I entered into a small courtyard which had few plants in it. There were few people in the garden and trees were providing good protection from hot sun. There was a girl sitting on one of the steps and it looked like that she was preparing for the exams. Because she was taking notes from a note book. The mounted cannon were on top of the tower but access wasn't allowed. As it seemed, the staircase and tower looked very rusty from that side and it needed some attention badly.
On one side of the garden was the Kasbah Museum located. After purchasing the ticket, I asked the guy at the counter if it was OK to take the photos? He didn’t understand me so he called for help, another guy came over, who spoke good English. He informed me that it was OK to take the photos of the building and interior but not the objects on display. I didn’t have any problem with that. When I entered inside, on one side was a huge trunk and on top of it two pigeons were sitting. The whole scene looked very dramatic.
The cool marble interior of the Oudaias Craft Museum offered a break from the Moroccan heat as visitors view the displays of ancient Korans, jewellery, pottery, musical instruments, artefacts and many other traditional arts and crafts, as well as traditional Moroccan attire. Superb examples of Berber carpets with intricate designs were a highlight of the museum. When I was coming out, a girl stopped me and she wanted to put henna on my hands. I told her that I didn’t have such intention. Then she told me that she would put henna on her friend's hand and I could watch it. I told her that I wasn't interested due to shortage of time. She became very pushy. I still don’t understand why she wanted henna on my hand or on her friend's hand. One obvious reason could be money?
After coming out, I crossed the main road and went to see the Atlantic Ocean. Before this as a huge graveyard. Then I started to walk back to the Riad. When I looked back on one side of the Kasbah’s main door, I saw seven coaches parked there, they must have brought tourists in them. After collecting my bags from riad. I came out on the main road, in front of Kasbah tower and waited for a taxi. There was no way I was going to go to the train station by walk.
I wanted to catch train at 1:15pm. It was only 11:45am; I waited five minutes and managed to catch a taxi. I told the driver in Arabic that I wanted to go the train station. His reply was, hmmm. Probably he knew that I wasn’t an Arabic speaker.
Drama at the Rabat train station
When I arrived at the train station, it was 12noon. I decided to exchange some money because I had only few Dirhams left. I asked a guy at the station about the nearest bank. He pointed towards a sign that there was a bank inside the station. I changed the money and that was the best exchange rate I was given so far.
Probably it was always good to exchange the money at the bank. In my case, my travel pattern wasn't flexible enough. I looked at the watch, there was still one hour left in train. So I decided to have lunch in one of the restaurants at the station. I had lasagne for lunch. Then I came to the gate, where entry to the platform was allowed. I showed my ticket to the checker there, he punched the hole in it and let me go through. The minute I reached platform, a train stopped. I asked a uniformed staff if it was the right train? He looked at my ticket and said, yes. So I went inside, that train didn’t have any compartment, just high seats for the first class. I didn’t sound right to me. Before, I could decide what to do, the train started to move. I showed my ticket to one of the passengers he told me that I was in the wrong train. I jumped off the train.
The train I was meant to take was delayed. An announcement was being made in Arabic and French which I couldn't understand. So I thought the best option would be to ask someone for the assistance. I found a one member of staff and asked him about the train schedule. He looked at my ticket and told me that next train on this station would be mine.
So after waiting for half an hour, a train appeared at the platform. I went inside, that train also didn’t have any compartments. On my ticket it was showing compartment number and seat number. As I asked a passenger again and the next thing train started to move. He told me, no Meknes, no Meknes, Kenitra, Kenitra, leave, leave. That meant only one thing that that train was going to Kenitra and I should get off. The train was moving and door was locked. The guy pulled the emergency cord and door got opened I jumped off the train with one bag on my shoulder. The big bag was still inside the train, beside the door. I ran beside the train and grab the bag before it was too late.
I was becoming frustrated; I didn’t know when my magic ride was going to arrive? It was 2pm now, so I decided to go to the ticket counter. I asked the ticket checker that what time train was going to arrive? He told me that that train was considerably delayed but there was another train before mine and if I could change the ticket to earlier one. I went to the ticket window and joined the queue. When my turn came, I requested the guy behind the window to change the ticket. He told me that there was no train before that. So I had to keep the original ticket and he told me that my train would be arriving at 2:25pm.
