Today we are going to Muse about Fes, Morocco, the world’s largest medieval city. If this is your first visit, welcome to Musings. If you have been here before, welcome back. Over time we are going to talk about many things: the past, the present, perhaps the future, travel, art, society and more. Wherever my musing takes me. I hope you will come along with me.
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One of the highlights of our recent trip was our stay in Fes, a most interesting city. The Medina, the walled city, is the largest city area in the world where there are no cars. There is the occasional motorbike, but otherwise the travel is by foot or donkey. It is also said to be the best surviving example of a medieval city. When the French took control of this part of Morocco in 1912 they moved the seat of government to Rabat and they prohibited the further development and modernization of the Medina, effectively freezing it in time.
Seen from the terrace of our hotel, the Riad Fes, the Medina looks very much like it did in 1960 when I first saw it as a teenager.
It would be difficult to see any difference. But there are differences. In fact there are thousands of them. Do you see them? Look again. Here is a different view.
No? Perhaps this will help.
That is progress.
Anyway morning came to us in Fes and after a nice breakfast we decided to explore the Medina.
The Medina is a honeycomb of streets, some very narrow, none very wide. We stayed on the main arteries, otherwise we would have had no idea where we were or how to get back. There is a constant flow of people and occasionally animals. You can buy almost anything. The only item I don’t remember seeing in the Medina was alcohol, and even it is available in the hotels and restaurants.
We stopped here and I had a quick lunch. Not so good!
We walked until we were foot sore. So much to see.
The next day we hired a driver to give us a tour by car around the area outside of the Medina. Our first stop was a pottery manufacturing business. Fes is known for quality pottery.
White clay is available in the area and that is what the potters use. Here you see it in its unprocessed state.
From here the clay is soaked for days and kneaded and worked into a moist plastic form.
Tiles are a basic product. These are tile blanks laid out to dry in the sun.
After the tiles have dried sufficiently they will be fired before being decorated and glazed and fired again. This is a gas fueled Kiln.
There were four or five kilns that I saw. Likely there were more.
The old style kilns use animal dung for fuel. It is smelly and smoky. The potters used to work within the Medina but, because of the smell and smoke, they are now located outside the city walls in less densely inhabited areas.
In addition to tiles, the potters make bowls, vases and other utilitarian items. All the work is hand-made. There are no molds or stamped out pieces.
And, of course, there is a large show room and all things are available, shipping included.
There was disappointment when we did not buy. Beautiful work but we were not in the market.
In addition to pottery, Fes is famous for leather. The Leather Souq, the oldest leather tannery in the world, dates back at least nine centuries. It is best viewed from a balcony above. Under certain conditions it can be quite smelly and people are handed sprigs of mint to crush and hold to their nose to quench the odor. When we were there it was not bad but on hotter days the experience might be different. The a site has not changed since the 11th century.
The gray vats are for leathers that will be used for things like hand bags, brief cases, shoes, wallets, etc. The leather is stiffer than that used in clothing. The colored vats contain vegitable dye and the leather from them is very soft and is used in clothing.
If you want to know more about the process, click here: tannery process
These yellow hides have been processed and are being laid out to dry. All around the edge of the city, anywhere there is open vacant land, hides are laid out to dry.
We found this quite interesting and actually visited the tannery twice, once where these pictures were taken and once across at the balcony in the distance.
And, of course we each came away with a leather jacket.
At twilight we were back at the terrace overlooking the Medina. The shadows were creeping across the rooftops.
In the distance we saw a cloud of smoke develop.
Eventually it was a plume staining the sky. Actually there were three of these around the city.
We were told they were the old style dung burning kilns firing up for the evening burn. It goes on every night! We understand why they moved them out of the Medina!
more to come
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