Moving through the Fez Medina is somewhat tricky. The main roads must be wide enough for at least two fully loaded camels to pass, but the offshoot streets seem to not hold to the same standard. Aside from the maze of winding streets and varying levels of elevation, there are lots of people, donkeys, and cats that are moving along as well. When I wasn’t focused on stepping on someone or into something, I was trying to take in everything: stacks of fruit and pyramids of nuts, various sweet smelling pastries, silver teapots and the occasional cow leg (and associated smell). The requests to make purchases were numerous: one man says simply”come to my shop” while another attempts to persuade us by claiming his prices are “democratic”. All of one’s senses were consistently engaged as we walked along the busy streets. On our second trip, I was able to engage with the city a bit more, which allowed for slightly deeper levels of observation.
Our second trip through the medina was lead by an Archaeologist Professor whose expertise is is cultural history (of things tangible and intangible). He mentioned that Fez was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1981. The city is full of beauty and history, so it’s easy to see why it was declared as such. It is remarkably well preserved for a medieval city. Uneven cobblestone, doors off their hinges, and chipped tiles, these things both added to the aesthetics and illuminated the toll that time has taken on the city. In some ways the wear and tear was more noticeable and alarming, such as the wooden beams in place to support the walls and prevent them from falling atop of travelers.
Who pays to repair such things? As we learned, the types of repairs needed require money that the locals do not have. As such major restorative work of the medina are funded by bodies such as the Moroccan government (Ministry of Culture), local agencies, and external funders. Madrasa’s (educational institutions) are open for exhibition and other places are included as historical sites and monuments. In another post I’ll share a little about my experience at Fondouk el-Nejjarine which is now a converted museum. On a smaller scale, there is the phenomenon of riad restoration. Riads are traditional homes that have central courtyards. In the past, families and extended families would live in one riad and together be responsible for maintenance. As this becomes less feasible, some families convert their riads into hotels or private residences for those visiting the city. If a family is unable to do this, there is also encouragement for foreigners to purchase and restore riads.
A question that comes to mind when talking about restoration is that of balance: how to preserve the city without making it dependent on tourism?