I came back to the platform, now it was packed with the crowd. The train on the second platform was delayed as well. There were people everywhere and children were making noise. I knew it was going to be a bumpy ride.
When train arrived, it was total chaos at the platform. People were running, shouting and it was all happening. I went to compartment number 2 but my seat was occupied. I asked the gentleman who was sitting there but he just ignored me. I showed him the ticket and asked him again but to no avail. I thought maybe it was due to communication problem so I pointed to the seat number on the ticket. Then his hand went into his pocket and he looked at his ticket, gave me a look and moved to the opposite seat. I must say here that on any other day, I wouldn’t had had any problem sitting on any seat because it was very busy train so I didn’t want to occupy a seat, which belonged to someone else. Especially after having so much fun at the platform. Now I turned to second seat which was meant to be for Aneta. It was occupied by a woman. She told her that this was her seat the woman started to look outside the window. I explained her that she was on the wrong seat and because all seats in the cabin were occupied so she must go to her cabin. It fell on deaf ears. I asked her to show me the ticket. Otherwise I was going to report her. Then a tall man walked in, he told her to get up and she left the seat quietly.
In this train, the first class wagon was located at the very end of the train and that train was fairly long. So I was unable to see the names of the stations. There was no announcement made before the stops. I took out my phone and looked at the pre-loaded map. To my delight, it had train stations on it. So I started to count as they passed by one by one.
When Meknes's train station arrived, we had to leave. Yes, it was easier said than done. In front of our compartment was a wall, yes, a human wall. I wondered how all these people ended up here if they were issued with the first class tickets. They must had had their seat numbers with them or they were given tickets without seat numbers? Other theory could be that they had bought their standard tickets and took their chance in that wagon. The last theory looked more plausible. In order to get off the train, I had to lift the bag above my head because I couldn't roll or drag the bag on the floor. There wasn't enough space and to be honest, people were enjoying that someone was struggling to get off the train. I don't want to sound cruel.
Arrival in Meknes
By the time, I reached Meknes; it was 5:45pm. According to the ticket I should had been in Meknes by 3:30pm. I had lost more than two precious hours due to train being late. I came out of the station. There were taxies lined in front of it, took one taxi, when driver was putting our bags on taxi's roof, a woman came over and spoke to the driver. He told her to sit on the front passenger sea. The driver brought us to the Ibis Hotel in less than ten minutes. Check in was quick and when I asked for a city map. I was given a black and white photocopy with monuments on it. That map was almost white on white paper, what looked like that this map was copied so many times that street names were almost faded.
After coming out of the hotel, I took left turn on Avenue Moulay Ismail and started to walk towards the city. This was the old part of the city called the medina. The road was being constructed, so it was all dusty. I reached on top of that road and asked a guy about the Bab Al-Mansur. He told me to take left and walk straight; I was there in two minutes.
The heart of Meknes medina is Place el-Hedim, the large square facing Bab el-Mansour. Built by Moulay Ismail and originally used for royal announcements and public executions. To the south, the impressive monumental gateway of Bab al-Mansour leads into Moulay Ismail's imperial city. The narrow streets of the old mellah were in the west of the medina.
Widely considered, North Africa's most beautiful gate, this huge horseshoe-shape triumphal arch was completed in 1732 by a Christian convert to Islam named Mansour Laalej (whose name means "victorious renegade") and looms over the medina square. The marble Ionic columns supporting the two bastions on either side of the main entry were taken from the Roman ruins at Volubilis, while the taller Corinthian columns came from Marrakesh's El Badi Palace. Ismail's last important construction project, the gate was conceived as an elaborate homage to himself and strong Muslim orthodoxy of the dynasty rather than a defensive stronghold. Its intense decoration of green and white tiles and engraved Koranic panels. There was a small door on the side which was being used by the people. I took that door and came at the back of the Bab Al-Mansur.
Place la Louda
South of Bab el-Mansour lies the mechouar (parade ground), now known as Place Lalla Aouda, where Moulay Ismail inspected his famed Black Guard. After bringing 16,000 slaves from sub-Saharan Africa, Moulay Ismail guaranteed the continued existence of his elite units by letting them marry and had children also they could be drafted into the imperial army. By the time of his death, the Black Guard had expanded tenfold.
