The Mystifying Gem of Morocco
Morocco is a magical country. For us Europeans it is like a fairy tale world, full of colors, diversity, amazing sights, stunning architecture, countless details, delicious food and, most of all, warm hospitality.
The most famous and popular city to visit is Marrakech, of course - a former imperial city and the forth largest city in Kingdom of Morocco. But the amazingly inspiring travelers Nadia Gámez (@travelthelife) and Javier Cubo (@javicubo) have given us a real treat and taken one of our pieces to the historic gem - the ancient city of Fez.
Fez is the oldest and probably one of the most underrated cities, not everyone would plan to stop there when visiting Morocco. But in fact, it is a true mystifying gem of culture frozen in time. Surrounded by the ancient walls, you will find the world largest car-free zone of 19th-century medina Fez El-Bali (old Fes) - a mesmerizing maze of alleys, ornate mosques, souks (market), workshops and food corners. There are always a steady flow of local people dressed in traditional clothes mixed with mules and donkeys carrying goods from and to the workshops of local artisans. It is no surprise that UNESCO has listed it as a World Heritage Site.
If you will manage to find your way through the maze (or hire a guide to navigate you through), make sure to see the two awe-inspiring madrasas (Islamic schools) deep in the heart of the medina: Madrasa al-Attarine and Bou Inania Madrasa. Impressively huge brass doors will open a treasure trove of mesmerizing intricate carvings, tiny details forming a kaleidoscopic patters, cedar mashrabiyas (exquisitely carved window screens) and marble columns.
And if you want not only to see, but also feel (or rather smell) the life within ancient medina - make sure to stop by the 11th century Chouara Tannery. Hundreds of hides are cured and tanned here by gradually soaking them in vats of pigeon excrement, cow urine and quicklime - to be turned afterwards in iconic leather poufs, sandals and other leather goods.
This would be definitely one of the most vital experiences and so worth of a little discomfort by smell. It is best to hire a local quite, who would show you the best spot on the rooftops with vantage view on the tannery and will provide you with fresh mint to hold under your nose and mask the smell. You will find yourself hypnotized watching the skillful workers balancing on the rims of countless dye vats. You should also remember to stop afterwards by local workshops to glimpse how the prepared hides are being transformed into pointy-toe slippers and skillfully embroidered with traditional patterns.
After the long day spent exploring the living museum of the old medina, you would be best rewarded by choosing one of the modernized riads (traditional Moroccan houses with stunning courtyards inside) as your lodging in Fez.
Nadia and Javier have chosen to stay in the luxurious Riad Fes, where you´d definitely feel like a princess in a castle from 1001 Nights tale. There are only 30 rooms furnished with hand-carved furniture, exquisit textiles and art pieces. It is an organic mixture of Andalusien and traditional Moroccan architecture with refined atmosphere and exceptional service. The crown of your stay would be the spectacular panoramic views from the rooftop on the old Fes medina and the Atlas Mountains - especially sensational spectacle at sunrises.
Fez is also extremely rich in the cuisine department, which is the perfect compliment to the many streets that you´d need to walk to see everything. Old and new, bizarre and delicious - everything blends together here, and if you´re brave enough to try out new things, you´ll definitely get a good work out for your taste buds. You can start in the old city, where you would find the astonishing variety of the most traditional street food almost every few meters. And when you´d want a little break and something tasting more familiar - you can head outside of the medina wall into the Ville Nouvelle (French for ‘new city’) to dive into the Moroccan modern take of the European cuisine.
In few words, Fez is truly a mystifying gem of Morocco that is so often overlooked. The blend of cultures, traditions and handicraft trades - no matter where you go in Fez, you will spend each day full of new astonishing experiences and sights.
Have you ever been to such amazing place? I´d love to hear your take on it in the comments below!
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