Day 4: Fes
Spiritual and cultural heart of Morocco, Fes is vibrant, noisy, fascinating and overwhelming - a visual and pungent assault on the senses. It is made up of three distinct ‘cities’, or quarters, and we are based in the elegant ‘Nouveau Ville’ or New City, where we stayed in the Fes Inn, and which has a distinctly French/European character. Today we headed into the old city, known locally as Fes el Bali, arguably the world's most fascinating and confounding old city. The sound of Halak! Halak! (“beware”) was the signal to squash against the wall as donkeys carted everything from eggs, wool, kindling and green vegetables through the narrow streets, with owners urging them with sticks or loud cries in between yelling at stupid tourists standing in their way with cameras. The contest was on for the best donkey shot – I think I won.
Everything is for sale here –think of the largest art market you know, add a growers market, a vintage market and a worthless trinkets market, and squash it into a laneway or a hundred, and you’ve got an idea of the Medina. Exciting, stimulating and confusing, but most of all, fun.
Medieval Fes was one of the world's great centres of education and culture: both Islamic and Jewish. Its religious institutions and its libraries are legendary. Its mosques are of great renown. And it was to Fes that many of the Muslims (and Jews) expelled from Spain by Ferdinand and Isabella came in 1492. As we walked through the streets and alleyways, passing historic khans, medresses and dye-pits, it is not hard to imagine ourselves back in the Middle Ages. We spent the day exploring the old city, visiting the Belghazi Museum, Medresse el Attarine, the tanneries and the splendid Funduk Nejjarine, a beautifully restored 18th century inn. We return to our hotel in the late afternoon, then went to a touristy show that showcased the various styles of music and dance from Morocco, as well as a decidedly “Jerry Lewis” version of a local magician. We drive home along the main boulevarde, lit to honour the presence of the king in the city, with fountains and what looked suspiciously like Christmas trees at the four corners of the large gardens/median strips which separate the traffic.