Its successes were many, ranging from quelling internal rebellions, to chasing European powers out of northern Morocco, to disposing of the Ottoman Turk threat from Algeria.
I decided to take traditional ride of Meknes, a horse driven carriage ride. After finalising the price we jumped inside the carriage. On my right hand side was Jail of Kara. Pity that I didn’t have enough time to visit the place but this was one of those things I needed to get used to, when you were a tourist.
Originally known as the Koubba Essoufara (Ambassadors' Pavilion), this was where Moulay Ismail received ambassadors from abroad. The stairs to the right of the pavilion entrance lead down to storage chambers originally built as a prison by the Portuguese architect Cara, himself a prisoner who earned his freedom by constructing these immense subterranean slave quarters. It was here where the 60,000 slaves (of which 40,000 were reportedly Christian prisoners of war) were shackled to the wall. Ambassadors visiting Meknes to negotiate the ransoms and release of their captive countrymen were received in the pavilion above, never suspecting that the prisoners were directly under their feet.
Then we arrived at Moulay Ismail mausoleum. I wanted to go inside, I told the coachman to wait and I wouldn’t be long. Diagonally opposite the Koubbat as-Sufara’ is the resting place of the sultan who made Meknes his capital in the 17th century. Entry was through a series of austere, peaceful courtyards meant to induce a quiet and humble attitude among visitors. The tomb hall is a lavish contrast and showcase of the best of Moroccan craftsmanship.
Moulay Ismail, often referred to as “The Bloodthirsty,” Sharifian Emperor of Morocco (1672--1727) alleged to have sired not 8, not 88, but 888 viable children. He was the Henry Ford of mass copulation. At the International Society for Human Ethology (ISHE) held in Madison, Wisconsin, two researchers from the Department of Anthropology at the University of Vienna in Austria. Karl Grammer and Elisabeth Oberzaucher presented data in a poster summarizing their peek into Moulay’s methods; they consulted notes from the French Diplomat at the time, Dominique Busnot. Moulay’s reproductive lifespan lasted 27 busy years, from 18 to 45.
Of the reported approximately 1100 children from 500 fertile females, Grammer and Oberzaucher took into account the dynamic nature of reproductive options. According to Busnot’s report, in 1704 Moulay, then 45, was informed that had 600 sons However, supplementing his supply of females were 500 so called concubines imprisoned and in his command.
Then I came back to the carriage, once inside, the horse started to move with his own pace. Then all of sudden, I heard shouting. There was a coachman and a carriage behind us. He was shouting at his horse and, horse was like flying in the air. He passed us like a bullet. I must say that road was very busy, what if there was someone would come in front of that carriage? I was sure that accidents do happen in Morocco. As we were moving forward. There was a car behind us, the car driver tried to overtake us and he came in front of a door. At the same time, there was another car coming from the opposite side of the door. The guy who overtook us was on the wrong side of the road. He tried to reverse but he could not. Because there were more cars who wanted to overtake in the wrong lane. It was a funny situation, the driver who was coming from the opposite direction, came out of his car and started to give out to the driver. He came out of his car as well. Now it was full blown argument and it was clear that they were going to get physical any time soon. There comes the remedy, the crowd, which had gathered around them, intervened and tried to calm them down and it seemed that worked because one guy (who was on right, by the rule) reversed his car.
City walls & the Royal Palace
Now we were passing between the high walls on both sides. They were in good condition and we were brought to the King's Palace. I got out of the carriage and came to the front door and asked the guards in Arabic if I could take the photos? They told me that it was OK to take the photo of the door but not of the guards. Well, I did not have any intention to include guards in the photos. There seemed to be a little confusion, one guard said to me la, la (no, no, in Arabic). Other said na'am (yes), I did manage to take two photos of the door.
The Royal Stables
Then I came to the Royal Stables. After purchasing the ticket at the front door. We were allowed inside, just there, we saw a big tour group inside. The building had had beautiful halls, arches and high ceilings. Some parts of the stables were under renovations. I must say that building was beautiful in her glory days. Heri es Souani, also called Dar el Ma ('the Water Palace'), was a large, impressive structure, also dating from the reign of Moulay Ismail, and used variously as granary, warehouse and water point, to provide for the court, army and followers in either the normal run of events or in case of emergencies such as conflict or drought. It was a good indication of the scale of Moulay Ismail's imperial ambitions. The nearby Agdal basin was now used for storing water for irrigation purposes. Once it was presumably a vital reserve in case of siege.
