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Morocco: Casablanca, Chefchaouen, Fes, Midelt, Rabat, Volubilis
Fes, Morocco: At the crossroads of Moroccan cities
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
It would take us a couple of hours to reach Fes. We took much more time than that as we made a few stops; especially the one mid-way, to grab a bite and witness the making of Argan oil - a Moroccan speciality as also admire other Moroccan souvenirs.
It was late evening by the time we reached Riad Palais Ommeyad - our hotel for the 2 nights planned in Fes. A riad is a type of traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden or courtyard. The term is nowadays often used in Morocco to refer to a hotel or guest house-style accommodation with shared common areas and private rooms. For our dinner that evening we tried the city's signature dishes - the salty and sweet pastille along with some salads.
Fes is the second largest city in Morocco after Casablanca. Located to the northeast of Atlas Mountains, Fes is situated at the crossroad of the important cities of all regions. It is surrounded by the high grounds, and the old city is penetrated by the River of Fez flowing from the west to east.
Fes was founded under the Idrisid rule during the 8th-9th centuries. It consisted of two autonomous and competing settlements. The migration of 2000 Arab families in the early 9th century gave the nascent city its Arabic character. After the downfall of the Idrisid dynasty, several empires came and went until the 11th century when the Almoravid Sultan Yusuf ibn Tashfin united the two settlements and rebuilt the city, which became today's Fes el Bali quarter. Under the Almoravid rule, the city gained a reputation for the religious scholarship and the mercantile activity.
Fes reached its zenith in the Marinid-era, regaining the status as the capital. Numerous madrasas, mosques, zawiyas and city gates were constructed which survived up until today. These buildings are considered the hallmarks of Moorish and Moroccan architectural styles. Marinid sultans also founded Fes Jdid quarter, where newer palaces and gardens were established. During this time, the Jewish population of the city grew as well, with the Mellah (Jewish quarter) attracting the Jewish migrants from other North African regions. After the overthrow of the Marinid dynasty, the city largely declined and replaced by Marrakesh for political and cultural influence but remained as the capital under the Wattasids and modern Morocco until 1912.
Post breakfast, the next morning, we began our exploration of the city. Our first stop was the gates of Alaouite Royal Palace. The palace is the official residence of the King of Morocco. It is not open for public. In the 1960s King Hassan II reoriented the entrance of the palace complex from the Old Mechouar in the north to a new southern approach facing the modern Ville Nouvelle of Fes. A new grand square, Place des Alaouites, was laid out and new ornate gates to the palace were built between 1969 and 1971. The gates are considered an excellent piece of modern Moroccan craftsmanship and are lavishly decorated with elaborate mosaic tilework, carved cedar wood, and doors of gilt bronze covered in geometric patterns.
From the palace we drove atop a nearby mountain that has a fort and a viewing platform that offers sweeping views of the city below. Next was visit to a ceramic and inlay making workshop where we got the demonstration of the colourful and intricate craft.
It was now time to be dropped near one of the Fes's medina gates. From here on it would be hours of walking through narrow lanes of the old town known locally as Fes el Bali, arguably the world's most fascinating and confounding old city. Sounds of 'Balak, balak' fills the air - meaning make way... donkeys, horses and carts are on their way!
Medieval Fes was one of the world's great centres of education and culture, both Islamic and Jewish. Its religious institutions and libraries are legendary, its mosques of great renown.
We walked through the twisting streets and alleyways, passing donkeys piled high with goods, and explore the specialty sections that divide the souk. Filled with historic khans, madrasas and dye-pits, stalls loaded with fruits, herbs and soups, and where the squawk of chickens, smell of spice and sound of hammering of copper fills the air. Itís not hard to imagine going back in the Middle Ages. We spent few hours exploring the old city, visiting, Madrasa el Attarine, the tanneries and the splendid Fondouk Nejjarine, a beautifully restored 18th century inn.
The medina of Fes is listed as a World Heritage Site and is believed to be one of the world's largest urban pedestrian zones. It has the University of Al Quaraouiyine which was founded in 859 and the oldest continuously functioning university in the world. It also has Chouara Tannery from the 11th century, one of the oldest tanneries in the world.
From the old town, we were taken to the newer parts of Fes... truly modern. We walked the well-paved streets and had coffee and some snacks at one of the many road-side bistros. Back in our riads, we were ready to move the next morning to Midelt- our next destination.
Fes Image Gallery Photo viewer
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