I was looking for a flat surface with few trees on one side but that graveyards seemed to be on a small hill or terrace. So I came out and two guys followed us to the front door, no words were exchanged. I crossed the road and came to the other side of the graveyard. There were three guys and one woman was trying to mix something white in a big pot. They told me with a hand signal that that part of the graveyard was closed. I stood there, thinking what to do next? I saw a middle aged guy passing beside me. I wanted to ask him the graveyard.
Ana La Atkalum Arabia (I don't speak Arabic).
I speak little bit English, he told me.
I showed him the photo of the grave on Kindle. He looked at it closely and started to think.
It is not in this part of graveyard. He said with confidence.
While we were standing there and discussing, a young guy came on a bike and asked in English.
Show me, please?
I showed him the photo but he wanted to hold the device.
The older guy nudged me on the arm; it was a signal that I shouldn’t give him the device.
I ignored the young guy and he left on his bicycle.
I started to walk on the right hand side of the wall. Then a car stopped there, the guy I was talking to earlier, he was inside the car and on driver seat was a young girl. He offered me lift and help to find the place and I accepted his offer. They drove for few minutes and then, they stopped on side of the road and asked a guy about the picture. They told him that there was a grave of a king but young guy kept saying musalla, musalla.
The guy in the car turned to me and told me that it was a musalla.
I told him that it could be the case.
We came further up and then we spotted the musalla on the left hand side. They dropped me off and told me that I should take pictures quickly, and leave the area as soon as possible because lots of people would wonder around in the graveyard and they might rob people and even in some cases they would attack as well. They could be addicts or the youths, looking for an opportunity to make some extra money.
It was a small white building, some of the walls were were black with smoke. It showed either dislikeness by the people or abandonment of the building. There was also a broken telephone piece in the middle. It was very quiet, no one was around. There were two youth sitting on one side when I passed beside them. They said something, which I was unable to understand. I came out on the street again. Hailed one taxi and told the driver to bring me to the Dar Al-Mekhzan, he didn’t understand me. Then I told him to bring me to Jardin Jnan Sbil. He nodded his head and said, na'am.
The driver was wearing dirty clothes and he had untidy hair and over-grown beard. It was an Eid day, he was meant to wear his best clothes. May be, he didn't had them; maybe he had large family to support? One of those sad realities of some to of the people who had to deal with them. The streets were mainly empty, it took driver only few minutes to bring us there. The garden was closed due to Eid. I had seen in Pakistan, on Eid day, parks and garden are packed with public but in Morocco, it was opposite. I didn’t know how far Dar al-Mekhzan was? He understood the word this time. He reversed the car with great speed; I must admire his driving skills.
Dar Al - Mekhzan
That side of the Royal Palace had small entrance to the palace, photos weren’t allowed. There was a door on left side of the entrance. Through that door, I came to the other corner but into the Jewish quarter, the Mellah.
The Jews had lived in Fez and received protection from the sultan. The main street was especially interesting with its wooden balconies and Art Deco zellij mosaic. Most Jews in Fez (around 300) now lived in the Ville Nouvelle, and the Mellah has become one of the poorer neighbourhoods in Fez. As I was walking inside the Mellah, I came across a young girl. She asked me if I wanted to go to the Synagogue? She had something on her head; it seemed that she was on her way to go somewhere else. After walking through the Jewish quarter, I came to another entrance of the King's Palace. All doors were beautifully decorated.
I needed to sit down for a while because it was extremely hot. There were few steps next to an open area. There was an old man sitting there with cardboard underneath him. When he saw me with white trousers, trying to sit on dirty steps. He gave me half of his cardboard. I thanked him for his generosity. In front of me was a small street, in the middle of it, few young guys were burning a large pile of wood and beside them were few heads of sheep. The smoke was blowing out of the fire and they were all running around. Some of them were as young as six or seven. I think young ones were spectators rather than chefs.
After sitting down for a while and having consumed half litre of water in one go. I was ready to get up and roam again. I came in front of the main doors of the palace. There was a group who was led by a guide in a traditional Moroccan Jalaba. In front of the palace was a large open area, those steps belonged to that area, where I was sitting few minutes ago. One of the police man came over and told me that it was OK to take photos of the building but not of the police. On the far side of the palace, there was another door but police man was standing in front of it and wall was going on each side of the door. It looked like that door was part of the medina wall.
