We had visited the waterfront city of Tangiers and had a preview of the “a-maze-ing” medina in the blue city of Chefchahouen. This time, it’s one of Morocco’s major cities – Fes/Fez. I was curious to visit this ancient city of ten thousands of alleys, and also known for being the centre of culture and learning. As we drove to our riad, we passed by the high walls where behind it, is the sizzling pot of culture and learning – the souk and its ten thousand alleys.
To know a country well, visit the market, travellers say. So, I was dying to get myself lost in the alleys of Fes. Regrettably though, we were told to relax and stay indoors. Only, on the 2nd day, did I understand why. 10,000 alleys, Sumarni!
Riad Ahlam was a dream-come-true abode, though temporary. (Ahlam means dream anyway, how fitting.) The room was huge for the 2 of us. It’s beyond our expectations. Kasim, our host, was very helpful and a joy to be with.
At the riad, you can order authentic Moroccan meals in advance.
8 May 2014, Thursday
Breakfast was a sumptuous spread, fit for a Sultanah (Queen), in such a beautiful setting. Pistachio yoghurt (2 of my fav things – perfect!), freshly brewed coffee, spicy and non-spicy msemmen (Moroccan crepes), baghrir (fluffy semolina-based crepes) and fruits. MasyaAllah, I made sure I ate them all even if it’s just a bite each.
Fathiah, one of the staff we met at breakfast, has such an infectious laughter. She brightened up our sometimes, quiet breakfast, despite the language barrier. She would willingly pose for photos! After breakfast, Khalid and Said fetched us for a visit to the medina of Fes, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Khalid is an approachable person. Despite being unwell post-op, he explained every single thing we saw along the way.
Khalid brought us to the the royal palace grounds. It was a compulsory touristic stop, judging from the crowd.
The Jewish “quarters” is strategically close in proximity to the palace. It is a significant move to assure the Jewish community that they are in the King’s best interests as well, despite being a minority. Reminded me of Umar r.a Caliphate period when Islam entered Palestine. Umar r.a did not give order for destruction of their temples. Wonderful lessons to be learnt from the time of the Prophets and his companions.
The intricate carvings on the door.
I can understand why Fes is known as the centre of learning. It is home to the oldest university, al-Qarawiyyin or al-Karaouine and the famous Madrasa (religious school) Madrasa Bou Inania. Walking through the alleys, you will hear the melodious recitations of Quran by preschoolers amidst the bustling souk.
I was blown away by the beauty of Madrasa Bou Inania. Every detail, even to the minaret, has a symbolic meaning. I wish I had recorded Khalid’s every word. I think I overused “wow” throughout the trip.
Walking through this city, I felt a sense of spiritual aura – a city brimming with knowledge and history.
Ever since I visited Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo years ago, I’ve come to realise that mosques aren’t only places of worship but a place for seekers of knowledge. So, I was eager to visit the University of Qarawiyyin.
Khalid did not bring us in though as the people in Qarawiyyin would require some kind of payment (baksheesh). Probably, would enter it the next time.
Looking at it from a distant, at the door, was enough to make me fall in love with its architecture especially the signature courtyard. It drew similarities to the photos I’ve seen of the mosques in Damascus, Syria. I had planned to go there few years ago, but didn’t get to (impossible now).
From the serenity of the institutions, we went through the bustling souk again. In and out of the lanes, unearthed treasures one after another. An endless discovery. It’s the one place for you to learn more about one’s culture, habits and way of living. Sellers and buyers bargaining, donkeys, live chicken for sale, kittens roaming around, street performers all in one area.
One of the noisiest part of the souk, As-Soffarin – place of the coppersmiths. It was music to my ears as a tourist. I’m sure I won’t say the same if it was me studying for the exams in the library next door (which I’m not sure if it’s still functioning)!
It’s comforting to know though that centuries-old art is still going on strong. Thanks to the government’s initiative in setting up apprenticeship programmes, to ensure that there are artisans in the coming generations.
I can’t bear to imagine if these skills are not preserved. Who would restore should the mosques, university walls fall apart? See the much effort needed to just form a single star.
On my bucket list – the tannery! We were given mint leaves. I only realised why when I’m back home in Singapore over a conversation I had with the sis-in law. To mask the smell of raw leather. But frankly, I didn’t smell a thing. Perhaps cosI love leather!
It was an educational, insightful journey in the souk. I wonder if I could ever find my way if I were to walk through alone. Who am I kidding? I’m sure I would be lost…as always!
Fes, I will be back. When that time comes, I’m going to pray in your beautiful university and madrasa. InshaAllah.
Psst….Watch this 2-part video too for a more spiritual insight of Fes.