Fez – Try not to get lost in the medina

May 2nd ~ The Medina of Fez

Inside the medina in Fez

Inside the medina in Fez

In 2007 we took a ferry from Spain and spent a whirlwind day in Tangiers. I had been enchanted by the colorful bazar marketplace. Having an opportunity to return to Morocco and have an entire day to wander the narrow streets of the medina was an exciting prospect.

The medina of Fez is the world’s largest car-free urban area. There are no motorized vehicles allowed inside and heavy items are transported via horse, donkey or mule. The city has been called the “Mecca of the West” and the “Athens of Africa”. 

Patiently waiting or getting a much deserved rest

Patiently waiting or getting a much deserved rest

Try to imagine 1/2 a million people living on 650 acres, inside a walled city with narrow alleys and passageways. Then pretend you are transported back a thousand years in time.

There are no windows and seemingly no exits as you wind through an endless maze of walkways.

One of thousands of small alleyways

One of thousands of small alleyways

Thankfully we have a hired professor for a guide as well as Gate 1 guide (Ham) and an additional assistant with us today to help us manipulate our way through. One could so easily get lost here. We were asked to make sure to wear our Gate 1 name tags, stay together, and if by chance we were to get separated from the group to stay where we were and they would come and find us. We also had Ham’s cell phone number written on the back of our name tags.

Yes, it truly was that confusing and I loved every moment of it…

There are shops lining the way with hawkers offering colorful wares, fresh fruits, dates, olives, clothing, copper pans.

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Shops line both sides of the street

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Large wooden doors that hide an unknown mystery behind them

There are tradespeople to sharpen your knife, sew new clothes, make you a pair of leather shoes.

Get something stitched

Get something stitched

Buy some eggs

Buy some eggs

Or a copper pot

Or a copper pot

Shelling fava beans

Shelling fava beans

Go down another alley and observe blank sand colored walls broken up with a large wooden door. And then a sudden burst of color.

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Just one of many examples of fun wall decorations

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Art or graffiti

You could be walking down one small alleyway and suddenly walk through a large door to enter a courtyard filled with the most amazing and intricate architectural detailing. In this case it was the famed Al-Bou Inania madrasa.

Artistic splendor

Artistic splendor

(You can click on any of these pictures to see a larger version)

When you get near the tannery area you are assaulted with pungent odors. I had really been looking forward to visiting the Chouwara Tannery. Probably one of the most well-known photo opportunities from Morocco is seeing the enormous vats where the hides are dyed. You have probably seen something like this:

This is what I thought we would be seeing (photo courtesy of

This is what I thought we would be seeing (photo courtesy of Burrand-Lucas.com)

But, due to a large renovation project that is being funded by the King, the entire tannery has just been refurbished.

The tanks are shiny clean and empty.

They are waiting for the King to visit next week so that they can have a ceremony and then get back to business. So I got a rather unique opportunity to take a rare picture, even if it was not the one I was hoping to get.

Tannery dye tubs all empty

Tannery dye tubs all empty

The walls throughout the medina are also being redone which you can easily see if you compare the walls of the homes on my picture v.s. the one above.

Occasionally we needed to move aside for a beast of burden to pass by. It was also VERY important to watch where you stepped along the way.

This is the only form of transportation allowed inside the walls

This is the only form of transportation allowed inside the walls

Of course we had the obligatory stop to shop for authentic Moroccan carpets plus a short visit at the Nejjarine Museum to browse the collection of wooden arts and crafts.

Our tour ended outside the Karaouine Mosque and University, the oldest continuously functioning university in the world, founded in the year 859.

We exited via the Bab Boujloud, or “Blue Gate” which I believe there is a replica of this gate at Epcot center in Florida.

Blue Gate

Blue Gate

Back on our bus, we drove through the Jewish Quarter, or mellah, built in 1438 and walked past the King’s Palace.

Presidential Palace in Fez

Presidential Palace in Fez

Our long day was topped off with a typical Moroccan dinner hosted by a local family in their home.

