LET’S GO TO THE ROOF!
Doubtlessly, the best view of Fez is from the museum of weapons located outside the walls within its fortress, the “Borj Nord”. What a panoramic view!From the rooftop terrace of this fortress, the view of the city is breath-taking as it rests peacefully. Lovers cuddle at sunset, lulling each other like pairs of doves.This hilltop, very close to the northern part of the town, overlooks the walled city, the cemetery, the ruins, the Merinid tombs, the Medina, the unique whitewashed roofs of the fassis,and the inhabitants.
From the top roof of this fortification which was built in the 16th century to protect the city from potential attacks and to have control of the Medina from above, it is possible to admire the best sunsets of the magical Fassi city.Inside is now the museum of weapons, the largest in Africa in terms of the subject matter.The different rooftop levels capture the best images of this magical 9th century city in which the Arabic world is reflected in every nook, square, street, or avenue; and its labyrinthine Medina, undeniably unique in Morocco.
From above, we can certainly cherish that Fez, UNESCO World Cultural heritage site since 1981, is female as she seduces as soon as one steps on its ground by its essence, its aroma, its colours, its movement, its pleasurable rhythm of time which has no rush, its looks, the permanent smile of the children who proudly accompany you and show their city…
Borj Nord. Norte de Fez
Entrance fee: 10 dirham (less than 1 €)
This soup is traditionally used to break the fast of Ramadan, one of the five pillars of the Islamic religion. At sunset, it is the first thing to be eaten as it is cooked all night long. The intense aroma promises to compensate this typical, hot meal. Such a dish may be cooked for as long as 8 hours!! In the evening, families gather together to feast on the meal. This is the reason why people say that “Ramadan smells likeharira”.The “harira” occupies a relevant place in each Muslim’s heart. When the fast comes to its break, the streets smell like coriander, which is an odoriferous spice widely used in dishes, especially in the “harira”.
It has been said that the soup is native to Al-Andalus and, after crossing the north of Africa, it became the most famous soup in the Islamic world. But this is not what the fassis says.The name “harira” could come from the word “harrara” meaning war, or home from “harr”, or spicy from “harr”, or desire from “harara”, or silk from “harir”, or woman’s abdomen from “har” … as you can see, it has many meanings. After hours without a bite, it brings the dead back to life!Being a hot dish, we might think that it is a winter meal, but nooooo, it is suitable in any season and awakes the taste buds.
The traditional recipe can be found at any restaurant, bar, or fassishome, which has been passed down through the ages and, depending on the family’s wealth, the ingredients, the type of meat for example, will vary. It can even be adapted to vegetarians by removing the meat and replacing the chicken broth with vegetable broth.Fancy knowing the ingredients of theharira?
This substantial soup is cooked with meat, whether it be with beef, sheep or chicken; chickpeas, lentils, celery, onions, parsley, coriander, tomatoes, chicken broth, saffron, curcuma, ginger, cinnamon, slices of lemon, olive oil, black pepper, and salt.Once tasted, it gives the sensation of getting into the smells, colours and multiple flavours of Morocco….
You won’t be able to stop eating!
READY FOR HAGGLING!!
What better way to do it in the heart of FEZ? THE SOUKS.Entering in the mecca of the art of “bargaining”, where prices may vary from one stall to another and from door to door; the difference can be as vast as the many tourists who enter these souks. A suggestion, “never pay what asked”. You can even pay less than half the price. If you are not completely convinced, just walk out towards the door, at which point the seller will surprisingly lower the price. Do you know what a souk is?
It is the bargaining world.Traditional markets are located along labyrinthine streets, alleys that sometimes require visitors to only cross one after the other in a row. There is everything you can imagine, from fabrics to any sort of meat, cosmetics to candles, and it is in these souks where you get to know the real character, the personality, of the sellers who follow their ancestors’ traditions. Curiously enough, should you enter a shop and DO NOT BARGAIN, sellers may even be offended because you are not fighting for what you get.
hat is the fassispirit!!Crafts alternate with food stalls, large glass cabinets displaying local products, from essences to species, Arab pastries, dried fruits, nuts, etc… Meanwhile, a loaded donkey and his owner shouting “???” (water) pass through the narrow and labyrinthine alleys; to let them pass freely, we must enter into one of the shops.Entering in these places is like going back in time, this visual world is full of colours, smells… It arouses lively and fresh sensations.Succumbing to the temptation of not buying Moroccan species is impossible.