Ibn -e Dinan Synagogue
I asked one of the policemen for the direction to the synagogue. He pointed out to the area, where boys were burning fire and then to take right. When I reached closer to those guys, the sheep's head were already in the middle of fire. The stench was very strong; it was mix of burning hair, wood and skin. Upon reaching a small open area, I turned right. At the end of the street was Ibn-e Dinan Synagogue. Just in front of it was a huge fire. The smoke was too strong and that street was small and it was becoming hard to stay there. I moved closer to the wall in order to pass the fire and reached at the front door. Sadly, synagogue was closed. On left side of the synagogue was a small ally, it was dark there. I didn’t see anything but I could hear someone was talking there. Then a woman appeared in front of me and she told me with a hand gesture that the synagogue was closed. I turned back and saw one guy had a huge saw in his hand and he was cutting horns of a sheep head. When I came to the open area, I turned right this time. There was another barbecue going on there. One of the guys was poking sheep's head with a large machete. I took his photo then; one of them told me that I needed to pay him for the photo. I told him I didn’t understand what was he saying? He wasn't much interested in argument and he went back to his poking and cooking ritual.
I walked under a door which allowed entry to that part of the city, passed side entrance of the palace. Then came Jnan Sbil on my right hand side. After that, I came to the Bab Boujoulod. I wanted to have the lunch in the restaurant, which was opposite to the one, where I had dinner last night.
That restaurant had two floors, I got seat on the second floor, overlooking the street. There was decent crowd inside. Nearly all people inside were Europeans, apart from two men who were having coffee, and one woman on her own, was having lunch on a separate table. I sat down there and had a look at the menu. It wasn't any different from the one which I had yesterday on lunch and dinner, set menu again. I ordered food and started to look at my notes. The woman, who was eating on her own, started to have conversation with the men. In the beginning, both were reluctant to talk to her but then all three were having full blown conversation. After finishing her meal, she walked over to their table. One thing I noticed was that she wasn’t wearing any shoes. She grabbed one of the men's hands and tried to kiss it. The guy looked little embarrassed and he said no in Arabic. Other guy told her to stop as well. The woman stood there for a while and then tears started to flow in her eyes. She said something in Arabic and left the restaurant.
What I gathered from the scene, that the woman was hungry and guys must had bought her lunch and she wanted to thank them by kissing their hands which they refused. I think she was over joyed by the generosity of both men, which brought tears to her eyes. After lunch, I came out on the balcony of the restaurant, they had umbrella out, to protect the customers from the sunlight but even then it was very hard to stay there. After coming out of the restaurant we decided to go to Moulay Idriss. I was told by the owner of riad, that it was open today.
Whole bazaar in the medina was deserted. I was happy that place was empty so I could reach Moulay Idriss quickly but my happiness was short lived. The young crowd was burning wood there as well. Because bazaar was very narrow and smoke had very little space to escape so whole street was filled with smoke and horrible smell. I was finding it hard to keep going due to smoke, heat and smell. My senses were being tested there.
I stood in one corner of the bazaar and re-assessed the situation with Aneta. We both agreed to return to riad. After coming back to the riad, I took shower and felt much relieved. We left riad at 4:30pm and went to the Batha square.
Taxi tour of old medina
There were lots of taxies parked beside the fountain and I asked few taxi drivers in Arabic if they spoke any English? The answer I was getting was la, la (No, no). One of the drivers said yes.
How much would you charge me for showing the city from outside?
Sorry. I didn’t understand.
Kum (How much)?
He told me in Arabic, which I didn’t understand. Then he showed me two notes of 100 Dirhams. While I was trying to communicate with that driver. There was a guy behind me who wanted to talk.
Excuse me, I speak good English.
Oh, that’s good news.
I have seen you going to few drivers and asking them something. What are you looking for?
I am looking for a driver, who could show us city from outside in a car.
OK, no problem, I can do that for you.
What is the charge?
How much do you want to pay me? He asked.
Well, I didn’t want to give you my price. You should tell me your price? Then I will see if I like the price or not.
OK, I will bring you around for 150 DH.
That's fine, I replied.
