Here is what we picture when we imagine the city of Fes.
The city of Fes is broken up into two main parts, Ville-Nouvelle (New Town) and Fes El-Bali, which is the medina of Fes. Because the medina of Fes is the most remarkable part of Fes, most of my time will be spent describing the sights of the medina, but it is also important to understand a bit about the New Town of Fes.
The New Town of Fes is beautiful. It is the modern part of Fes. In the New Town of Fes, you will see beautiful fountains and boulevards. One of the favorite fountains is the fountain by McDonald’s that dances according to the music being played. Cars and taxis are all over New Town, and you will be able to find malls and many stores.
You can see the difference between the medina and the New Town as you drive closer to the medina. You’ll start to see large walls (as the medina is a walled in city) and the buildings will start to look older.
The true medina starts where the cars end. Cars aren’t allowed onto the cobblestone streets, so you will start to see donkeys or mules everywhere. Mules will pass you, often with their owners calling out “be careful!” as they carry large crates of Coca Cola or other products.
There are cafes filled with men talking about the latest news of the day or watching the soccer game. Some of them will simply be doing crossword puzzles or drinking their tea. If you are walking by in the afternoon, you might see school children in their traditional white uniforms, grouping together and giggling as they walk back from their school.
Fes is full of delicious smells. You might walk by a bakery where the fresh khobz is made daily. Moroccans who don’t have an oven in their home will bring their loaves of bread to be baked here. You might even see someone walking towards the bakery with a flat tray on their head to carry the loaves with. There are small stalls that sell other fresh breakfast breads, such as warm Malawi or harsha.
Before the deep streets of the medina begin, there is a large gate, called Bab Boujeloud. It is tiled in blue on one side and green on the other. There are small cafes and restaurants surrounding this gate, as it is a main entry point to the medina. If you look through the arch of the Bab, you’ll see taxis and other cars turning to make their way back to New Town.
Walk a little further, and you will be entering one of the main streets of the medina. Suddenly, there are many stalls of fruits and vegetables right in front of you. Bright, colorful fruits are arranged in crates. If you need help picking some of them out, the shopkeeper will swing from behind the produce to help you.
This is where the life of the medina is. Women are examining the produce and picking out the best tomatoes for their tagine that evening. You’ll hear sharp but good natured bargaining as shopkeepers pretend to be surprised by how much the shopkeeper is asking. Most people have a specific vendor that they usually purchase from.
A little further down is the meat market. A camel’s head dangles from a hook over the shop. Loud squawking can be heard as you walk by. It’s the sound of a chicken being selected for someone’s next meal. People are walking past, picking up their chicken or beef from the butcher. Stray cats slink along the gutter, hoping to catch a few scraps.
As you continue walking down the street of the medina, you’ll start to see other little streets branching off the main street.
You’ll pass shops with red and brown carpets on display, concealing hundreds more up in the storeroom. The intricacy of the patterns are amazing. You’ll see shops with glittering lanterns hanging, some of them in the shapes of stars. Blue and white pottery is also on display – these are the colors of Fes.
There are hundreds of interesting shops deep in the tiny streets. Men sit on chairs outside of their shops, talking to other vendors and calling out for you to come into their stores as you walk by. Bright music plays from the CD shops.
The street slopes downwards as you continue to explore. You could spend the whole afternoon looking at the old schools, tiny shops bursting with different colored threads and sewing supplies, or the boards of jewelry on the side of the street.
You almost don’t notice how far you have gone until you have turned around and are looking up at all the distance you have to cover. Second chance to catch things you might have missed!