Then I came to small well in a rom which could be used by hand. That was used to pull the water from the bottom of the reservoir. Then I heard a whistle of the guard. It was time to close the building. So we were the last one to enter and the last one to leave the building because the group had already left. When we came out, the guy (coachman) was waiting there. On left hand side was a large lake. I was told by the driver that lake was created for the horses to water them. Then we come across an open area, opposite the lake. In that open area, few kids were playing football. It was a beautiful Evening. In the distance I could see storks nesting on top of the Royal Palace's walls. Royal Golf Course was on my right hand side and it was getting dark. The guy brought us back to the place where he picked us up earlier.
Through the small door, I was back at the Hardim Square again; the only difference was that now there were more people. In the middle of square, I saw a guy with a camera and a white horse. He asked me if I wanted a photo with the horse. I smiled and declined his request. On one side of the square, three guys were playing traditional Arab music and a little girl, who wasn't more than seven or eight years old was dancing in front of them. Then they stopped playing their instruments. One of them talked to the girl and they started to play the music again. After wondering around in the square, I decided to go back to the hotel.
Just close to the hotel, there was a Pizza Hut. I decide to have dinner there and ordered pizza and garlic bread with potato wedges, it was a delicious meal, I must admit that it was the first time I had enjoyed my dinner since I had been in Morocco. The décor of the restaurant was beautiful. At least, it was more beautiful than the Pizza Huts I had visited in Dublin. There was a big screen TV in the middle of it. They were playing Indian songs (In Hindi language). I came back to the hotel. At the entrance, we were met by security guard who was minding an entry chain. He smiled at us and let us in through the chain. When I came in the lobby, I saw a sign that lift was out of order. My room was on the third floor. It was a good exercise after having a good dinner.
Next Morning woke up early as usual. After writing diary and getting ready. We came at the main road, which was beside the hotel. The sun wasn't out yet, it was little bit cloudy and fresh Morning breeze was blowing.
I took taxi at 8:15am and it took only five minutes to reach train station. It was too early in the Morning and road wasn't that busy. When I was buying the ticket. The girl at the counter told me that my train would be arriving in one minute. She also mentioned that I was on near side of the platform so I should take this train. I agreed with her and hurried to the plate form. Then comes the good news, the train was delayed, yet again. Train arrived at 9am and it took only 45 minutes to reach Fez.
Probably Fez station was last stop because whole train got emptied here. Even though it was early in the Morning, Fez station was full of people. I would say it was due to Eid tomorrow. The Fez train station's white building was beautiful and they were celebrating its 50 years. At the front of the station was a small garden with lots of rose plants inside. At the end of it, there were many taxies queuing up.
Taxi to Riad
I went to one of the driver and showed him the address of the riad I was going to. Once I was inside the taxi, the driver hit the road. He reached a square and asked a guy about the direction. He jumped inside the taxi and occupied the front passenger seat. After getting off, closer to the main road (No transport is allowed inside medina). He told me that his father was a licensed tour guide and he was from a poor family and they needed money. He would offer medina tour at half price. I asked him what was the price for the tour? He told me that a full day's tour he would charge us 200DH and normal price for full day was 400DH. I thought for a moment and didn’t look bad deal to me. He brought us to the front of the riad and told us that his father would meet us in front of riad at 11am. I offered him money but he refused because I was taking tour with his father.
Even though, it was early to check in but room was ready. I was invited to have welcome mint tea in their courtyard. I saw their three pet turtles. One was larger in size than the other two. Tea arrived with cookies; I must admit that those cookies were delicious. After checking into the room, I decided to have breakfast, went outside of the riad and turned right, on left hand side of the road a bakery. I purchased breakfast there and also bought few bottles of water from a shop next to it. On the way back I saw a dog tied with a big chain and then that chain was attached to an iron rod with a big padlock was put around dog's neck. May be the owner of the dog was in fear that someone would steal his dog?
