Ammoniacal odor inside Guerniz Tannery from lime and pigeon droppings used to soften the hides.
Belgha : Finely crafted and colorful Moroccan slippers inside Medina of Fes.
Photographed and printed on postcards, the Bab Boujaloud, the gateway a UNESCO Heritage Site.
In retrospect, everything and everyone in Fes, Morocco was utterly interesting to a curious travel-enthusiast like me. From the offensive and pungent atmosphere lording one of the oldest tanneries in Guerniz, to plethora of colors and textures of local commodities sold in the old medina.
With the sun almost ready to set its glory that afternoon, and an apparent warning sign of impending drizzle from the rain clouds covering the walled city that seemed frozen in time, I left the courtyard of Riad Rcif with an expert-local-tour-guide whom I pre-arranged with my accommodation.
The riad, or courtyard of Riad Rcif, my chosen kingdom for a night in Fes.
Silly me, I didn’t realize I would be walking around the medina of Fes for 3 hours literally. I was honestly expecting to ride a taxi cab or any mode of transportation but to my embarrassment, I didn’t think I’d be strolling around the world’s largest car-free-urban-zone! Thankfully, I wore comfortable rubber shoes, however, it never crossed my mind that I’d be walking uphill and downhill, that eventually challenged my stamina and put me to fatigue within few minutes. In case we’re on the same page before I discovered Fes, this ancient part of Morocco has more than 9000 narrow alleys where only mules and donkeys are allowed and remain inaccessible to anything modern with wheels. Obviously, my preparation for this trip wasn’t enough. Nonetheless, everything went better than I imagined.
A glimpse of the world’s largest car-free-urban-zone.
Just before the rain poured over Fes, we reached the medina via entering a massive gate known as the “bab.” Bab Boujaloud serves as the access to the new souk and a gateway to countless mosques and oldest madrasa or Islamic schools in the world.
Market scene in the Medina of Fes.
From the random market scenes, my attention was focused to Dar al-Magana, or the clock house. With 13 wooden windows and platforms with brass bowls, the water clock has its own unique mechanism that’s best explained on Wiki :
“The motion of the clock was presumably maintained by a kind of small cart which ran from left to right behind the twelve doors. At one end, the cart was attached to a rope with a hanging weight; at the other end to a rope with a weight that floated on the surface of a water reservoir that was drained at a regular pace. Each hour one of the doors opened; at the same time a metal ball was dropped into one of the twelve brass bowls. The rafters sticking out of the building above the doors (identical to the rafters of the Bou Inania Madrasa) supported a small roof to shield the doors and bowls. The bowls have been removed since 2004 and the clock mechanism is being restored as one of Fes’ remarkable landmarks.”
As bizaare as the water clock, there’s a stall across that sells bottled rose water and dried rose hips.
Opposite to the water clock is the Madrasa Bou Inania; the only Muslim school in Fes with a minaret, or that tall spire with conical onion shaped structure, seen at a distance from the bab. It was an architectural masterpiece!
I made it clear with my tour guide that I have limited pocket money hence, I didn’t have interest in buying unnecessary things. However, I effortlessly swallowed my words and digested it in no time when I purchased 3 wallets made of camel leather in different hues (I thought they’re good pieces to symbolize tanneries in Fes, and to be included in the little travel-inspired-prizes to be given away via a blog contest I’ll be conducting on December. Stay tuned!).
From else where in the medina, your nose will guide you towards one of the three oldest tanneries in Fes and probably the world. I went up the roof top of a leather shop over looking Guerniz Tannery.
Lime and ammonia from pigeon droppings are used to soak hides to soften them and to scrape off hair easily. Needless to say, the aroma wasn’t pleasing to the senses, but the experience of actually looking at everything, like a scene directly out of a postcard or an Oscar-Award-Winning-Hollywood-movie was indeed one for the books! Learning that their traditional tanning of leather takes about 1 to 1 and half month to do, I had deeper appreciation of the tedious labor exerted to create wallets, bags and other leather goods.
Following my tannery-experience, I found myself privileged to stand by the doors of Mosquee Al Qaraouiyine within the other medina. Considered as the most vibrant symbol of Moroccan architecture that was founded in the 9th century, Al Qaraouiyine University and Mosque holds Guiness World Records and listed by UNESCO as the oldest existing and continually operating educational institution in the world.
Even feline species in Fes are fascinating and friendly.
Built in 13th century, another Islamic school that I saw in Fes was the Attarine Madrasa. Its interiors was so intricate and opulent, it was actually breathtaking!
Arabesque-beauty. That moment I wished I could read Arabic.
I was also brought to a store that creates and sells Djellaba, the traditional Berber long sleeved robe and scarf worn usually by locals of Northern Africa. It’s noteworthy that Berber men use cactus thread and all natural dyes in weaving Djellaba. The result was super-soft-woven masterpieces; I bought 2 scarves in dark brown and blue.
Trying out traditional Berber attire called, Djellaba, particularly worn in the desert; protective of sand storm.
Three hours of walking tour around the two medina, Fes-el Bali (the UNESCO World Heritage Site), and the district of Qaraouiyine wasn’t enough to cover everything about Fes. However, it’s still enriching than watching a mediocre film on screen, ergo, I would not trade the travel experience with something else.