After a tiring 3-day adventure being off-the-grid enjoying the beauty of Sahara Desert, it felt great to be able to enjoy a nice long hot shower and be back in a city, this time the city of Fes, Morocco.
If there is one rookie mistake we made throughout our Morocco trip it must be the decision to allocate only 2 days to discover Fes. 2 days is just way too short to absorb a lot of things Fes has to offer.
It turns out that Fes (or Fez to some) is a charming old city that we ended up enjoying more than Marrakesh. Despite the Medina is equally hectic, somehow the old lanes felt more authentic, the ambience was less commercial and more importantly the locals were more friendly and approachable. No surprise that Fes’ Medina has been named to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1981.
Riads in Fes are as beautiful and we made the right decision to stay right in the Medina where all the action is just a few steps away. My wife and I chose Riad Taryana as our base in Fes due to its location (and obviously price factor).
Fes continues to be an icon of medieval Islamic society set in modern times. We stumbled upon various Madarasahs that continue to serve its role in teaching Islam across many generations.
The location of our riad is right next to Bou Inania Madrasa, a must-see attraction in Fes, so it made perfect sense for us to be the first couple of visitors to enter the Madrasa on the day we visited.
Entering the Madrasa you would easily be amazed by its signature large marble courtyard flanked by two sizeable halls. In the middle of the courtyard, a place to perform wudhu’.
Elements of the Andalusian architecture and beautiful craftsmanship of wood carving can be seen as we explored the Madrasa. Right in front of the courtyard is the prayer hall section of the Madrasa which is off-limits to tourists but I did manage to perform my Friday prayers there later that day.
Just outside the Madrasa is the famous Dar al-Magana (Arabic for “clockhouse”) a house that holds a weight-powered water clock. Completed in 1357, it’s an intricate clock where water flows from one end to the other and calculates time. The clock mechanism inside is currently being reconstructed and it would be cool to see it back in action one day!
The old medina of Fes is an attraction by itself. Hundreds of lanes would bring you to various part of the old city and there is always something to see, buy, smell and eat! We were told that back then the residents of the old medina could live their entire life without ever venturing outside. You really have everything here.
Going through the narrow lanes, it would not take long for us to realise how often we had used minarets of mosques as our landmarks to navigate. True enough, the way Fes medina was designed is by having mosques positioned in the center of the city with shops and residences built around them.
And the next mosque we visited is amazing for one reason. Not only because it is the second largest mosque in Morocco but it is impressive to know that this mosque and madrasa is recognised by the Guinness World Records as well as UNESCO as the oldest continuously operating, degree-granting university in the world.
I present to you, the world’s oldest university – The University of Al-Karaouine
Founded in 859 AD, this mosque has a simple yet elegant design with Andalusian influence and Kufic calligraphy but what caught my attention during the visit was the fact that this mosque and Fes specifically has played a significant role in producing Muslim scholars with students coming from all parts of the world including Malaysia.
Besides education and tourism, Fes’s old city is still based on traditional industries such as tanneries, trading of leather goods, soap making and textile. Visiting a leather tannery in Fes is a must-do kind of experience for good and bad reasons.
On a positive side, the tanneries offer a unique view and learning experience on how leather is being processed into goods – yes, your expensive bags, belts and jackets. It is also unfortunately the no# 1 item in the “scam” or “tourist trap” list for Fes.
We went with our hotel guide thinking that we will be safe from the street promoters who will try to lead you to their stores. We survived that part. But we will only be able to view the tanneries from one of the surrounded leather shops so our guide brought us to one of the more reliable and trusted shops.
As we reached the tannery, the smell from the leather was quite strong so we were handed sprigs of mint to protect our delicate noses. We were introduced to our tannery host – Mr Ahmad who did an excellent job explaining about the leather goods making process.
And the view was amazing!
Locals hard at work.
Ahmad sounded and looked very familiar and when he finally introduced himself in detailed that I remembered where I saw him before.
Ahmad was featured in Nas Daily as the guy who never when to school!. See the video here
One for the album. Azuan and Ahmad.
He was nice throughout the session and answered our many questions. We were ready to leave when Ahmad introduced us to his other team mates in the store. “Have a look”. This is where I felt for the temptation. The leather goods were quite good quality.
However I started to notice something was not right when even after asking multiple times, they kept responding with “we will give you best price”.
Only when were about to leave that they revealed the price and to my surprise it was super expensive. Yes, I respect the quality and authenticity of the products but a 5 figure amount for a leather jacket, I would have to say no. And I did it in the nicest sopan santun manner knowing that we were inside their shop.
That is when things got a bit heated, they asked me to quote a number, I quoted something within my affordability and they said it was an insult to them. I said thanks once again, grabbed my wife’s hand, took our stuff and just walked away. There were some not so nice words being said about us as we reunited with our guide but it did not spoil our day. Lesson learnt to be more firm and not to try on anything the next time. To be fair, Ahmad was nice and I would actually recommend his shop if you can afford it.
Nasib la tak kena paksa kerja dekat Tannery 😛
We might not take home some new leather goods but something that we did really spent on in Fes is their food. Being a Muslim country, we had fun eating various street food as well as at some nice restaurants.
We will definitely include Fes into our itinerary if we ever make another trip to Morocco. It might not be as glamorous as Marrakesh in the tourist map but I kind of love this old city.
Next stop: The blue city of Chefchauen.