Whilst Marrakech has deservedly soared in popularity over the last decade, attracting tourists in their droves to its colourful souk and vibrant main square, Fes has remained relatively under the radar.
Entering through the ornate arched blue gate of Bab Boujloud into the atmospheric medina is like stepping back in time. If you thought Marrakech was exotic, it’s nothing compared to Fes, which is a veritable ancient treasure trove! Founded in 789, Fes is the oldest and the only fully functioning and intact medieval Arab city in the world. The medina is like a rabbit warren of ancient alleys and it’s very easy to get lost, believe me, I did! It’s recommended that you hire a guide to help you navigate, or failing that, follow the series of different tourist trails through the medina, discovering new gems at each turn. Its palaces, madrasas (schools) and mosaic fountains are jewels of craftsmanship which after years of neglect are now being painstakingly repaired and restored to their former glory.
Leather is a thriving trade in Fes and a visit to the tanneries is a must despite the pungent smell! Here you can look down upon the tannery workers, perched on the side of huge dying pots below, tackling huge pieces of cow hide and buy reasonably priced bags, belts and jackets.
Within the medina, the dusty and often steep alleys are a hive of activity and the sound of hooves trapping across cobble stones echo across the medina, from with processions of heavily laden donkeys, carrying everything from crates of coca cola and vegetables, to TV sets and furniture. UNESCO Listed Fes el Bali (the old town) is reportedly the largest car free urban areas in the world. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I stumbled across a ‘Donkey Rank’, Fes’s answer to a taxi rank and perhaps also a shopping trolley bay. Locals can hire one of a long line of down trodden looking mules to carry either themselves and perhaps a couple of other family members, or their recently purchased goods, which could be anything up to and including the kitchen sink, from A to B!
Unlike Marrakech, the medina in Fes is not geared as heavily towards tourism. There are rather decrepit market stalls dotted everywhere with noisy traders selling everyday goods. It really is a feast for the senses, the smell of the fishmongers and butchers, contrasts with spices and leather and everywhere you turn, you’re hit with new and strange sights and sounds. Possibly one of the most disconcerting but at the same time, utterly captivating sights, is the strangely peaceful looking Camel’s heads which hang above the butchers stalls as proof of the ‘fresh’ meat on sale.
Looking for a completely unique and truly authentic travel experience, far away from the madding crowds? Then Fes is just the ticket.