At 10:55am, I was standing outside the riad and waiting for our guide to be. He arrived there at 11:03am. He introduced himself as Abdul, an official guide and licensed by the government. He told me that half day tour would cost us 200DH and full day tour which takes around seven to eight hours would be 400DH. I told him that his son had told me that you would give us discount. He said that it was government's price and he wasn't willing to drop it. It wasn't a huge amount he was asking for but I was annoyed for the sake of the principal. His son had lied to me in order to get our business. Well, then again, I was in Morocco. I decided to go with him and agreed to pay him 400DH for a full day's tour. Because tomorrow was Eid day and I didn’t want to waste time in order to find another guide.
We came to Riad Jardin de Babin or Binn (I can’t recall the name). It was extremely beautiful with a lush green garden in attached to it. There was a walk way between the garden, as I walked through the area. It felt like a green oasis and water was flowing through small channels. That riad was part of the renovation project so visit was allowed by the authorities, even though it was still a functioning riad. It also had beautiful wooden balconies.
El Mokri Palace
Then we were brought to El Mokri Palace. That building belonged to Al-Maqqari, who was a qaazi and a historian. Now inside the building were the models of the medina were studied. That house was on high ground and view of the Medina from the house was breath taking. To top it up, the interior of the building was elegantly decorated. When we were leaving the building, I was told by guide to pay 20DH to a guy who was sitting there and reciting Koran. His face looked very serious.
Narrow Streets in the medina
We were back on medina's narrow streets and I saw a woman bringing an old man, who was blind because she was warning him of uneven surface ahead of him. She was out of her breath. It seemed genuine struggle for both of them to walk uphill.
Then I saw a tiny street. It is said that this street was nearly 1000 years old and one of the earliest streets where Fez started. At that particular street, two people couldn’t pass at the same time. One had to wait at the start of the street and once first person had gone through, the other person could proceed. It looked like a small mining hole in comparison. Then came a loud American tourist group. We had to wait for them to pass first because there wasn't enough space.
Then we came to a little bit bigger street. I heard noise erupting from a house. It sounded like two or three women were shouting at each other, probably domestic quarrel in a large family?
I was told that Fez had no factories. People had to work in handicraft industry. One reason for that could be that old media was densely packed and there was no free space. Even if there was, it was protected by UNESCO. Factories had to be built outside that parameter.
One thing which I noticed at the front doors of houses in medina was that there were two knockers. One was higher than other one. My guide told me that they were there for knocking (I thought the same) but with a clear difference. One was for the family member to use and the second one was for the visitors and both produce different sound which people inside the house could differentiate.
I had seen this before in Pakistan but not anywhere else. A woman was cleaning street in front of her house. After cleaning the small part of the street she went inside her house. What if everyone would do the same?
A young seller
I came across a young boy selling chaff. He didn't have much stuff to sell. I asked him with the help of Abdul, how much he was going to make for the whole lot? Less than ten Euros, Abdul told me. Then I saw ads on the walls with black ink, there were designated areas, where one could put their ads. Probably it was due to that medina was protected by UNESCO.
If anyone was wondering that I haven't mentioned the cats of the medina, well, I didn’t forget them. They were always there, same as the medina in Rabat or Tangier. The Prophet Muhammad taught mercy to all of God’s creation. Cats were very common among the people during the time of the Prophet, and he said, “They (cats) are not impure and they intermingle with you.” The cat is such a clean animal that according to authentic narrations one may make ablution for Prayer with the same water that a cat drank from. Yet, it is known that some people nowadays have opposed the traditions of the Prophet by taking up the evil practices of torturing and poisoning cats. In Islam, punishment for such acts is severe. Both Al-Bukhari and Muslim reported a hadith regarding a woman who locked up a cat, refusing to feed it and not releasing it so that it could feed itself. The Prophet Muhammad said that her punishment on the Day of Judgment will be torture and Hell.
We were very close to the Andalucian Music Museum but it was closed.
Transportation in Medina
Then I came across a tall mule carrying soft drinks and other groceries for the medina shops. The guy was shouting in Arabic Balak Balak (move, move). That particular animal was very strong and he was dealing with uneven streets of the medina very well. Then I a saw a woman, who had two children with her. One was holding her finger and walking beside her while other was tied on her back with a cloth. The baby didn’t seem to mind that.
