Fes is the second largest city after Casablanca and it happens to have the first largest Medina in the world. It was founded in the 9th century by Moulay Idriss II the son of the founder of modern day Morocco. I arrived in the city last evening by flight which took 45 minutes as opposed to taking an 8 hour train ride or bus ride. As soon as I settled into my airbnb, my very gracious host was kind enough to show me around the neighborhood so that I would be a bit familiar with my surroundings. Since it was late in the evening and it was also my first day in the city, I wanted to take it easy so I didn't do much because I knew the following day would be a full day of exploration.
I had told my airbnb host Esaqi my plans for exploring Fes and he volunteered to take me around and show me the city, his young daughter who was such a good sport joined us too. I was pleasantly surprised by his generosity and I gladly accepted the offer. Today being my second day here, I can say the day was very well spent and without further ado, let me share my adventures with you.
Our first stop was at Borj Nod which is an old fort in Fes that was built by the Saadians who were part of an Arab Moroccan dynasty. From the fort you can get a very good aerial view of the Fes Medina below as it is pretty high up on a hill. The positioning of the fort was intentional of course because soldiers in the past were able to monitor anyone coming into the city. The aerial view of the Medina gave me a clear idea of how big it actually is. I had heard it was huge but I didn't expect it to be that big! it actually makes the Medina in Marrakech look tiny in comparison.
After enjoying the aerial view of the city, we trekked downhill to get inside the Medina so that Esaqi could show me around. Pretty much every historical point of interest is located inside the Medina, making it so convenient to visit each site. Our first stop was Al Karaouine.
This is the oldest known university in the world which was initially used for Islamic studies and in the present day it's still a functioning institute of higher learning that offers more than Islamic studies. It's also a mosque so non Muslims can't go inside, from the photos you can't tell but its pretty huge.
Take a look at that ceiling, how pretty is it??!
Tomb of Moulay Idriss II
Remember I had mentioned Moulay Idriss II the founder of the Medina in Fes? well, his body is laid to rest in the Medina and his tomb is still very well preserved. Esaqi was telling me that people visit the tomb with offerings as a way to give thanks for founding the Medina. I could not get in unfortunately (I believe only Muslims can get in) but I was able to get some photos from outside, the place is beautiful with colorful tiles as you can see below.
This is one of the three tanneries in Fes and is the largest. It was built in the 11th century, you get to see the ancient art of tanning and dyeing leather here. The smell is not pleasant and is distinctly strong but you get used to it after a while. This is the leather that goes into making some of the leather products to be found in the various souks within the Medina.
The souks within the Medina are colorful and it was fun walking around and checking stuff out while scouting for souvenirs. Unlike Marrakech, I found the Fes Medina to be more peaceful and less hectic plus I was not hustled even once, maybe its because I was walking with a local. Either way, it was a pleasant time.
The Blue Gate
This is the main entrance into the Fez Medina and although the Medina has 18 gates, this is the most beautiful one and Esaqi had wanted to save it for last. How thoughtful, right? we exited through this gate. I am glad he had organized the visit in such a way that we were able to visit the main points of interest as he narrated the history of each, before departing through the Blue gate.
Jnan Sbil Gardens
These gardens were a welcome change from the busy Medina. We stopped here and sat down to have a peaceful lunch before continuing on with our adventures.
After lunch we passed through the Jewish quarters where you can see the distinct design of the houses. There is a long history of Jews in Morocco but since I am not too familiar with it, I will leave it at that.
You can't enter the palace but at least you can admire its exterior and even take pictures. It really is beautiful and I can only imagine how it must look like inside.
Last stop after all that walking was a Hamman, which is a public bathhouse. I had been told not to leave Morocco without trying one out so I figured since its supposed to be relaxing it would feel so good after a long day of walking around. Lucky for me Esaqi's wife was also going so she invited me to join her. Honestly I did not know what to expect so I was a bit nervous.
Photos are not allowed in the Hammam for obvious reason so I will say this.........throw your reservations out the window and just go for it. I got the best all body exfoliation and massage in my life thanks to Esaqi's wife and at that point my shyness about feeling so exposed was already gone.
That's it folks! my day ended on a high note and if you ask me if I would go to a Hammam again? I would say, DEFINITELY! my skin feels so good right now plus when I got to the house which is normally cold, I was feeling warm and ready for a good night's sleep. Tomorrow another adventure awaits so stay tuned.
The pictures posted online of the airbnb that I am staying at in Fez did not do the place justice. I almost cancelled so many times because the photos were not flattering but reading the many positive reviews made me want to give it a shot plus I wanted to experience staying with a local family. I am so glad I did not cancel because the house is actually very pretty and its in a nice residential neighborhood surrounded by places to eat and lively streets.
The irony is, the airbnb I stayed at in Marrakech was the exact opposite. The pictures were way nicer than what the place really looked like. Don't get me wrong, the place wasn't bad but let's just say good photography goes a long way!
There is no central heating in the house and its cold! I came prepared though so I cover up real good at night plus I was offered extra blankets. This is the beginning of winter here so the temperatures in the morning and at night can get low and you definitely need to cover up. During the day when the sun comes out it does feel good.
Moroccans eat a lot of bread, I don't think I have eaten this much bread until I got here. I feel so bloated but everything tastes so good accompanied by bread so its hard to say no to bread. Ooh! well, life is to be lived and enjoyed, I am loving and enjoying the food so I will keep on indulging till my vacation ends.