Fez the Soul of Morocco

It is a city with many mystical qualities, and one which seems to exemplify the romance of old Arabia, which conjures up ideas of camel trains and traders, bustling bazaars and a myriad of narrow laneways winding their way between walls of mud brick mansions.

This is Fez, a medieval city in Morocco which seems almost unchanged since its inception during the 14th century.

Morocco has four imperial cities: Rabat, Marrakech, Meknes and Fez. Whilst the commonly help impression of Fez is that it consists solely slim streets and wildly erratic bazaars, the city actually consists of three distinct parts being the old walled city, the new Fes and Ville Nouvelle, which was created by the French Imperialists during their reign through part of the 20th century.

Most interest in Fez, however, centres around the old walled city, with its markets, mosques and, particularly, its leather works that are easily found just by following your nose.

The tanneries are located near the Fez River. Here the raw hides of camels, cows, goats and sheep are brought into fez and are sold, then immediately put through the complex tanning process which includes softening them in bath consisting of pigeon poo and water. It is this completely natural agent which is responsible for the foulest of the tannery’s odours. Tourists do come here to watch the tanners at work, but they normally overlook the tannery from a great height, and are often supplied with sprigs of mint with which to hold to their delicate noses lest they be offended by the foul ammonia emanating from the ponds.

Once inside the medina, or old city, it is possible to become disoriented as there are estimated to be 9,000 streets within the sector, and there is a pattern of five concentric circles which, apparently, reflect Islamic philosophy, but to the ordinary, casual visitor, it can be simply confusing.

The streets are so lively that you never feel lost, simply because there is always something on which to focus your attention. The shops here sell just about everything and there are no set prices as it is the custom to haggle over the price. If the tannery section of the city adversely affects your sense of smell, in the old city it is the wonderful aromas of herbs and spices and of the foods they are cooked with which assault you and brings on pangs of hunger.

Try the mint tea, Moroccan coffee, pastries, pancakes and breads filled with all types of meat, including camel.

Fez is chaotic, frantic, enchanting and abuzz with humanity. Not quite the place to relax, but for excitement few places can better it.

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