Until now I have been exploring the original historic centre, Fès el-Bali, focussing on the medina.
In the afternoon Merieme organised a driver to take me on the road that goes round the outside of the walls of this original city. Amine spoke fluent English; he had been a policeman in Qatar for ten years, but had returned to his beloved Fes.
We started just beyond Batha, the quartier where I am staying, and did a tour of Fès el-Jedid, thé ‘new’ town, built mainly in the 13th century, by the Merinid princes.
We started with the royal palace, Dar el-Makhzen. Actually, as this is closed to the public, the visit consisted of simply admiring the huge Moorish entrance.
I asked Amine if the current king actually used this palace very much, given that he has quite a few. Oh yes, said Amine, he comes here regularly on his doctors’ recommendations. H apparently has medical problems and Fes is a healthy place to live – not too hot or cold and not humid like the coast.
Right next to the vast palace complex is the Jewish quarter, the Mellah. In exchange for tax payments – the rulers provided the Jewish community with protection. There are very few Jews left in Morocco now, most having emigrated to Israel after 1948.
Amine observed how distinct was the architectural style of the streets in the Mellah: whereas Arab houses invariably have a single entrance door and few windows in their exterior walls, as the household looks in towards its courtyards, the Jewish houses has windows and balconies looking out onto the street. I took this picture from my car window, but it should give some idea of the style.
We drove on and climbed the hill on which sits the former fortress, now no longer in use, which was so visible on my first evening. This time we were looking across at the Merinid tombs and the hotel (right of the second image) where I went on my first evening.
To be honest the panoramas were far less breathtaking than those of Istanbul, visited two years ago. The size is impressive, but the only building to stand out is the mosque.
Next was the obligatory shopping stop, although again I made it clear that I was not shopping. Actually it turned out to be interesting, particularly as I was able to make comparisons with wonderful pottery at Abuja in Nigeria (when we lived there).
The guide told me that the clay used in Fès is grey, unlike the rest of Morocco where it is red. All the tiles for floors and walls are hand cut. The decoration is done by hand, using very fine brushes. Interestingly this is not an exclusively male domain; there was at least one woman working on the decoration. Tiles are also broken up in various ways to provide the material for mosaics. The shop was of course huge, impressive – and enticing!
On to the north of the city and up to the hill with the Merenid tombs. The Merinids were responsible for the building of the ‘new’ Fès, Fès el-Jdid, in the 13th century and from some time in the 14th century until their demise their rulers were buried in these tombs. Incredibly they have been allowed to crumble away and no archaeological work has been done there. In one direction I had a good view down onto the Al Quaraouyine Mosque and towards the south part of the impressive city wall ramparts.
In the evening I had supper and one of the nearest cafes. It turned out to be delicious: aubergine-based salad, Moroccan pastries and of course thé à la menthe. The waitress was a pretty and cheerful young woman who turned out to be studying English at University. She was very approving of my choice of Moroccan dishes on the menu.