Our trip to Fez was quite an experience, on several levels. Prior to our arrival, all I knew of Fez was this: it was one of the four imperial cities, former capital of Morocco, and it was known as a medieval city. I’m happy that this is no longer all I know, for the city holds many wonders that could easily remain unknown if one does not have the chance to explore. I’ll share first impressions in this post, and then short bits on aspects of Fez I appreciated in some others.
We toured the medina of the old city (Fez el Bali) twice during our stay. Our first trip was led by a guide, a master’s level student whose expertise and experience allowed for us to have a good first impression of the medina. He commented that most tour groups begin in the North and then continue South. However, we began our tour in the South and continued North, which allowed for a more chronological progression through the city’s development. Once inside the medina, one will immediately see how it can be referred to as the “soul of Morocco”. Outside the walled city it was quite hot, yet upon entering there was a noticeable drop in temperature making the remainder of the interior tour more bearable for our group. With our guide at the head and professor at the rear we traveled one by one, like the passenger cars of a train, into the city. But here there were no trains or trams like in Rabat and Casablanca, no cars or petit taxis, or even bikes.
Along the main road we passed through many people dressed in traditional wear selling all sorts of goods, men pushing carts and donkeys pulling loads, and much to feast our eyes upon. There are over a million people living within the walls of Fez. Each turn this way and that leads to more people, alleys, new sights and smells. The arrangement of the city is still somewhat unknown to me, but is somehow arranged in concentric circles with each circle representing different aspects of society. Most central are the holy spaces and places such as the mosques. Next are the work and professional spaces, then residential spaces, then come the city walls with the cemeteries and suburbs (bidonvilles) outside. With this first trip, Fez seemed to me a mystical labyrinth filled with odds and ends that could only be made more visually expansive if J.K. Rowling were to describe it.
As a city, Fez seems to have moved into the future without losing hold of its heart. My experience in Rabat has been great, but much of what I see on a daily basis is new construction and it usually our lectures that bring to light what was old. However in Fez, much of everything seemed to remain the same or somehow linked to its past. In this way it is living history.