He told me that his brother was driver and he also had very good English. Before I could think anything. A smart looking guy came over to me and introduced himself as Muhammad. He was nicely dressed with dark hair. He brought us to his brand new Jeep and said jokingly that his bad boy Jeep was better than any taxi on the stand. I agreed with him. As soon as, we sat inside, he turned on the air con. On full blast and we hit the road.
He brought us to Bab Ziat, Which was the door which I had crossed few times in last 24 hours or so. He informed us that that part of the medina was considered rich and riads were very expensive. I didn’t tell him that we had booked riad in that area, in case he would increase his fare (just joking).
Bab Jadid, a small river was flowing beside it. It was same river which was now covered in medina. Then we came across a brand new door, it was beautifully decorated. Muhammad told me that it was only built two years ago.
Bab Fatoh, that part of Fez was very busy. There seemed to be a bus station on opposite of that door and it was very crowded. There was also a beautiful fountain in front of the bab, that fountain had different setting of the water pressure. It would go very high, then it would come to medium height and then small fountains will rise in a beautiful rhythm. While I was there taking few photos. One small boy came over and waited for the high fountain to go down to smaller ones. He folded his both hands like a cup and next thing; he was drinking water from it.
Bab Fatoh was first called Bab Al-Qibla, as it has been the gate of a city that has attracted a lot of people from sub-Saharian Africa, the Maghreb and from all over the world. Then it was named as Bab Fettouh- its present name- thanks to a Zenet prince called Foutouh who was the eldest son of the prince Ibn Ateya Senhaji.
In the era of Sultan Moulay Slimane (1792-1822) it was rebuilt and expanded by his principal architect the great Maalam (master mason) Al - Sudani, to take its present shape; an unornamented huge gate that has a central arch flanked by two symmetrical smaller arches.
On my right hand side was Borj South but driver told me that it was Borj North. I informed him that I was in front of Borj North this Morning and it was closed. That Borj was on the opposite side so it had to be Borj South but he didn’t agree with me. I wasn't in mood to discuss geography of the city.
Also called Borj Sud was built by the Saadian Sultan Ahmed Al Mansour Addahbi (the golden) in a period of time ranging between 1587 and 1609 by Portuguese prisoners in order to improve the defence of the medina.
It is located face in face with the northern tower, the two towers are linked with an underground tunnel used by soldiers and guards to cross quickly and freely the Old Medina with their horses, but nowadays this tunnel is closed.
The Ceramic factory
Then driver took a small dirt road and brought us in front of a ceramic factory. The driver came inside and spoke to one of the guy who was going to be our guide in the factory. He told us that earth was brought in some 20 kilometres away from Fez. They would mix this earth with water to turn into clay. There was a big pit, where that process was being carried out. Guide mentioned that Marrakesh had red coloured clay but Fez had different colour. The potter will take the clay and he will make pots and different decorative stuff. Then designer will design patterns on the pots. Then it will be coloured by hand and finally it would be brought to the furnace.
While he was talking he brought to us the designer and colour workers' shop. I took one of the small plates from one of the many which were sitting in front of the guy who was colouring them with a brush. Guide told me to put it back, rather in an angry tone. I felt like a small child in bazaar who wanted to check all the sweets with his hands before he wanted to buy it and shop keeper would tell him “put it back”. Then we were brought up through stairs, there were huge fountains and some wash basins, decorated in different colours. I was told some of the fountains had wheels, so they could be moved. I had seen one fountain like those in riad where I was staying. I must admit, I could see a resemblance in tiles which I had seen in the Alhambra in Spain last year. Even colours were similar. I felt like that time had stopped and I had gone back seven or eight centuries in the past.
Then guide brought us to handicraft shop. He told us that we were free to look around in the shop and we could buy anything if we were interested? Aneta liked one of the small pots, which we had seen in the Morning in riad. They were for storing, sugar, salt, olives, salad, pickles and the list goes on. So we decide to buy them, but there was a problem, none of them had similar pattern on them. If they had same patterns, then size was the problem.
When I came out of the factory, the driver was waiting there. He drove us around and we passed Bab Bojod, which was destroyed. Then we came at Bab Gissa, a tourist van was parked there. The sun was more kind now and the Atlas Mountains on my right hand side, before those mountains were orchards of olive trees, were making a breath taking scenery. The sun light on the slopes was making it picture perfect.