Let’s try cooking with them, they are delicious!In souks the looooooong products list, besides the hustle and bustle, will probably make you lose your mind a bit which will be the moment when you have to stop at a little terrace to taste one of the lemonades prepared with mint. There is no need to haggle here.One of the souks is accessible by entering through the Bab Bou Jelou Gate, in the oldest and most charming part of Fez, known as the Blue Gate.
Let’s go, I wish you can get good bargaining prices!
THE ROYAL PALACE
The largest in the country. Proudly, with this characteristic presence, the Royal Palace lays out in Fez-Jdid, the new Medina built in the 13thcentury to satisfy the needs of the palace. Known as Dar al-Makhzen, it is located at Mechouar square, close to the Bab Dekakene Gate. Despite access not being permitted, since it is a sacred place, it is well worth touching its gates. Seven gates decorated in bronze and blue tiles, the colour which represents the city, as green does Islam because of Mohammed’s turban who, according to Islam, used to wear a green cape and a green turban symbolising life, nature, and immortality.
Therefore, the Islamic knights wore green during the crusades, to be distinguished from the enemy on the battlefield.Seven gates, one for each day of the week which also illustrate the monarchy’s hierarchy of the palace. This point overlooks the unique Jewish quarter, which entrance is close by located at the Alaouite Square, contrasting with the Muslim quarter.The sixth official residence of Mohamed VI has been renewed by maintaining and restoring those places that belonged to the first King Moulay of the first Alaouite dynasty, who was often compared to the French King Louis XIV, because of his eagerness for grandeur and his royal whims.
Encircling the royal residence are the French gardens with Arab components (do not forget that Fez was a French/Spanish protectorate in 1912) and four guards guarding this Muslim icon.Nearby, only 150 metres away, is the Alaouite Square which leads to the Jewish quarter "Mellah" and the "Bab Bou Jelud gate".
Rue Bou Ksissat, Fez-Jdid
A place you must VISIT, HAMMAM!!
It is an Arabic bath; a vapour bath which is used to cleanse both body and spirit. It is much more than a sauna and it is used in a different way for each person.The fact is that after a long walk through the Medina, getting lost in a mix of colours, the smell of the spices, listening to the muezzin and surprising oneself with the magic of this city where the Berber-Arabic-Andalusian civilisation has coexisted; there is no better choice than entering a “hammam” to feel how your energy is replenished with this Arabic tradition. Traditionally only used by men, today both men and women may enjoy the hammam, but separately of course.
If you find yourself in a mixed hammam, it probably means that it is made for people from outside. Arabs won´t use these mixed places. Men with men, and women with women. One could say that it is an experience to be lived, a mystic experience where the communion between the physical and the spiritual exists.How do they use it?Firstly, one enters a room of vapour and water, then lay down on the marble where a person cleans you with a natural dark paste to eliminate toxins. It is known asbeldi soap, referring to the term “beldi”, a local product made out of olive oil, crushed green or black olives, salt…
Once smeared with this paste, they pass all the body over with “not so soft” gloves that scratch the skin in order to clean it. The “kessa” glove is the SECRET why African WOMEN has such soft skins. After all this process, the massage arrives. A massage that would make you enter a state of absolute relaxation.
The “HAMMAM” is also used as a CELEBRATION RITUAL!! In the weddings of Muslim women.They usually take place in either spring or summer, the seasons with the most sunlight and warmth. During the celebration, the first thing to be done is to take the bride to a “HAMMAM” to be purified. In these particular Arabic baths only women may enter, also maybe only a small child, as there are exclusive places just for them. The men will have their place where only men can enter.Let´s see how a “hammam” works in the marital rites!All women known to the bride attend. Family members or friends spend a whole day in these common baths and massage rooms with buckets of water that come and go, and with vapours for the bride´s relaxation.
Everything revolves around the bride; she will be the centre of attention and she will receive all kind of bodily pleasures from cleanings, massages, oils, fragrances, hairdressers, and women that draw on her hands and feet with henna to be protected. The designs may remind us of Arabic mosaics!This is because there is a symbology represented through henna.For example, when a circle is drawn it represents everything, the absolute. The triangle may symbolise water, the feminine, or fire, the masculine, depending on how the corner of the triangle is drawn. The hennais also used as a protection, to expel bad spirits.
For this reason, women use them within the “hammam”. This sacred place and these women are tattooed on their hands and feet to be protected against any evil. They use this product as a natural dye for their hair, hence having a special glow and smell.
