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Fès, The Living Medieval City of Morocco
Moroccan Architecture and DesignClick thumbnail to view full-size
The oldest of the imperial cities, Fès is arguably the symbolic heart of Morocco. Founded shortly after the Arabs swept across North Africa and Spain, it soon became the country’s religious and cultural centre. All the great dynasties left their mark on it, but the city owes much of its magnificence to the people who fuelled its cosmopolitan population. In the early days, thousands of families from the Muslim Spain (followed by Arabs from the east and Berbers) moved here, yet Fès retains a distinctly Arab identity.
Long considered the centre of Islamic orthodoxy, its allegiance, or at least submission, has always been essential to Morocco’s rulers. With such symbolic importance attached to their city, Fassis (the people of Fès) are conscious of the power they wield and the city continues to act as a barometer of popular sentiment. Morocco’s independent movement was born here, and when there are strikes or protests, they are always at their most vociferous in Fès.
Arts and Crafts in Fes, MoroccoClick thumbnail to view full-size
Old City or Medina
Fès is distinctly divided into three different parts: The medina (medina = old Arab parts of modern towns and cities) of Fès el-Bali (Old Fès), Fès el-Jdid (containing the Jewish quarter and the Royal Palace); and the ville nouvelle, the administrative area constructed by the French.
Fès el-Bali is the area of most interest for us visitors. A number of gates pierce the encircling walls of the medina , being western Bab Bou Jeloud the main entrance. Fès el-Bali is one of the largest living medieval cities in the world - with the exception of Marrakesh, Cairo and Damascus, there is nothing remotely comparable. Its narrow winding alleys and bazaars are crammed with every conceivable sort of workshop, restaurant and market, as well as mosques, medersas (college for teaching theology, law and Arabic literature and grammar) and extensive dye pits and tanneries. Fes has always been the artisan capital of Morocco. The choice of crafts is wide, quality is high and prices are competitive. As a shopping tip, I recommend to seek out the craftsmen workshops rather than the boutiques, you will find much cheaper prices and you’ll learn more about the crafts themselves and the range of quality available. You will also have to develop your bargaining skills to get the best price possible, it is part of their culture.
World Known Tanneries of Fes
Moroccan Leather Work Place
During your walk through the leather area you will be invited into the leather shops lining the streets. They all have terraces overlooking the tanners’ pits where you’ll be given an explanation of the processes involved; you don’t have to pay but a small tip or purchase will be appreciated. Tanneries provide perhaps the greatest illustration of how resolutely some parts of Morocco have clung to practices developed in medieval times. Moroccan leather, and more particularly the Fassi leather produced in Fès, has long been highly prized as among the finest in the world. Another type of leather, a soft goatskin used mainly in bookbinding, is simply known as morocco.
At the tanneries of Fès, little has changed in centuries. Skins are still carried by donkey to the tanner’s souq (market), tanning and dyeing vats are still constructed from mud brick and tile, the strictly male tannery craftsmen and apprentices are still organised according to medieval guild principles, and their health and safety practices are also disturbingly old fashioned.
Places to Stay in Fès Unfortunately, only top end hotels have websites:
- ibis Hotels: book a hotel online for a business trip or a vacation
Chain hotel close to the train station (mid-range).
- Riad Fes Riadalbartal Fes, Dcouvrez la mdina dans le plus beau Riad de Fes
Located at the edge of the Medina. Offers traditional Moroccan Hospitality.
Palatial guesthouse with a bit more luxury.
- La Maison Bleue & Le Riad Maison Bleue - 2 Maisons d\'htes Fs - Maroc - Rservez vous sjour pour
La Maison Bleue et le Riad de la Maison Bleue sont deux maisons d'htes de luxe Fes au Maroc, qui vous accueille toute l'anne pour des moments inoubliables.
Other sights in Fès
Fès el-Jdid (New Fès) which contains the Dar el-Makhzen (Royal Palace) and Old mellah (Jewish Quarter).
- The ville nouvelle, section of Fès laid out in typical French colonial style with wide, tree lined boulevard, squares and parks.
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Africa, North Morocco
© 2011 Claudia Tello