhood doesn't get a lot of foreign visitors and it seems like I’m heading to a dead end.

  I ask a vendor if I was headed towards an exit--he says that I am, but it’s very dangerous... I tellhim that I’m going that way anyway--so he insists that a young boy show me the way...

I really should have just turned back and headed out the way I came.

The boy leads me through a series of twists and turns... and we aren't alone... a couple of other fellows start following us.   Finally we reach a gateway and exit to the city to what looks like a very empty area.  A couple of young kids demand money--I give a few Dirhams to my “guide” and insist that I won't give to anyone else.  I wait until they leave--as I don't want them to follow me off into the darkness, and I don't want to head back into the medina either... Finally I scurry off into the darkness where fortunately I soon come to the main highway which I can follow back to the main Old Medina

A rather unnerving experience.

.. I can think of a half a dozen ways that could really have gone wrong… I am after all carrying a guitar and a digital camera with me…

Next day I take a day trip up to Moulay Yacoub and then back to town... It’s the End of Ramadan feast, so all the men are dressed in their fancy traditional clothes...

After Moulay Yacoub, I decide to explore French Fes some more... rather boring after my two days in Old Fes--but after my recent brush, I’m in the mood for boring... Meet a young fellow who is also carrying a guitar and we jam for a bit and take a clip along the beautiful garden boulevard...

...And that’s it... That was my Fes experience.

.. Great experience... amazing world... But Meknes still tops Fes as a cooler medina… maybe because it feels more undiscovered…

 

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Fez
photo by: tj1777