8 August 2006: Today we wake up at 10:30am more lately than every other day. We wanted to sleep well as to relax and enjoy our day. At 11:00 we found our selves down in the reception asking for an authoritative tourist guide for the city. The price for the guide is 120 dirham. The receptionist asked as what language we want the guide to speak and we chose Italian since Ploumisti speaks Italian very well.
In 3 minutes the guide was there and told us that he wants 120 dirham for 3 hours and 150 for more. He also told us that if we want to see the whole town we have to give him 200 dirham more. We wanted to see only the Medina, the old part of the city so we stopped a petit taxi to go there. We decided to leave our motorcycles in the Hotel since we were not sure if we could find a safe parking there and also because it is forbidden to drive inside Medina.
In the beginning the guide took us in a place were we could see Medina from the top. As he told us Medina is recognized by UNESCO that is why it keeps its merit. This Medina is the only one in Morocco that someone can see it from the top since at the other ones there are no hills or high buildings near so as to have a panoramic view. There is an effort going on so as to keep the town fadeless over time and until now it has been successful. The town is very big in size and you can wonder around without passing from the same spots.
We take some pictures and continue our tour passing next to the town’s cemetery. The situation in the cemetery is bulk with no boundaries and no assortment. It’s like anyone makes his tube wherever he finds. This shows the character of the people and of the area, something that I realized also by seeing their way of driving. As we entered the town I lost it. Everyone drives by having in mind “first comes first pass...” There are few traffic lights and people drive crazy.
Finally we arrive in one of the 7 gates which lead inside Medina. From the specific one at the old times they were controlling the traders who entered the town. In front of the gate there is a parking with a guard who does not look trustful. The area smells really bad and as we can see the cleanness is not a high priority for the citizens.
As we entered the guide explains that at the alleys ("souk" in their language), which by the way looks like a labyrinth, there are 300 districts which have 5 things in common: mosque, public baths (hammam), school, bakery and a spring. All this are usually in the middle of every district and around the mosque which is always in the centre. The narrow alleys are almost 900 in number. We start our wandering in the alleys at which the movement around happens with the use of animals.
The first district that we found is the carpenters’ one. There are many wood processing labs and the place smells accordingly. We move to the main grocery market where the women come every day for their shopping. The guide told us that the women here are occupied only in their house and the look after of their children. At the stores you can find anything you want but the environment does not remind me that we are in the year 2006.
We continue our tour and we arrived at the first mosque and the public baths. Next to them there is an oven which is used to heat the water for the bath. To the most of them the entrance to strangers is forbidden and they are not mixed for women and men. Actually there are specific hours for men and women. Later on we found a private kindergarten where there is a blackboard and paintings in the walls. The teacher waved me to take pictures of 2 children who recite something. What I did not expected was that she asked me to give a tip for that.
Giving and taking tip is in their culture. It might hear strange to you and especially if you have to give it, it becomes annoying, however when you realize that it is part of their culture it stops bothering you. The tourist guide then took us to a famous pharmacist – herbalist. As we enter in his store I noticed the various plants that he had there and I start to doubt for his profession. When the pharmacist told us to try some of his products then I confirmed to myself what the role of the tourist guide was. To take us to all of his “partners” and then collect his commission from our purchases.
However by seeing how difficult is to find your way in these alleys I did not tell him anything since I wanted to see the rest of the town. In the end, we bought some toilet soaps from the pharmacist, on a price of 100 dirham. Nice start!
We keep going and we stop at a small industry that creates mats and scarves. Before we enter he told us that the prices are fixed because it is a small industry. It seemed weird to me but I did not say anything. Ploumisti bought a silken muffler for 150 dirham. The score is now 2-0.
We keep our wandering and we came up to a house which belong to a famous theologian professor where we could see the interior of his house and get a view of how the houses look inside. Of course this was the blind, since the cause of our visit is to buy something from there also. The owners of the house showed to us carpets and explained to us how they are manufactured. The owner made a small presentation on the carpets but we told him that we do not want to buy anything. However, he offered us mint tea. Anyway, we departed from this house without buying anything. The score is now 2-1.
Our next stop was the tanneries. We climb on the stairs of a small corridor and we reached the rooftop which they have transformed it to a shop. From the roof top we have a view of all tanneries. Betwixt and between the houses there are some constructions which look tubs, filled in with colours where the skin made clothes are coloured. The owner came to explain to us some things about the skin categories and after 5 minutes talking he started the sales. We told him that we do not want to buy anything since we cannot put them on our motorcycles. Anyway we left and the score now is 2-2.
Later we pass out from a store producing needlework fabrics. The same things happen here. Unfortunately the salesman did not succeed to sale anything to us. The guide realized that we understand what is happening so he stopped stopping in various shops. So the score now is 2-3 for us. We were passing through very narrow alleys and the guide explained to us that they are build like that as to have protection from the sun and the noise. We arrived after a while at the oldest theologian school in the world. Now it is used as adoration and prays. It opens specific days every year and then 20.000 people visit it. Further down the road we found the grave of the town’s founder. After his death was called Saint since he managed to create a town which is the Capital of Morocco for many years and the place for the development of civilization.
Before we leave Medina we made a last stop at a famous square which is known for its spring and for its stores which produce wooden construction. We made a few minutes stop there and we went to the gate from which we entered. The guide also told us to see a store that creates silver, bronze and coppery things. The same things happened here but we did not buy anything. So the final score is now 2-4.
After few minutes in the parking we found a taxi to return back to our hotel. I did not regret the use of a guide since it would be difficult to move around the city easily. If you ever happen to be in a place like that, keep in mind to have with you small coins so as to get rid of unwelcome people and situations. If you want to see Medina of Fes alone we advise you to see first a smaller Medina of another’s town in the country.
We stopped for a beer and a tea so as to relax. At 21:30pm we went to the restaurant Zagora which is located 15-20 min away from our Hotel. We had also the change to see the new town which has many western influences but still is many years behind. The restaurant has good prices, many dishes and a live band. After we finished our food we returned to the hotel to sleep since the next day we had to cover many km to Marrakech.