Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Fes, Morocco: A Feast for the Senses at the Ancient Capital

Greetings from Fes, the ancient capital of Morocco!

Fes has the oldest medina in Morocco.  Medina literally translates to old town. Fes has the oldest old town. Thus, aside from being the first capital of Morocco, it is also recognized as the cultural and artisanal capital of this North African country.

Visitors come to Fes to experience the richness of traditional Moroccan culture. And the sights, smell, and sound of the Medina are bold, brash and beautiful. A visit to the old town of Fes is described by some as an assault to the senses.  And it is, with the medina's narrow labyrinthine streets, so narrow that no motorized vehicles can pass through. There is no other way to explore the medina but to walk. As one navigates the busy streets, we pass by and sometimes bump into donkeys and mules, their backs piled high with anything from vegetables to camel skins.  One passes by communal bakeries where women come to bake their breads.  There are fleeting images of pomegranates, dates and other produce, whiffs of cumin, cardammon, cinammon, that distinct mix of arab spices. As one moves further into the medina, the smell of sewage intersperses with the scents of stews, wool and that unmistakable, foul scent of animal skin being dried and processed in this town's famed tanneries. One must be prepared to bear this to get the reward of seeing, touching, feeling and savouring firsthand the ancient town's  magic. Note though that it is oh so easy to get lost in Fes, so we hired a guide to show us the way.

Beautiful mosaic pattern tables and water fountains

                        An artisan at work

                        An artisan and his beautiful tea cups

The famous tanneries where they process animal skins into leather 

To complete our immersion into Fes's ancient mystique, I booked a night in a traditional hotel inside the Medina. These hotels called Riads, are centuries old private homes converted into accomodations for intrepid travellers who want to experience how it is to live in these ancient and elaborately beautiful edifices.

A beautiful door at our Riad

The sitting area at our room

The bedroom. There are no television sets. Though there is wifi at the Riad where we stayed at.

Moroccan Mint Tea

Traditional sweets

For our first meal in Morocco, I reserved lunch at Restaurant Dar Hatim, a highly rated family-run restaurant inside the Medina serving traditional Moroccan food.

                                      The beautiful dining room of Restaurant Dar Hatim


 Table setting
  A Moroccan salad set

  A moroccan pastilla. Chicken pie enclosed in oh so thin flakey crust. The filling is made of chicken, a spice blend of cumin, almonds, cinnamon and perhaps paprika. This is a dish that's both sweet and savoury. This is the best dish I had in Morocco.

For dessert, a fruit plate with pomegranates, grapes, a praline, some banana slices and the famously sweet Fez orange.

                                            Such beautiful doors!

Being in the old town section of Fes feels like stepping back in time. The streets are narrow and heavy with the din of  conversations and haggling in both arabic and french.  There is a slight pungency that keeps one's senses alert. Moroccan food is heavily spiced with cumin.  As others have said, if you do not like cumin, you will starve. So yes, medina is crazy, crowded, and can be too much for some.  But to me, it is all good. This is why I came to Morocco, to witness and experience another way of life.

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