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Fez - Medieval, Exotic and Chaotic

Fez


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Fez is known as the science and knowledge capital of Morocco. Historically this is where scholars, philosophers and many types of academics came to study and live. It is home to the oldest university in the world, founded by a woman! It is also the world’s largest medina (market), with over 10,000 narrow streets or alleys, passable only by foot or donkey. The medina covers 220 hectares of homes, businesses, workshops, hovels and palaces, is twice as densely populated as Manhattan and is the largest car-free urban area in the world. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site. But first, the riad where we stayed.

It was a bit crazy approaching the medina, we were really glad Ali was driving. He got us as close as possible and called the riad to coordinate a fast pickup. The riad sent a porter to guide us and take the luggage:

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The Riad Laaroussa is a top pick! This beautiful place is behind an unappealing entrance off a dingy alley, but opens to a beautiful garden and home. A true oasis! This is a reason to come to Fez: https://riad-laaroussa.com

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Reception area, complete with a grand piano….Erika, where are you?

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Carleen, what does this remind you of?

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Our room, appropriately called “The Blue Room” and sitting area:

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The rooftop terrace had spectacular views of the city and was another peaceful oasis:

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View from our room:

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And down to the garden:

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We discovered the pool area on our last day!

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The next day we had a tour of the city with guide Mohammed, who was very knowledgeable but definitely liked shopping. We spent the morning in the medina, seeing many of the different areas (a bit like a department store, the products are grouped together - an alley or two for leather goods, clothing, spices, pottery, etc.). The blue gate is called Bab Bou Jeloud, which is one of the main entrances to the medina:

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Installed in 1357, this is all that remains of the ingenious water clock that displayed the time based on water that drained at a steady pace and released a metal ball on the hour into brass bowls that were held by each of the wooden beams:

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Walking through the medina is an experience of all the senses, and so much cool architecture, from doors to public fountains:

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Sometimes a door was open and you could get a peak in!

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We met an interesting man making shoes by hand, unfortunately he didn’t have my size:

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The Nejjarine Museum of Wooden Arts & Crafts is in an old restored fondouk (funduq). Historically, these were inns for caravans coming from across the desert, transporting goods for trade. The camels and animals slept downstairs and people upstairs:

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Get your knives sharpened or your jeans dyed blue:

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We visited the Tannery Chouara, a bit of a smelly place, but a big part of the medina since the 16th century. The process of making the nice buttery soft leathers is labor intensive and largely unchanged since medieval times. It starts with the leather being soaked in a mixture of pigeon poop, salt and lime to remove the fur, then is dyed in a color vat and dried in the sun before being made Into a bag, jacket, belt or whatever. They provide fresh mint to hide the smell and have a huge inventory of every leather product imaginable to buy after the tour:

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Margo got a purse:

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A “madersa” is an Islamic school primarily, although other subjects may also be taught. The Medersa Bou Inania was built in 1350 and is similar in design to the small one we saw in Sale, but larger and even more decorative:

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The University of Kairaouine is the world's oldest university founded in 859 A.D. by Tunisian-born Fatima al-Fihri, over two centuries before its more widely known predecessors (Oxford, Bologna, Cairo). Only Muslims may enter and the entrance was closed for renovations, so we just got a few pictures:

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Given it was a Friday, we actually got caught in what Dean called a “Prayer jam”. There were so many people praying, they spilled out into the medina and blocked the way out of the fabric souq (store). A real “traffic jam”.

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We were forced to shop, so checked out a fabric souk. All handwoven goods - table linens, scarves, jellabas for men, women and children, purses, everything imaginable:

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We had lunch with our guide at Nayar Restaurant:

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We met up with Ali again and he took the three of us to the Kings Palace and to see more of Fez outside of the medina. (Ali did his best to pull strings and get us in the palace, but we couldn’t pass for a relative or VIP guest!)

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Of course, more shopping as we stopped at a pottery cooperative. Making pottery is a labor intensive process anyways, but certainly even more so here - making mosaics for example, with tiny cut pieces of pottery.

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We are looking forward to receiving a fruit bowl and tajine dish that are being made for us and shipped to Denver. I guess we need to learn to make tajines! Here is one of their tajine dishes, not ours, but same size. It looks better with food in it!

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Ali took us to a lookout over the medina, which really showed how large it was. And think, no cars in the whole area - just people and and donkeys!

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You can see where we were from the rooftop terrace at our hotel:

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We enjoyed our first Moroccan hammam experience at our riad. It would be difficult to take pictures even if they were allowed, as you start in a steam bath, laying on heated slabs looking up into a dome shaped ceiling that looks like the sky. Then they scrub you down with some type of mud that is exfoliating and good for your skin, then more steam and cool water. Then you shower off and have a lovely massage with Árgan oil. It was amazing and so relaxing. Dean found some website pictures:

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We were pretty “zenned out” so headed for a large park outside of the medina for a walk, which also gave us a view of the walls of the medina. Called “Jnan Sbil”, this is a nice quiet park that again, seemed like an oasis amidst the bustle of Fez.

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When the shoe store we had seen on the tour didn’t have my size, we ended up at another shop that also had a resident cat named Mimi.

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We went for dinner to Dar Roumana that night, a guesthouse with an exotic Moroccan restaurant. We felt like we were eating at the Alhambra in Spain! (Roasted beet salad with pear and balsamic vinegar, quinoa & wild rice salad with mango, avocado, red pepper and chili, braised rabbit with seeded mustard sauce and mashed potatoes, pan fried Ombrine filet with smoked aubergine purée & chermoula sauce):

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They had a great rooftop patio where you could see views of the city at night:

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Kittens and a donkey! Our furry finds in the medina:

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Next stop: Off to the desert! Todra, Dades Gorge and Agdz on the way across the Middle Atlas mountains to the Sahara.

Posted by margofiala 10:01 Archived in Morocco

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Comments

What an incredible diary! Are you being sponsored by the Fez Chamber of Commerce?

by Johndotbike

If that was all in one day, you were very, very busy! Shopping, leather demo, pottery demo, cleansing& massage, palace wantabes, 2 wonderful meals. No wonder you needed a walk in the park! You certainly get all you can out of each day.

by connieasm

So many amazing things to do and see! That is quite the shopping mall and I love the shoes Margo!Your accommodation looked pretty comfy.Can't wait to you get to the desert!

by Silene

I absolutely love the doors!! Next to the shopping it's a reason in itself to visit Fez.

by Donna-Lynne

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