Fes is the oldest and largest medieval city in the world. The old walled city is said to be the largest car-free urban area in the world and is filled with alleyways and shops. We started our day in Fes at a ceramics studio where tiles for mosaics are handmade by a few men starting with the formation of clay. The tiles are then cut and painted to form small pieces for inlay for the mosaics. We also admired the traditional pottery made on wheels pushed by the feet of the potters rather than by machine.
In the medina, we stopped to tour an old madrasa, or school for Islamic instruction. We also visited the University of Al Quaraouiyine, the oldest existing, continually functioning university in the world. It was founded by Fatima al-Fihri (a woman!) in 859.
Winding through the narrow alleyways of the medina in Fes was a trip highlight for me. There are over 9,400 alleys in the medina producing a cacophony of sights, sounds, and aromas. Men selling various spices set up shop next to butchers and bakers. Around the corner, men beat copper plates to form bowls, tapping with hammers like the beating of a drum. The next turn brings you to dye street where river water is used to dye clothing and yarn in various shades with indigo, henna, and saffron. And then the pungent smell of the tanneries hit you like a ton of bricks. Men at the door of leather shops hand over sprigs of mint to buffer the aroma. Within a square of buildings, the old tanneries that have functioned for hundreds of years are still in everyday use. Men hop between giant vats of color, dunking animal hides for hours to dye them brilliant hues. It is fascinating to watch.
Lastly, we visited the royal palace also called Dar al-Makhzen known for its ornate bronze doors.
Fes’s remarkable history and deep cultural roots tugged at me more than any other city we visited during our tour of Morocco. I was shocked to say the least. I had heard Fes wasn’t worth visiting, which now seems an abomination to me. Spending hours mazing through alleys and souks was the epitome of what I envisioned of Morocco before I had stepped foot in the country, and the thought of not experiencing an integral part of the culture is ghastly. I highly recommend at least one day in Fes for anyone traveling to this beautiful country.