Monday, March 6
Breakfast was cheese, bologna, dates, olives, hard-cooked eggs, tomato, cucumber, and tea. The view from our table was splendid, overlooking a green valley and a broad stretch of the wall and medinah of Fes. It was a beautiful morning, sunny with blue sky.
8:30—on the bus and off to explore Fes.
In a few minutes, we were approaching the royal palace—7 sides and 7 gates, 7 being the best number in Islam. This is the oldest palace in Morocco: 14th century. Blue and green gate with three doors.
Nearby, we saw part of the wall that once surrounded the 14th-century Jewish quarter—Jewish quarter almost always near the palace, wherever there is both a palace and a Jewish community; usually a strong relationship between the royal family and Jewish community. Through the gate and into the old Jewish quarter. Jews came to escape the Spanish Inquisition. Windows look out, unlike traditional Moroccan houses, which face the street with blank walls, all windows facing into the interior courtyard.
We walked through the Jewish quarter and into the Muslim quarter, where minarets became visible.
Drove next to a hill that afforded us an overview of the medinah. The medinah is cut in half by the Fes River: Andalusian half and Karoan half. The river is spanned by a bridge built in the 9th century.
The medinah of Fes is a World Heritage Site. Because of the way the medinah is constructed, on the banks of the river, houses support each other—tear one down, and others fall. That’s why Unesco intervened to stop people who were trying to tear down houses to build stores, because it would cause too much destruction.
Hills rose up behind the medinah—the foothills of the Riff Mountains.
Green roofs: mosques or religious buildings.
Aziz pointed out the two fortresses within the medinah. He said that the two fortresses are connected by an 8-km tunnel that was built in the 16th century.
Five things make a quarter or sub-quarter independent: fountain, hammam (steam bath), mosque, public oven (people bring their dough, marked with a family sign of some sort, to be baked), and a Koranic school.
Aziz pointed out the extensive cemetery near the gate. He explained that cemeteries are always near gates, because it is hard enough to carry the coffin through the narrow streets of the city, and no one wants to go very far outside the gate with the burden that they have already carried a fair distance.
Medina: labyrinth—9,000 alleys, 850 are dead ends—64 square miles. Aziz was born and raised in this medina!
Fes ceramics are famous—and our next stop was a ceramics factory. We had a tour with demonstrations of the various stages of production. The clay used to produce this pottery is gray, which (they said) produces a higher quality pottery than red clay. Pits and residue from pressing olives is what they use to fire the kilns—it burns very hot (1200˚ C)—pottery bakes all day, cools for a week. Fes blue is produced using local minerals. Designs are drawn freehand: Berber patterns. Mosaics are produced by cutting tiles into smaller pieces. The pieces are placed face down into forms that contain the design, then cement is poured over it all. The mosaics are beautiful, but they weigh a ton.
The display/sales rooms were spectacular. I wanted everything, but settled for a bowl for myself and a cup for a friend back home—but I did get their web address, just in case.
And then on to the medinah! Into the ancient, labyrinthine streets that are impossibly wonderful and seem to belong to a different time. We started in the Andalusian side of town.
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Come along as I travel through Morocco, from ancient city to endless desert. Enjoy the history and beauty -- as well as the excellent food (I'm food historian -- I have to write about the food) as I circle this wonderful and ancient country full of...