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  • Writer's picturePaul W Furmański

Musings from Morocco 4: Hats off to Fez

It’s said that we never really visit a place unless we get lost in it and, with its narrow warren-like medina that often had me wondering which rabbit-hole I’d gone down and a GPS signal that’s patchy at best, it’s very easy to “visit” Fés.

I trekked the two miles from the station and entered the medina through an inconspicuous side entrance, eventually finding my way to the stunningly beautiful Riad Sidrat. I felt as if I had gone through a magical door as I entered into a world so artistically sumptuous and peaceful that all I wanted to do is to sit and absorb the stillness and intricate architecture of the forecourt for a good half an hour before going to my room upstairs where I marvelled at the soft reflected light which caressed the courtyard below while simultaneously bursting through the stained glass windows like a nimcha cutting colours across the tiled floor. Once again, all I wanted to do is absorb the beauty of it all in the moment before showering after which I ascended the small stone staircase to the warmth of the roof terrace under a cloudless sky.

It was a long day which started out early in Marrakech so a sound night’s sleep followed by a good breakfast was just what was needed before I ventured into the medina the following day. Short stretches of paved alleyways with sharp corners and rugged walls were the backdrop to the city’s inhabitants; men carrying things or chatting as they sat watching the comings and goings, motor bikes and people passing the ends of passages all played cameo roles in the scenes in front of me as I ambled the passageways in my quest to find the Sidi Moussa tannery.

Getting lost was as interesting as it was easy once I came off the main trading route. The predominantly yellow tones of the walls were sometimes piqued by blues, pinks and umbers while buttresses prevented them from falling into each other or held up higher levels of the buildings behind them. Light and shade, left and right, wider paths lead to the narrowest of alleys and every now and then I’d arrive in a place where I could pick up an intermittent GPS signal to check how my homing pigeon skills had been working. I eventually arrived in a warren-like area and knew I was very close to the tannery but the passages all looked the same to my uninitiated eye. Help came when a local saw me checking my phone and asked me where I wanted to go but, although I was aware that I was both lost and in need of a GPS signal, I was reluctant to follow him at first. Fortunately, he came back for me and took me through passages to the entrance which, had I been obstinate, could have taken me hours to find, not least because the overview I was looking for was only accessible by walking through a store.

I was grateful that this wasn’t just another type of “see my uncle’s shop” experience that I had got used to in Marrakech as I engaged my guide who explained what was going on below. The caustic smell of ammonia was immediate and I wondered what strong constitution the men who have to breathe it in had while I watched them undertake back-breaking work in rendered brick tubs which spread out like a square-sided honeycomb. Some tubs remove the main hair and some remove the finer, all of which turns the hide into the softest of leather, while others impregnate the colours and make it ready to be turned into the wares I was naturally invited to inspect in the store before I left. I thanked my guide and gave him an unsolicited tip for his time and interesting information as we went downstairs where astoundingly beautiful leatherwear emanated a rather more pleasant and familiar scent. As so often I’ve found when travelling in a country which maintains its history of craftsmanship, I may well have bought a number of unneeded items just for the sheer pleasure of their beauty and quality.

For me, the medina in Fés is a dream location. Maintaining its history in its rugged walls, the maze-like paths are broken every now and then with intricate tiled water fountains while children play around corners and market stalls on the arterial routes spill over with spices, produce and wares. In other parts craftsmen are at work; tinkers work with copper while others sharpen their knives on foot operated stones but, in every direction, the richness of Moroccan identity and culture stimulates the senses through ubiquitous colours, patterns and fragrances. Restaurants offer the most wonderful Tajin dishes while Bab Boujloud, “The Blue Gate”, is both an invitation into the medina’s intimate paths inside the walls and also the exit to a more modern world which, in some senses, is a poor comparison to the vibrant expressions of traditional Moroccan life within.

I hope you've enjoyed me sharing these experiences with you and you can check out a small set of associated images under 'Latest Images' on the Portfolio page, from where you can access all the other image content also and, if you've enjoyed the blog, then let me know by giving it a ❤️ and you can access all the others from the main menu or directly from the Blog page.

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1 Comment

Apr 11

Fantastic photography, Paul. Easily taken for granted that Féz and other Moroccan cities are beautiful, your 'eye' brings out the magic, textures, hues and small social interactions. Very evocative of, what often seems like, a bygone memory found only in the children's story book.

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