Meet Fes, The Largest Medieval Settlement In The World
Located in the northeastern part of Morocco, Fes is the oldest city in Morocco and capital of the Kingdom in the 13th century. Beside a home for the oldest university in the world, Fes El Bali or Medina of Fes is also known both as the largest medieval settlement and great city of Islamic civilization. Found in 789 A.D by Moulay Idriss II, the city had became the center of Islamic education, cultures, arts and place where people met who were coming. from other part of the world. Today, Fes is known as the third largest city in Morocco, following Casablanca and the capital Rabat.
I arrived in Fes at 11 am after taking three hours train journey from Casablanca. What I did at the first time I stepped my feet in the city was getting my ticket to Meknes in the next two days from the ticket center located inside the station. Compared to Casablanca, train station in Fes is bigger, cleaner and more beautiful too.
I took my suitcase with me, came out of station and looked for the nearest petite Taxi to take me to Read Nassim, a place where I would stay in the next two days.
“It’s in Medina (old town),” I told taxi driver.
“Oui. Je connaise le médina, mais ou?” It seem the driver didn’t know where the riad is. Well, at the end, he called the manager of Riad brought me to the front of fancy hotel with Jamai Palace.
“I am not staying in this hotel,” I told him again. “Je vais a Riad Nassim” I tried to explain with my limited French.
“Quelqu’un vous choisira ici” he convinced me and left me just like that. I started to feel worry.
After waiting less than five minutes, a young man came towards me. He showed me the name card of Riad Nassim and introduced himself as Omar, the staff working at the Riad. He took my luggage and asked me to follow him.
“I am sorry for this inconvenient,” Omar said. “Since there are only small alleys inside, no car is allowed to enter this neighborhood”
We walked and passed so many alleys, and I couldn’t count them. I believe myself that I would get lost If I had come alone. I was exhausted, and to be honest, started to feel worried. Some alleys were so quite and small, no one walked with faint old walls in left and right. I met some donkeys standing in the alley along the way. We arrive in front of the old building, and Omar opened the door for me. Once I entered the door, I couldn’t believe my eyes how beautiful the living room where I stood in, particularly if I remembered how old the building walls I saw outside.
There were two guests did their check out when I arrived. A young man named Khalid greeted me friendly and asked me to sit in their lovely living room with a glass of mint tea while he did check in process for me.
So, what is Riad? Riad is traditional Moroccan house with interior garden or courtyard. Normally rooms will face this courtyard / garden where the natural sun lights came from the top. For some places like Riad Nassim, the courtyard / garden is replaced by beautiful living room which is covered by glass roof that allow sun light comes inside during the day. The living room of Riad Nassim is covered by colorful ceramics. In some corners, some paintings showing the old city of Fes were hang with beautiful carves in its edges, that made me forget all worries on my way here. Another lesson, never judge a book from the cover.
After putting all my belongings in my room, I decided to take a small walk in neighborhood area, while exploring the whole medina (the old town) would be done tomorrow. Khalid gave me some directions to get into Bab Bou Jeloud or also known as Blue Gate. He also gave some sketches and let me know approximate taxi cost that I should pay to the driver.
“Remember. Not more than 10 Dirhams. That would be less” Khalid told me. He also gave me his and Omar’s phone number, that enabled me to call them in case I got lost on my way.
I arrived in front of Blue gates. Apparently, it’s not really blue, but more like mixed between blue and green. Once I entered the gate, I was greeted by some people who offered me to sit at their restaurants to get some Moroccan dishes. I sat at one of them and order couscous for myself. It’s another Moroccan dishes made from semolina of hard wheat using water to bind them. I tried it once at Khalid’s flat, my Moroccan friend when I lived in Kinshasa, when he invited me and some friends to have dinner together. And I still couldn’t believe my luck, now, I am having couscous and eating it at the place where it came from.
After having incredible lunch, I took myself to take a walk a bit longer. Still inside the medina, there are many souk or shops around selling some stuffs and goods for the daily needs. Since I didn’t find any interesting goods sold there, I left Medina and took a walk to the square, next to the Blue Gates. In the square, I found many seller lay their merchandises over the ground. I found some places to sit and observe my surrounding. Once I noticed here, there are many gates that I believe as the entry door to medina.
It was 5 pm when I decided to return to Riad Nassim. As many advices I read from many travelers, I avoided to walk inside the medina after the dark, especially if you’re alone. I think that makes sense too since some alley could be so dark and we never know what’s gonna happen there. I got lost when I tried to find where my riad was, until a very nice little girl came towards me.
“Vous allez ou, Madame?” she asked friendly.
“Riad Nassim?” I answered her and gave her the biggest smile ever.
“Suivez moi, si’l vous plait. Et, Je m’appelle Noura,” she introduced herself.
Apparently, Noura lives only couple of yard from Riad Nassim. I thanked her many times for her pure kindness that save me out from never ending alleys. While waiting the sun went down, I went to the top of the house where there was nice veranda with some couches to see the medina from the top. Enjoying glasses of mint tea given by Omar and hearing the praying call were perfect things to end my day.
Tomorrow, the exploration will begin.