Look Further Into The Magical Medina of Fes
As suggested by other travelers, I hired professional guide to accompany me to see further the Medina of Fes. For your information, Medina in Fes is the largest one in Morocco. Even, I could say that after seeing Medina in Fes, I felt like seeing the whole medina within the country. Apparently, if you have the guts, you can just roam around by yourself. Yet, in my case, I had the time limits, so I didn’t want to loose my time getting lost here and there to find the places I wanted to see the most.
So, Khalid helped me to find the guide. Considering it was peak season, it was quite difficult to find available guide that was willing to spend the whole day just with me. Therefore, I hired Ismail, my guide, man aged early fifty, for half day only, which costed me 250 Dirham.
Walking in Medina was a challenge for me. Located in hilly areas, we should passed hundreds or maybe thousands steps here and there, and not mentioning some uphill and downhill alleys. It made me exhausted enough. Meanwhile, Ismail walked so fast as he had no problem at all with all those steps. However, all those exhausted feelings were worth it, if I remembered what we found along the way.
This Medina was awesome. With its narrow alleys, the carts where you can find everywhere, horses and donkeys standing wherever they like (looked like), madrassas and many more, brought me like entering the time machine which brought me back to thousand years ago. As Riad Nassim, most of houses look old from outside but truly charming once you enter their front door, with beautiful and colorful decoration. I was to busy to amaze every single thing, if only Ismail didn’t warn me, I must bump many horses and donkeys during this trips. When we’re talking about city facilities, the medina is like the other cities in the word. It’s equipped with markets selling all daily needs, factories, schools, houses, museum and also hotel.
“You cannot see everything in one day,” Ismail told me. “Even if you’re living here for ten years, I’m sure that you’re still missing some parts of the city. But, I will show you the most famous and interesting places in Fes”
The first stop was University of al-Qarawiyyin. Known as the oldest school in the world, this school was founded in 859 and it became a prestigious center of science in Islamic world. With several madrassa around, the school had being home for Muslims who were expelled from Spain in the beginning of 13th century. A century later, it had 8,000 students but gradually declined in following years. But, after Moroccan independence, the school had been reorganized and opened new programs and systems, such the opening of Law Faculty. I didn’t explore the school a lot. But, one of the teacher allowed me to get some photos inside the school.
Walking further, Ismail took me to Attarine Madrasa (religious school). Located closed to the spice and perfume market, the madrasa was built in 1325 by Marinid Sultan Ya’qub Abu Said Uthman II. The madrasa is richly decorated with rectangular courtyard in the middle. Magnificent tile and carved works are also dominating the designs with marble columns in some particular places. The courtyard is the most public spaces within the school.
Nejjarine Museum of Wooden Arts and Crafts was our next stop. The museum shows me wooden crafts and door artworks that represent Moroccan architecture.
Of course, medina is not only about the schools and museum. Market couldn’t be separated from the people living in the old town. While we were walking, we also passed the metal souk or also known as Place Seffarine. That’s the small square with the coppersmiths who worked there to produce variety of metal products. Even before I saw the place itself, I could hear the sounds of hammers hitting metal. The artisans worked side by side to create beautiful items afterwards. That was quite delighting to watch them to shape metal into beautiful items that were later sold in the shops.
Fes is also famous with its leather tanneries. In the middle of medina, tanneries were constructed to change the raw leathers into beautiful products such as coats, shoes, bags, wallets and many more. Ismail took me to one of big tanneries, where the owner looked so happy to show me around, even though I didn’t give any signs to buy something from his shop. The tanneries looked like a painting tray with different water colors. The raw leather would be processed inside the vats until it became softer, then it would be brought onto rooftop to get dried before sold directly to the merchants and shoemakers. Well, at the end, I gave myself a present by buying a pair of leather slipper. Since the main ingredients of tanneries are pigeon droppings, cow urines and other chemist materials, please put in mind, the smell of tanneries could be so unbearable if you don’t get used to. That’s why, before taking me to tanneries, the shop owner gave me some mint leaves to neutralize the odors.
If people put tanneries and the markets as the most interesting places in Medina, I chose Fondouk or Caravanserai as my favorite one. It’s the inn where travelers, in this case merchants, could rest and get recovered from their long journeys. It was used by travelers, often coming from Fes to Timbuktu, visa versa. These dwellings were not purposed for unaccompanied women and built by men’s mindset. Normally, men came with their camels, donkeys, horses and goods in large amounts that needed places to be stored. It has courtyard in the center surrounded by some columns. The upper levels are used as merchant’s rooms, meanwhile the bottom level is used for the animals. What makes me think this place is so interesting more than others? I consider this place as the melting pot, where people coming from different places gathering in one place to change the trades and their stories. While I was there, I sat on a big rocks, tried to imagine the normal scenes in centuries ago. That could a a tired looking old man feeding his horse, or a young man carrying his goods to the market, or group of people bragging around to impress others.
After almost 4 hours walking, Ismail left me to go to his next customer. Not long after, I left medina and went back to Riad Nassim. When I reached there, little Noura greeted me friendly and suddenly gave me a warm hug and kiss my cheeks immediately. A lovely greeting from nice little girl that I’ve just met a day before made me forget all exhaustions that I’d just had.