It is a whole RITUAL of preparation for their new life.There will be a family meal, and the brideaccompanied by another woman who is a specialist in Arabic scripture. This woman will then proceed to write over the bride´s body passages from the Quran, the Muslim holy book. This is to protect the bride from jealousies and evils, as well as to ensure a happy union.It is the only moment in the Muslim world when the woman is the main character!This is the way in which the party proceeds. They start in a “hammam”, as they ululate that long and high-pitched sound that symbolises happiness, success, the celebration of a new life that begins, and the farewell to the previous life, where both men and women are under the influence of the “hammam”.Remember two very important things you must take into account if you enter a “hammam”!!:
1. You must not waste water; this is because there isn´t much water in this country and it may be perceived as offensive. Only take the water you will be using to clean yourself.
2. And much more seriously, walking completely naked. There are some women “hammams” where they may be naked. However, it is very important to undress only once you have seen Moroccan women doing it first. Better keep your underwear on.
“Hammam Mernissi and Spa”Rue Talaa Sghira (very close to the Blue Gate)
FANCY TO KNOW ABOUT THE OLD TRADES?
This is a town that still preserves these old proFEZsions that have a very significant and appreciated part in the daily lives of its inhabitants. This is one of the most artisanal cities in Morocco.Let’s discover these ancient guilds!There are still artisan fairs where marvellous local products such as typical clothes, goldsmith objects, brass, ceramic, wood, fabrics, leather, silver, etcetera, can be seen. From Boujloud square, go up Talaa Tabita street and go down Talaa Seguera street.What strikes us the most is when we come across one of the oldest proFEZsions, the COPPERSMITHS, who create that melody with the clanging of their hammers that dance with the copper resulting in vessels, cups, pots, pans, trays, teapots....
In the Seffarine square, very close to the Ka-raouine Mosque, there are artisans who work with this metal, modelling the so appreciated pieces.Continuing our walk further on, we find the TANNERS, DYE-MAKERS,and one of the most important, Chouwara Tanneries.It is impressive to be able to penetrate into the heart of the city to discover this particular landscape where dyers work hard on the leather mixing the dyes in pools full of water and lime.Jackets, slippers, shoes, poufs, bags, suitcases.... worked through natural dyes and where they intermingle with a myriad of tones that come from saffron, poppy...
A spectacular world of colours!Upon entering, visitors are given some mint leaves to soften the odour of the skins of the animals. It is worth climbing up to the terraces to see from above this magical tradition which still survives to this day. All by hand, under the heat and sweat of each man who sometimes looks up at the terraces and smiles. A spectacle that will not leave you indifferent.Another of the ancient guilds which draws the attention because of its very special colour, is the souk of the POTTERS, who, using clay and mud, create this magical ceramic in a cobalt blue tone, which is known as the "blue of Fez", the colour that represents the city of Fez.
The fact is that the ceramics date back to the 10th century, characterised for their fineness and precious colour,and wherever one looks in the most emblematic places in the city, one sees these precious mosaic tiles. The sculptors, through their imagination, give life to these vessels with fine brushes almost as if they were lace.Not to be missed is Rue de Mellah, a very special place for GOLDSMITHS, the jewellers´ souk, one of the great specialities of the Jews, in Rue Merinidas.
In the souk of Tillis there is a whole world that revolves around carpets, WEAVERS,which may remind you of the tales of the Thousand and One Nights. Lots of colours evoke the wilderness of the mountains where the Berbers live.When entering a carpet shop, a warm welcome is extended to everyone, and you are seated and offered a cup of tea while a world of fabrics, wool, silk and geometric shapes unfold in front of you. Should you decide not to buy any rugs, they will not get angry if you offer them a tip.Ready to go home?
I guess you won´t want to go back.
FEZ will SEDUCE you!!!
COPPERSMITH, Seffarine Square
DYERS, rue Chouwara
POTTERY, rue Herreros
GOLDSMITH, rue Merinídas
WEAVER, Rue Talaa Sghira
SOMETHING THAT NOT EVERYBODY KNOWS!
FEZ has much to be THANKFULL FOR to a WOMANA Muslim female is linked to Fez life. We should be tremendously in debt to her for creating the oldest university in the world.Founded in 859, it is still opened… and active!This woman is named FÁTIMA AL-FIHRI and is commonly referred as the “mother of the boys”.The Mosque, called Karaouine, houses four universities, a courtyard, and an outstanding 16thcentury library holding over 300,000 books without envying anything from either the Sorbonne in Paris nor the one in Oxford.