The Zenet prince Aguissa, who ruled Adouat Al Qarawiyine “Al Qarawiyine district” in the 11th century, gave his orders to build a gate to bear his name “Agissa” as his brother Foutouh did in his Andalusian district. The gate was rebuilt by Nasser Ibn Yaacoub El-Mansour after his grandfather, Abdelmoumen destroyed it. Nowadays, the gate is famous of the nearby bird market which opens every Friday and Sunday.
We had another stop to look over the city. That stop was almost underneath the Merinids tombs. The medina was looking beautiful in sunlight. Then we came to Bab Mahrouq and back to the square where driver had picked us up earlier (time 5:50pm).
In the square
While we were standing in the square, a young girl passed beside us. She looked like European to me. A young boy ran behind her shouting, “excuse me, excuse me”.
The girls kept going.
Excuse me madam, are you looking for a restaurant?
She didn’t look back. The boy looked at us in a way that he was saying, I tried very hard. I smiled at him and he went away. We went to the shop, bought some bottles of water, juice and bits and pieces. We weren’t hungry so decided to go to riad.
Last day in Fez
It was 6:15am, when I looked at my watch. That was my last day in Fez. After getting ready, I came down to the restaurant. All lights were off and it seemed that everyone was asleep. When I was almost going back to the room upstairs, someone came to the reception area and turned the lights on. It was one of the staff (or probably son of the owner), I asked him about the breakfast time? He told me that it would start at 8:30am.
I decided to go the bazaar in the medina. On the street, I saw two backpackers were getting into a taxi they were speaking in French. Driver looked at me, thinking, maybe I needed a taxi too. As I had seen in Tangier, Rabat and Meknes, it was common to share a taxi.
The Morning was fresh and little bit cold, and I felt it more because I was wearing a short sleeve shirt. I could feel a drop in temperature as compared to yesterday noon. It was funny how hot it was going to get later in the day but certainly it was a pleasant Morning. I came to the open area, which was a busy market two days ago. Now it was full of sheep skin from yesterday. I entered the bazaar and I was walking towards the Moulay Idriss Zawia. I saw Charbleen mosque, the front door was closed, the ablution part was on opposite side of the mosque. This mosque was built by the Merinids in 14th century on Talaa Kibeera, probably the most beautiful minaret in Fez. I noticed the beautifully carved wood above the entrance of the mosque's monumental washroom across the street from the main entrance.
I asked a guy about the direction the Moulay Idriss, he told me to keep going straight. I saw two cats were sleeping in one corner of the street and they were sharing a piece of cardboard.
After walking few minutes, I saw a woman sitting on footsteps of a shop. Her head was against the wall and she could be sleeping. Her face was covered with a cloth. I met more cats along the way than people (yes, it is true). Then I asked a guy about the direction, he told me that he could help me to bring there. I asked him how much did I need to pay him (just for fun)? I got the standards answer, “whatever makes you happy”. I repeated his words back in the same tone that we laughed. The guy looked reasonable to me so I decided to take him. He brought me to the Zawiya but it was closed, he became little bit upset. He asked me if I wanted to visit tanneries. I told him that I had visited it already. Karaouine mosque, may be? He asked me.
Done it already.
He had very little English and it was becoming frustrating for both of us. Two old men came over to join the conversation. They started to talk with the guy. I took out my kindle and showed him all the place I had visited already.
He thought for a moment, and then he said, Imam Tijani.
I said, OK.
The guy asked the old man in the mausoleum, if I could take the photos? The old man said no. it was a beautiful mausoleum with a nice interior. After saying fateha, I left the building.
Born in the Southwest Algerian oasis town of Ain Madi on the twelfth of Safar in the year 1150 (1737 C.E.). He was a descendent of the Prophet Muhammad through Fatima Zahra’s first son Hassan and later through Moulay Idris, the celebrated founder of Morocco. His father was Sidi Muhammad b. al-Mukhtar bin Ahmad bin Muhammad bin Salam, a prominent scholar whose family hailed from the Moroccan Abda tribe and whose grandfather had immigrated to Ain Madi fleeing a Portuguese invasion less than a century before Shaykh Tijani’s birth. This same ancestor was perhaps one of the more renowned of the Tijani line prior to Sheikh Ahmad Tijani, and it is reported that he used to engage so much in spiritual retreat that he would have to walk to the five prayers in the mosque with his face covered, otherwise onlookers would fall so heedlessly in love with him that they would thereafter never be able to separate from him. Sheikh Tijani’s mother, Aisha, was the daughter of Muhammad bin Sanusi (no known relation to Muhammad al-Sanusi, the founder of the Sanusiyya), and was noted for her piety and generosity.
