Thursday – March 19, 1998   –  Fès

Larbi has a local guide, to help lead us around Fès with its maze of streets and alleyways that snake through the souks. The first place we stop is the Royal Palace, Dar El Makhzen. It is not open to the public, but the exterior is more than enough to delight our eyes. We admire the zellige tilework, intricate stucco carvings and gigantic bronze doors. While we were there, a group of men were cleaning the doors with lemons, which were cut in half and rubbed on the surface. This is an excellent cleaning method and one I will remember. Our bus has parked directly in front of a post office and Martha took the opportunity to go inside not only to purchase stamps but also to snap a few photos.

We enter Fès el Bali (Old Fès) through yet another beautiful gate, the Bab Bou Jeloud. Once inside, we visit a shop selling all kinds of bronze and brass items. Martha and I purchase two small, colorfully decorated bronze plates. Phil also purchases a beautiful large plate. Next, we plunge right into the heart of the souks, twisting and turning along the streets passing shop after shop. In 1976, UNESCO named the medina in Fès el Bali as one of the world’s cultural treasures and a rescue program is currently underway. We stopped at the Kairouyine Mosque, founded in 857. It incorporates one of the world’s oldest universities, with a religious teaching tradition dating from the 10th century. Today it is among the largest mosques in the Maghreb, the region of northwest Africa comprising the coastlands and the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. We could not enter either building, but peeked inside the doorways for a glimpse of the architecture. From here, we went to a carpet factory. The staff served mint tea and proceeded to unfurl carpet after carpet for us to view. Only Marian made a purchase, and I suspect she had already decided what she wanted before leaving home. The blue-toned runner she bought is gorgeous and she really held the price line with the rug merchant. After the transaction was complete, his generous compliment to her was that she bargained like a true Berber!

Next stop is the Medersa Bou Inamia, the finest and largest medersa in Fès. As non-Muslims, we are allowed only to enter the courtyard of this school. The surrounding walls are covered with beautiful zellige mosaics, delicately carved stucco, and plasterwork (muqarna), bands of Kufic calligraphy, and cedar paneling. This is the characteristic architectural style and patterns we see repeated throughout Morocco. The artisans strive to cover every inch of space with designs of beauty and inspiration. Larbi explained the meaning of the tile pattern on the walls. It consists of interlocking black and white triangles, black pointing down and white pointing up. These symbolize evil thrown down into the ground, and praise rising upward to Allah.

Back into the streets, following the leader, we snake our way past stalls of woodworkers, basket makers, a small Koranic school, tailors, and a real estate agent. We see the local mailman, and Martha gets another photo for her collection. Eventually we are led into a cozy restaurant, where we are just grateful to sit down. As the salad course is being served, we realize that one of our group is missing! Larbi sends forth a “missing person” alarm via the other National guides, and an all-out search is launched. These guides have an incredible street network in place and the search is on. Although it took nearly an hour, Louise is found and returned to us, a little dazed, but none the worse for her solo wanderings. After lunch, we visit a few more souks. I bought a lightweight gray jellaba and Nancy purchased a fancy blouse.

Our long hike is not over yet. We are on the way to visit a tannery and are given sprigs of mint to hold under our noses. This supposedly will allay the horrid smells. The process, although messy, is fascinating to see, and yes, very malodorous! The mint helps a little, but I have a very low tolerance for odors and was happy to leave this area! We walk to a street lined with small shops and my next purchase is some saffron from a spice and henna souk. Martha and I also buy several tubes of green lipstick (which turns various shades of pink or red when applied), a cube of jasmine scent and some antimony eyeliner to give as souvenirs to our friends at home. While walking through a grain market, we see the mailman, making a delivery. This is the same man we encountered earlier in the day and he recognizes our group. The last stop is an antique store where we walked into and out of very quickly. We finally return to the hotel for a well-deserved rest before dinner. Later, Martha and I sit on the balcony pleasantly exhausted and silently watch another lovely sunset.