The creator was a wealthy immigrant woman, daughter of Tunisian traders who were exiled and emigrated to Morocco. Because of the exile, they were unable to keep their fortune, so the family was forced to start from scratch. On the death of their parents, her sister and she inherited their fortune, and decided to invest in Fez in appreciation for the hospitality given. They created an Andalusian style mosque.Fatima’s desire was also to provide education to the Fez’s population, a philosophy inherited from her father who provided them both an education despite the fact that they were women.
In the beginning, it was only dedicated to religious teachings, however, as time went by, other studies such as linguistics, medicine or music, were implemented. It is said that the Pope Sylvester II, among other great philosophers and theologists, studied there.More than 20,000 ancient writings from medieval times and the oldest manuscripts in the Islamic history are preserved there. Nowadays, anyone is welcome to apply to study there, whether they are woman or men of any religious belief. Muslims, Jews and Christians have met in this university complex giving the world a live lesson on how moral integrity is possible.
Great world celebrities studied in this labyrinthine university located in the heart of the Medina of Fez, in the old town.
Thanks, Fatima, for your commitment in favor of education!
Rue Rhabt L´Qais
A PARADISE TO WALK AROUND!
It is not only about the most beautiful gardens in Fez, “Jnan Sbil”, but probably also in Morocco. It lies at the foot of the Medina, between Fez-El Bali, the old Medina, and Fez-Jdid, the so-called Jewish quarter, very close to the Medina’s Blue Gate.Its beauty is due to the symmetry and the attention to details that create the sensation of being in the gardens of the Alhambra, with its fountains, trees, plants, and flowers. Seven hectares of peaceful garden where exotic vegetation catches one’s eye with more than three thousand different types of plants invite us for a walk in this lovely green space.
It was created in the 18thcentury thanks to Sultan Moulay Abdallah who also built the walls that communicate Fez-El Bali and Fez-Jdid. Recently, the garden had to be restored at a cost of more than 25 million dirhams. Previously, it was connected to the Royal Palace where the royal elite had exclusively used the complex, the public did not have access until 1917; later on, it was abandoned. It can be admired today thanks to the reigning King Mohammed VI.The attractive bamboo gardens or the tower, among many others, are the perfect places to disconnect, stroll around, lie down, read a book, or, perhaps take a break on the way. Every excuse is good enough to enter and delight yourself with the bright colours of the flowers.
Visitors may come across a pond but before reaching it, the protagonists are the impressive palm trees that greet us in preparation for the encounter with the water. Even a tasty tea can be enjoyed at the Cafe La Noria, close to the old water wheel.Would you dare to see grey herons? Let’s walk towards the lake!!Any excuse is perfect to step inside and be amazed by the colourful and gorgeous scenery; when evening falls, light and shadow dance together in this special place, so special that you may even come across a chicken coop or see a peacock flirting with a grey heron under the gaze of the pigeons.Every year since 1999, when the Dalai Lama initiated it, the World Festival of Sacred Music takes place in this paradise.
Ave de L´UNESCO
The garden is open from Tuesday to Sunday.
Here is a proposal for the liveliest area of the city
The liveliest area of Fez is around the Bab Bou Jeloud Gate,full of colourful people coming and going or simply stopping to chat or exchange goods. It is bustling with activities at any time of day and night. This square never stops.Not only is it a movement of people, but also of taxis stopping to drop off or pick up people, and donkies that suddenly appear loaded with goods to be left in the shops of the Medina.The three horseshoe arches captivate the viewer with its geometrical ceramics in bluish tones.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the French protectorate was established in Fez and the gate which serves as the grand entrance to the old city, the oldest in the fully walled city, were built by its troops. In former days, there was a simpler gate that led to the interior of the Medina, and the minarets of the mosque and the Qarawiyin University are still visible from this point. What makes this gate special are the blue tones which change, within the range of blues, from stronger to softer depending on the existing light at the time which is what makes the moment unique and magical.
The exterior is predominantly blue and the interior is greenish. The gate was recognized as a World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1981.Only a few metres after crossing the gate, it seems like we are going back to another era.Fez was founded in 809 by Idriss II, although the Medina dates back to the Middle Ages, it may contain older buildings and monuments.The gate was, is and will be one of the most vital parts of the city. Nowhere will you find a better place to watch life go by than from one of the terraces of a restaurant or hotel…
Be aware that you will be standing in front of the “Blue Gate”, and crossing it means to enter into the world’s largest pedestrian area. Did you know that there are more than 10,000 interconnected alleyways?
A marvellous madness!!
Bab Bou Jeloud
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