Zawiya of Moulay Idriss
We passed Najerine square and we came to Moulay Idriss, the side door was open. We took off our shoes. There was an old man inside; He said angrily to the Moroccan guy, why did you bring him in? He told him that I was a Muslim and I was from Pakistan. The old man’s facial expression changed from being angry to kind man in a split second. He felt little apologetic. I asked the guy to check with the old man, if I could take photos of interior? The old man obliged it. He pointed to a wooden plank in the middle to leave the shoes there, which were still in my hand. After saying fateha, I took few photos of the interior and exited the building. At the front door, as I mentioned renovation was being carried out. On one of the walls, the work was done and it was a master piece of the Moroccan work of colourful tiles.
Originally built by the Idriss dynasty in the 9th century in honour of the city's founder-just 33 at the time of his death-this zawiya (sanctuary) was restored by the Merenidis dynasty in the 13th century and has become one of the medina's holiest shrines, particularly known for his baraka. The wooden beam at the entrance, about 6 feet from the ground, was originally placed there to keep donkeys out of the area. He un official guide brought me back to the medina bazaar and told me to keep going straight and I would be out of the medina.
I gave him 20 Dirhams but he said it was too little. I gave him another 10, he seemed to be happy enough. He thanked me and we both went our ways.
As I was coming out of the medina, I saw a middle aged woman sitting against a wall. She had an old stool in front of her and top of this stool she had ten packs of cigarette of same brand. I wonder how much money she was going to make in a day? Life can be a struggle on a good day even.
Now more shops were open. I saw a guy, who had laid out his five pair of shoes on the street. He put some old newspapers under the shoes. Apparently he was trying to sell them. After passing him I saw an old woman who was saying something very loud, either she was reciting Koran or things were not right in her mind. I looked at her with more interest. Needless to say that she was one of many people, going through difficult times in life.
As I was passing Bou Inania Madrasa. I saw its main door was opened. To my delight, entry was allowed. Ticket price was 10 Dirhams, I gave the guy at the counter 200DH but he didn’t have the change. I showed him that I only had 9 Dirhams in change. He opened his till, counted money and then told me to give him 200DH. When I entered inside, there was a group inside already. Some parts of the Madrasa were closed off.
Bou Inania Madrasa
Built in 14th century (1357) college, dormitory, mosque complex, this building had everything, recently restored. Set somewhat apart from the other madrasas of Fez, the Bou Inania was the last and grandest built by a Merenid sultan. It shares its name with the one in Meknes, which was completed (though not initiated) by the same patron, Sultan Abou Inan (1351-58), but the Fez version was infinitely more splendid. Its cost alone was legendary - Abou Inan is said to have thrown the accounts into the river on its completion because “a thing of beauty is beyond reckoning”.
The basic layout of the madrasa was quite simple - a single large courtyard flanked by two sizeable halls and opening onto an oratory - and is essentially the same design as that of the wealthier Fassi mansions. For its effect it relies on the mass of decoration and the light and space held within. Domed entrance chamber, a characteristic adapted from Andalusian architecture.
In the courtyard, the decoration - startlingly well preserved - covers every possible surface. Perhaps most striking in terms of craftsmanship are the woodcarving and joinery, an unrivalled example of the Moorish art of laceria, “the carpentry of knots”. Cedar beams ring three sides of the courtyard and a sash of elegant black Kufic script wraps around four sides, dividing the zellij from the stucco, thus adding a further dimension; unusually, it is largely a list of the properties whose incomes were given as an endowment, rather than the standard Koranic inscriptions.
After coming out of the madrasa I was walking out of the bazaar. On my right hand side was a collection centre for sheep skin. There was a guy working inside and he was sorting them out.
