Appreciating the Crafts of Fes

Julian and I were both up early, and headed to a three-course breakfast in the courtyard! We enjoyed the fruit and yogurt, the mkhammer and honey, the bread, olives, cheese and jam, and the eggs, meat and mushrooms...truly fortified for the day! We had asked the riad to arrange for a guide to walk us through the medina, as we knew our time was very limited, and we met Fouad at the door. Tall, elegant and with the voice of Morgan Freeman, he led us skillfully through the souk first. It was early for the shop keepers, so only about half were open and the other half just starting to. That meant that there were not the usual crowds, and we got to see the mules deliver goods to the stalls, and to take the garbage out in bags on their backs. This medina is, I think, the largest area of the world where cars are not allowed. After walking it for three hours, I believe it!

Fouad took us to the beautiful Mosque and the Madrassa, and we saw the oldest university in the world (started by a woman). He told us that in Islam, five amenities are required to support a neighborhood: the Mosque, a school, a  hammam, a fountain, and a communal wood fired oven. Of course, most homes in the medina are equipped with running water, and many fountains have been turned off to save water, and there are stoves in private homes. But the Mosque and school are critical, the hammam has a social purpose, and many still bring their prepared loaves to the communal ovens. We saw one in action, and were amazed at how the baker kept each order separate...there were so many loaves on the shelf. Found told us too, that in the medina, there are over 120 neighborhoods that are provided for in this way!

We had been warned that most guides would require a stop at a rug shop, and sure enough, our tour included a visit, but we didn’t resist as the house was magnificent, the mint tea was welcome, and the host thoroughly charming. We may very well have paid a price a little higher than we could have done but it was a memorable experience to buy rugs in Fes. We had done the same thing in Turkey years ago, and never regretted it.

Running out of time, Fouad quickly got us to the famous tannery. We watched from a balcony as the workers below dipped hides in vats full of dyes of various colors, and saw the colorful hides drying in the sun, all laid out in the many terraces around us. The work is extraordinarily hard in the heat of August, and the smell is...challenging, but everyone is provided a sprig of mint or parsley to hold up to the nose while watching (it works!). Fes is home to some well known traditional crafts, like the leather goods from this tannery, and especially ceramics.

We were trying to cram in too much, but Fouad got us back to the hotel in time to quickly pack and walk out to the street to catch our ride to the airport. If you ever plan a trip to Fes and want a suggestion for a great guide, let us know (and make sure you plan to stay longer than one night!) It is a city that exists in two parallel paths of time...the ancient past, and the modern world. It is a fascinating place.

When we got to the plane, we had never been so happy to have cool, cool, air-conditioning! We loved every hot moment in Fes, and appreciate the wonders of AC!

Next stop: The third largest city in Spain…