From Chefchaouen we took a bus to Fes, an approximately 5 hour ride. We booked tickets on the main bus line. It was a quite new bus with reasonably comfortable (assigned) seats with a stop in the middle long enough to eat something and use the restroom. The stop was basically a huge truck stop which isn’t that surprising. However what was interesting was the stand selling raw meat of all sorts, and adjacent stand where it was cooked on a grill for you. The un-refrigerated meat seemed a bad choice (even if we could watch it being cooked thoroughly) so we had some Pringles 🙂 note: Pringles are surprisingly ubiquitous across South America and now Morocco, too.
During the ride we passed through rolling hills covered in olive trees, small towns, farms, and plenty of scrub. The rains haven’t arrived and much of this part of the country is quite arid.
We had arranged with our hotel to have a taxi meet us at the bus station, which was in the new part of town. It was very modern and parts could have been California. We also noticed a penchant in the city for fancy and distinctive street light designs that seemed to vary by area.
Our hotel was near one edge of the Medina which is not only very old (dates to 800s), but the largest car-free urban area in the world. Having over 150,000 – 200,000 residents (estimates seem to vary a lot) it’s also home to the worlds oldest university (founded in 859!!).
The Medina itself is a maze of twisty little passages, all alike. Around every corner is a new sight, sound, or smell. The streets are crammed full of shops selling an infinite variety of goods: leather products, homemade sweets, freshly-butchered meat, spices, clothing, pottery, lamps, cloth, shoes, phone cases, and more. We made extensive use of GPS to avoid becoming hopelessly lost as we marveled at the goods in the souks (markets) and dodged the occasional donkey whose driver was yelling “Balak” – Arabic for “look out!” as he made his deliveries.
Beyond the sensory overload of simply walking around the Medina, there are a few notable sites within it. The oldest university is there, but all you can see is the exterior walls and a few doors. Like most Islamic architecture the interesting/lavish parts are on the inside. It’s rude to show off wealth. So even most amazing palaces are plain on the outside.
Below is a clock (not working:) from the 1300s. It used bowls of water (they used to be on those short poles extending from the building) draining to open the 12 windows below to show the hour. A full explanation is here.
Most mosques and madrasas (schools) are not open to non-Muslims. However the one below is open to the public. Built in the 1300s and renovated in the 1800s it is truly gorgeous! The stonework, tiles, and wood carvings are incredibly intricate and cover every square inch of the building.
The Chouara tannery, only visible from shops along the perimeter, is the main tourist site in Fes. It hasn’t changed since the 11th century! All the dyes and processes are natural, including the white vats full of pigeon poop (really). It is stinky, but shops give you fresh mint leaves to hold to your nose.
Overall I though Fes was truly fascinating. It’s one those special cities where you really feel transported to another time and place in the world.