Fes is a town of over 1.3 million people, of which about 450,000 people live in the old Medina – the walled city. If you have the chance definitely visit this town – its unlike any western experience you’ve probably ever had. The Medina area is truly like stepping back in time.
Fes is one of the largest medieval type cities still in existence. At first glance the buildings of Fes all blend together because they are all white or shades of dark – it is interesting to note that colored buildings in this town are almost nonexistent. The reason for this is that religiously what is “important” is to be found inside – hence the outside of the homes are very drab, dull and unimpressive. However, as soon as you enter some of the these homes – wow! What tile work, mosaics and pride the people take in their homes. There is one thing that alerts you to the fact that you are looking at a 21st century city; almost every house displays a round satellite dish on their rooftop. It is interesting to note that all of these satellite dishes look exactly the same as they are all obviously from the same company. There are thousands of these spread across Fes.
In the Medina ways of life are very similar to how they have been for hundreds upon hundreds of years. Cars are not allowed within the Medina for obvious reason – most of the streets are merely pathway sized and for the most part are too narrow for vehicles.
You are lucky if you see a motor scooter inching its way through the narrow streets trying to wind its way through the crowds. Men with mules roam the streets in the early morning – they are very effective as the towns garbage collectors.
Century old crafts and tile work is still produced today. Individual pieces of tile which form the basis for the incredible mosaics seen in Fes are still crafted entirely by hand. In certain parts of old town Fes you can see men huddled in front of rocks chipping at tile with iron tools – slowly and painstakingly crafting each unique piece of tile.
There are three distinct parts of Fes, the central Medina, the Royal Palace section, and the “new town” located completely outside of the Medina walls. Culturally the most interesting area is the Medina. There are over 360 mosques contained within the Medina and on Fridays at the largest mosque over 2000 people will gather at any one time to pray.
The core of the Medina is the artisan shops and craftwork including clothing (a good selection of Jalabas – a robe like the ones worn by the Jedi Knights in the Star War Series), rugs, leatherwork, and other arts and crafts.
Its quite easy to become lost in Fes – there are many winding streets – getting lost is of course a bit of the charm as you don’t know what you will end up finding. This is a good way to spend a day in Fes, getting “lost” in the Medina. The Taxis in Fes are mostly all little red cars. They should have meters in them – the train station is about a 15 – 20 minute ride from the Medina. The taxis always charge more for night rides.
The tanneries are a must visit. These are located in the north eastern part of the Medina right at the edge of the Medina and are an area that contains about a hundred vats full of colored liquids that are used for soaking animal leather skins to change their colors.
The vats are made with mud and some are rimmed with tile. The morning is the best time to visit the tanneries as the vats are still filled with the colored liquid. The liquid is composed of urine, fish oils, animal fats and several chemicals. The stench is certainly worse on a warm day. You can walk up stairs that lead to “lookouts” over the tanneries – as well as views outside of the Medina. For entering these tanneries you will be asked for a small donation.
From the rooftops or from other high vantage points in Fes you can sometimes see the distant hills a spray of different colors. These colors are from the rugs that have been colored in the tanneries and then spread out on the hillsides to dry.