Sunday, March 28, 2010

MOROCCO TRIP - Day Two - Fes

Today is all about Fes. Our travel company recommended that we have a full day to explore this extraordinary city and they were clearly right.
Fes has been in existence for 1,200 years and is considered by many to be the spiritual and cultural centre of the country.
We had an additional guide today specifically for the city, called Muhammed. Both Said and Brahim are from the south so I think they were more than happy to hand over guiding duties to a local and lord knows when you start exploring the rabbit warren of streets that make up the old city it is certainly very reassuring to have someone who knows their way around.
Our first stop was at what they call the Jewish Gate, this leads into what was traditionally the Jewish sector of the city.

As you can see they are very ornate, beautiful gates. That is me with Said our guide, just to give some scale to the structure.
I almost got into trouble for photographing the gate below though!

Apparently it leads into an area owned by the king and it is against the law to photograph it. With my crazy new zoom I had already got this shot off before anyone noticed!
After the beautifully decorated gate the actual Jewish sector seemed quite plain in comparison although it did have a certain charm.

After this we hopped back into the car and Brahim drove us down into the heart of the city so that we could begin our exploration of the true heart of this amazing place.

Some of the streets are incredibly narrow, one was so much so that my broad-shouldered husband had to walk through sideways!

Some streets are covered to give shelter from the rain and sun and some were almost subterranean and apparently a great relief in the heat of summer.

The souks (shopping areas) are an incredible sensory bombardment of sights, sounds and smells. One stall has piles of dates of every colour and shape, the next has drums of different spices giving out delicious aromas...

and the next, selling meat, has an intact camels head hanging out front - certainly not for the faint of heart!

The bustle of people was frantic but amazingly in spite of the tiny streets and the numerous people there was no bumping or pushing, everyone manages to maneuver around each other remarkably well.

The vast array of produce that was available for purchase really caught me by surprise. Having lived in an African country were standard fare in most shops consisted of soap, salt and sugar, the Moroccans really do have a wealth of produce. And don't be fooled, these were not tourist shops, the local Moroccans were the ones doing the buying here.

Every so often the cry 'Balak, balak' would go up and, as one, everyone would step to the sides of the streets as strings of hugely laden donkies made there way through the crowds.

Even the steep stepped streets were no problem for these four-legged porters.

Eventually it was time for us to see some of the Government run enterprises that have been set up with the tourist shopper in mind. First stop, the ceramics co-operative. A wonderful operation that we were led around by the director, he proudly showed us each step in the creative process, from the kiln

To the beautiful glazes

All of which are painted on by hand

To the literally mind-boggling selection of finished items in the store at the end. Everything was so precariously stacked on every square inch of surface area I was almost afraid to breath!

From the ceramics store we moved on to the local carpet store. Did I say store? Well look at it, it isn't exactly your local Target is it!? The carpet 'store' is located in a Dar. A Dar differs from a Riad in that the central area of the building is not open, it has a roof. The decoration is even more opulent

and the carpets aren't bad either!

We were led to our own little seating area (nothing fancy of course!!!) and immediately served sweet mint tea

while the parade of carpets began! Who knew there were so many different designs? It was just fantastic.

We eventually made our purchases and they were quickly and efficiently packaged up.

Then we were off to the tannery. This destination hits your nose long before you ever set eyes on it and as you draw closer you are handed a sprig of fresh mint to hold under your nose as you approach! I can only imagine what this place smells like in the heat of summer!

The leather store is on three levels and we were led up to the top floor to get the full view of this incredible operation.

The first section uses a mixture of lime and pigeon droppings to cure the skins

and then the next area dyes the skins to a rainbow of different shades. The base ingredient is cow urine and then poppies for red, turmeric for yellow, saffron for orange, wild mint for green and indigo for blue.

The array of products and colours produced was spectacular

By this point in the day we were beginning to flag so we made one more brief stop at a weaving shop were they were using silk made from the agave plant to produce exquisite work. I guess in a Muslim country you are not going into tequila production so why not!?

and then it was back to our Riad for a good nights sleep before we hit the road again tomorrow.

Photo Credits - CJT & Dominick V

1 comment:

Arija said...

What a wealth of wonders Celeste.
I'll be back for further study when I feel better.