I walked very fast through the medina because Aneta was waiting for me in front of the Bab Boujouloud. I had texted her earlier to meet her beside the door. I was late by five minutes. We went to Jardin Jnan Sbil. There was a guy, who had a shop on opposite side of the garden. He told me that it wouldn't open till 10am. I came to the main road, which was next to the garden and tried to hail a taxi. I stood a there for few minutes. There were taxies passing but all were occupied. We walked to the main square in front of Bab Mahrouq. There was a taxi coming from opposite side. I waved at him. He raised his hand from the window to tell me that he would come over to us. He took a full turn on a roundabout and came to pick us up. I told him to bring us to the Borj Nord. On reaching there, he asked the guard, if Borj was open? They said no. I didn’t come out of the taxi, I told the driver to drop us off at the Jardin Jnan Sbil.
Jardin Jnan Sbil
The garden was open now. After entering the garden, one would meet beautiful flowers beside the fountain. On left hand side of the garden was wall; on the far side of the garden I could see a lake. As I walked around. This place looked like a haven among all the heat, dirt and treeless places in Fez. On far side of the lake was an old wall. Inside the wall were pigeons and swallow residing.
From there, I waked back to the fountain and then turned left. Here walkway was lined date trees. They were like guards standing in rows. I asked a guy about Nouria, he told us to go to the cafe and I would find Nouria there. Nouria was next to the café and water was flowing underneath it. I had seen his half-brother in Cordoba over River Guadalquivir.
Then came back to Batha Museum but unfortunately it was closed. All cafés were full with the
crowd. I came to the riad and asked them if breakfast was finished or not? They told me that they would still serve me. The girl told me that she was waiting for me to come down. I told her that I had left early this Morning because I wanted to visit medina and my plan was to avoid crowd. She gave me a killer smile and walked away. After leaving my camera in my room, I came down for the breakfast, which was as good as yesterday. They brought coffee with the breakfast. I told them that I didn’t drink coffee but I would swap for mint tea. They were more than happy to replace coffee. After breakfast, I told receptionist to get me a taxi at 12:30pm. After paying my hotel bill, I came to the courtyard where owner of the riad came over with lettuce in his hand. He grabbed two smaller turtles and put them next to big one and threw lettuce in front of them. They started to munch their lunch.
Then he fed yellow canary, which was in a cage. Taxi driver came to riad at 12:25pm. It was a large taxi or taxi grenade as they would call it in Morocco. He loaded the bag in the trunk. And we left the medina through Bab Ziat. Inside the taxi, I noticed that one of the door handle of the taxi was made of wood. Yes, that was the case. Probably it was broken and it was hard or more expensive to replace it so they put a wooden handle instead.
The Fez airport building looked very new. The driver stopped in front of the airport. I took out small bags from the car. The diver was holding larger bag in the trunk. He opened the boot but kept one hand on the bag. I wondered why he was doing that? I paid him and he gave me the bag.
The airport was well maintained. After checking in, I went to money exchange counter because I wanted to return all unused Dirhams. There were three people in front of me but girl behind the counter was in no rush to serve them quickly. When I came to the window she asked for my boarding pass and passport. She put all the details in a computer and the money was exchanged. Now, I knew why it was taking her so long to exchange the money? There were not many seats there in the main hall. I waited around because check in wasn't open for my flight. It was open for one flight which was going to Beavus (France). Then announcement was made for my flight to Barcelona. After passing through security check, there was an immigration desk. The immigration officer, who was a girl, asked me how come I had Irish citizen? I told her that no other country wanted to give me its citizenship. She looked at my face with a question mark. Then she realised that I was joking. She smiled and gave the passport back to me with an exit stamp on it.
No I was in waiting area, final announcement was made for the boarding and there was a rush towards the gate. Even though some people wanted to hurry up but security staff told them to join the queue. There was a girl who was standing on one side, when guy looked on another side. She skipped the queue and moved at the front. The guys caught her and he wasn't happy. The started to argue in Arabic. The girl wasn't backing off. He told her that he wasn't going to accept her boarding unless she would go at the back of the queue. The justice had been served.
The plane left Fez airport only ten minutes later than its schedule departure time. When plane took off, I looked through the window for the last time at this mysterious and magical yet crazy land of Morocco and closed my eyes so I could save those memories forever.