Al- Andalus Mosque
Jami' al-Andalusian was founded in 859-860 / 245 AH, and takes its name from the surrounding quarter which was settled by political refugees from Cordoba in the ninth century. Like its counterpart Qarawiyyin Mosque, the Andalusian Mosque began as a small neighbourhood mosque, but became the congregational mosque of the quarter in the 10th century. The mosque's present appearance is the result of a series of additions and reconstruction dating from between the tenth and fourteenth centuries. The portal of the mosque was constructed in the 13th century by artisans from the Nasri kingdom of Granada.
Finally, the Marinids were responsible for the restoration of some of the ceilings and pillars, as well as the fountain situated on in north façade of the building.
In front of the mosques were steps going down to the bazaar. This part of the bazaar had lots of shops selling local shoes. These shops were facing a stiff competition from the Chinese shoes made with same style. I was told that Chinese shoes were cheaper but they weren't as comfortable as the Moroccans. As I was walking in the Medina, I saw a guy dancing in front of a shop, he was asking for money. The shopkeeper came out, gave him money and the dancer moved on to another shop.
My next destination was world famous Tanneries of Fez.
Famous tanneries of Fez
We entered through a small door and there I met a new guide, who was going to show us around. Abdul told me that he would be waiting for me at the front door. I was given few leaves of peppermint in order to keep the strong smell away from my nose. All I had to do was to keep sniffing the peppermint. A new type of perfume, May be? Guide told me that in the afternoon smell gets worse, it was good that we were visiting it around lunch time. I climbed few stairs and came to a terrace or viewing balcony. Where I could see the whole drama unfolds. There were few people already there. This area, where leather has been tanned and dyed in Fez for hundreds of years. Interesting, beautiful, smelly, and disturbing.
The start of the tanning process begins with the collection and sorting of the raw animal skins. The types of animal skins used are sheep skin, goat skin, camel skin, and cow skin with the best quality leather coming from goat and camel skins. These skins are soaked for two to three days in large specialty vats that contain a mixture of cow urine, quicklime, water, and salt. This mixture will loosen excess fat, flesh, and hair that remain on the skins. Once the soaking duration is done, tanners then scrap away excess hair fiber and fat in order to prepare the skins for dyeing.
Once the skins have been cleaned, they are laid out to dry on the surrounding rooftop terraces. Dried, the skins are taken to a different set of vats where they are washed and soaked in a mixture of water and pigeon poop in order to make the skins supple and soft. Pigeon poop contains ammonia that acts as softening agents that allows for the skins to become so malleable and to some extent the animal hair loosens. The tanner then uses his bare feet to knead the skins for up to three hours to achieve the desired softness.
At this point, once the leather has reached its desired softness, the skins are moved to a select set of vats for the tanning (or dyeing) process. Within the old medina, the tanneries continue to use natural vegetable dyes, such as poppy flower (red), indigo (blue), henna (orange), cedar wood (brown), mint (green), and saffron (yellow). Other materials used for dyeing include pomegranate powder, which is rubbed on the skins to turn them yellow, and olive oil, which will make them shiny. However it is not stated by tanners or tannery shop workers but one suspects that chemical products are also used today for a better quality and longer lasting colour, along with a less pungent odour.
When fully dried, the edges of the finished skins are cut and used as fillers for other products. The leather is then sold to other craftsmen who make the famous Moroccan slippers, known as babouches, as well as wallets, handbags, furniture and other leather accessories. My guide, whose name was Muhammad, was becoming impatient. Because he was very anxious to show me the “end-product”. I told him that I wasn't much of a shopper but it didn't bother him and he brought me downstairs in the shop.
Muhammad showed us few bags and told us that it was pure leather and it had taken long time to make those goods. I totally agree with him and he wanted me to buy a leather jacket for myself. When he realised that I wasn't interested, he switched to a leather hand bag instead. Most of the leather bags were around €65-80. When he realised that we were not going to buy anything. He said that he would get us a discount. I thanked him for his time; in reply he told me“thanks brother”. He really stressed the word brother. He couldn't hide his sarcasm.