Days 13, 14 & 15: FezDecember 10, 2018 in Morocco ⋅ ☀️ 22 °C
As it happens, my next port of call has a transfer service so I am picked up from the Ibis and whisked to the northern edge of the medina, from where the driver walks me to the Dar Iman. It's set in a tiny alleyway off one of the main streets of the medina, and has a classic riad design. A riad is a Moroccan former residence which has been converted into a guest house, with minimal windows on the outside and all the action facing inwards on to a central square courtyard. Some have a fountain in the courtyard; the Dar Iman lacks this but with wall-to-wall "zellij" (geometrically patterned tiles) but is totally beautiful. There are some muffled sounds from the street outside and the comforting 6.30 a.m. prayer call from the nearby mosque but generally there is a sense of protection from the outside world. However, once inside with all the internal windows visible from everywhere else, privacy is not a high priority. Better mind my P's and Q's here!
The Dar Iman has 6 rooms but all except mine are unoccupied. Max, the owner, is a genial Australian who assures me that business picks up from Christmas. Due to the intimate riad layout, he will have to decide whether to hold a New Year's Eve party and he plans to write to all his would-be guests and go ahead only if they all agree. There are other complexities; to try and stamp out tourist harassment, touting is forbidden by law but it still goes on and Max has to turn away a backpacker who has been led here under the false pretense of it being the one that she booked.
It's now time to explore the city. Morocco has four imperial cities---the others being Rabat, Meknes and Marrakesh but in scale and history, Fez beats the others by a country mile. It was founded in the 8th century and its university predates Oxbridge by 400 years. Besides this, there are several exquisite "medersas" or religious colleges open to the public. The settlement of Fez Jdid was tacked on later; it means "new city" although new means 13th century here and it was the centre of a flourishing "mellah" (Jewish quarter). The original medina is securely walled and impenetrable to motor traffic. The street pattern is a labyrinth which makes the Hampton Court maze look like the M1. There are debates about why this pattern was adopted; not just to confuse tourists but perhaps to ensure that in the hot summer sun, every street would lie at least partly in shadow. To simplify things, every quarter has its own trade: leathersmiths here and perfumeries there. You know when you're near the coppersmiths from the rhythmic beating and tapping. As to the tanneries, you smell them first; the skins are cured with sheeps' urine and pigeon droppings. One of a posse of so-called guides leads me up a secret staircase to an extraordinary sight of men sloshing about in vats of dye with all colours of the rainbow, in a desperate scene going back to the Middle Ages. It's a dirty job and all that.....
The stink of the tanneries hasn't quite put me off lunch. Breakfast at Max's was crepes with honey, and a side plate of omelette with fresh tomatoes, washed down with inky coffee. It was good but not quite enough to last the whole day so I snack out on harira with bread. Harira is one of Morocco's great institutions, a bowl of soup enriched with chick peas, bits of pasta, tomatoes, maybe chicken, and lots of pepper. As to the evening meal, tagine (stew based with chicken, lamb or "kefta" (meat balls) is ubiquitous but as a nod to the relaxation of visa regulations for China, I dine on a nice spicy Chinese meal near Max's.Read more