Happy to pose for us

Happy to pose for us

Overnight: Fez – La Perle De La Medina

GRATITUDE MOMENT: Today I am grateful for having three guides with us as we wandered, wove, dodged and explored the medina. Fun day!

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About Tim and Joanne Joseph

Hi and welcome! We are Tim and Joanne Joseph and we have just embarked on our "next chapter". At a stage in life where traveling the world, taking pictures, and sharing our adventures with friends and family will be our dream come true.
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21 Responses to Fez – Try not to get lost in the medina

  1. paperpopups says:

    Wonderful story, no surprise there as I love how you write. As I read I often wonder if the quest to provide photos for your readers distracts from your enjoying your tours.

    I am so curious to know what you buy during your travels – but then I assume you would post photos of that as well.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for the wonderful questions. I truly love photography and it is both a passion and hobby. I’m sure there are times when I miss out by having a camera pressed to my face, but it really is enjoyable for me to be able to “show” the story as well as tell it. This blog was originally started as a memory aid for myself as well as a way to keep a few family members and friends back home up to date on our adventures and where we were. Now it has morphed into another hobby and I love sharing with anyone crazy enough to want to join us.

      We rarely purchase anything on our travels. Being at a time in our lives of “downsizing”, it just seems counter productive to buy more “stuff”. I do get an occasional scarf, necklace or earrings which are all easy to pack. Sometimes a small gift for a friend or family member. This trip I’m hoping to pick up some Argan oil.

      Sure appreciate your following along!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Nancy says:

    A very exciting adventure! The architecture is breathtaking. It really puts our drab modern building to shame. It seems like the market would not be a good place for someone uncomfortable in enclosed places and it was very good to know you had guides to show you the way. Thanks for sharing!

    Like

  3. ardysez says:

    Thanks to your well-written description and well-taken photos I don’t think I will have to take the chance of getting lost in the medina! I’m very directionally challenged! Reminds me of the markets and streets in Istanbul, combined with the architecture from the Alhambra in Granada. Thanks so much for the virtual tour!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great analogy. We talked about the similarity to the Grand Bazar in Istanbul but the medina is sooooo much bigger. It really is an entire little world all smushed together in one location. I’m betting there are quite a few people who were born in the medina and have never been outside of the walls.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great blog, Joanne, capturing the essence of wandering through the medina for a day, right down to the nitty gritty of watching where you step. I am going with art instead of graffiti on the two panels. –Curt

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    • Curt, I too thought the paintings were very artistic. I failed to write about all the cats in the medina. I lost count of how many we saw, but they seemed to be everywhere. They were friendly, laid back and very much at home whether asleep in a shop, lying along the side of the walkway or slowly meandering off to who knows where. I finally saw one dog and asked our guide about the discrepancy. He told me that the Moroccan people consider dogs as outside animals and are used on the farms to guard the sheep, goats or cattle. They consider the entire medina “inside” and don’t feel that dogs belong there.

      Liked by 1 person

      • If my memory serves me correctly, the dog is considered ‘unclean’ within Islam Joanne. Not surprised you only saw one. As for cats, they have a way at seeming like they own the place wherever you find them. 🙂 –Curt

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  5. leannenz says:

    Wonderful! really bought back the memories! I was surprised to see your clean vats too!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Just stunning. I’d love to travel but must do so vicariously through the blogs of people like you. Thank you for sharing. I’m reminded of the days when I sat in the back of the library and read the National Geographic after school.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. What a great tour – how impressive that no cars are permitted though I can understand why. Must have been perfect for strolling; never having to watch for traffic.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. leannenz says:

    Joanne, loving following your Morocco adventure! I would love to do a post using my tannery photos and I was wondering if I could use your photo of the clean vats and of course credit it to you and link back to your post. It is such a fascinating comparison / difference.

    Like

  9. Arati says:

    Thanks for the wonderful tour. The colors and architecture and the empty vats!

    Like

  10. Pingback: #190 Medina – You Inspire Me

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