Overview of the tannery

Bob Boujelouod entrance to the old city

Reconstructed fortress on the hills in the distance

The sea of buildings in the old city

Streets of the old city

Camel meat stall

Gate to a mosque

In traditional Moroccan garb

Bou Inania madrasa

Bou Inania madrasa

Bou Inania madrasa

Karaouiyne Mosque and University

Pottery stall

Offering stalls

Gate at Place R'cif

A waterfall runs through the medina

Sunset over the medina

Looking over the medina

Woodworking museum

The Jnan Sbil gardens

The Jnan Sbil gardens

Elaborate decorations inside a decaying rabbi's house

White graves at the Jewish cemetery

Inside the gate at Bob Boujeloud

Fez, Morocco

Lost in the Ancient Souks

June 11, 2013

At the end of every hard earned day

People find some reason to believe

- Bruce Springsteen

Fes is one of the imperial cities of Morocco, having served as the capital several times over the course of history. You can see and feel that history in much of the city, even today. While Marrakesh is visited more frequently and is more developed, Fes retains a more authentic and timeless feel to it.

The myriad distractions that abound in the old city make it highly intriguing; you never know what you will find around the next corner. There are merchants selling all sorts of things in various sections of the old city. There is an equally impressive and depressing tannery and workshops producing all sorts of leather goods. Bizarre collections of offering stalls with exotic decorations clog one alleyway while colorful assortments of pottery and metalwork are also prevalent. Basically everything you could want is there somewhere, and if it isn’t, then there is someone who will be able to make it.

As these merchants have been practicing their crafts for ages they have grown adept at trying to lure tourists and passers-by into their stalls. Thus, walking through the ancient city can be a grueling onslaught of constant hassling which never ends. The busyness and tight areas command all of your vigilance while the frequent negotiating can become a burden.

Wandering through the streets one gets the impression of timelessness in that the parents and grandparents of these same merchants had held the same roles in their day, probably in the exact same places and living in the same houses. The geography of Fes and its rolling hills also adds another layer of interest to the old city. From the many rooftop terraces it is possible to view the whole assortment of buildings from ancient roofs covered with weeds and grasses, to those adorned with rusting satellite dishes, and the occasional newly renovated construction for restaurants or small hotels.

The labyrinthine and disorganized tangle of narrow alleyways and hidden routes through the vast and eerily similar old city can be unnerving and it is easy to get hopelessly lost. Despite the best efforts of the tourist board of establishing color coded routes through the maze, it is easy to make a wrong turn if you aren’t paying close attention. While technology has changed greatly, and cell phones and tablets are now commonplace, GPS is still nearly useless within the old city. Perhaps that is a good thing in that it helps to preserve the art of discovery and promote the ability to navigate based on landmarks and intuition. It is nowhere near as easy as using turn by turn directions but much more enjoyable in that each journey confronts you with new surprises, not always good ones, but surprises none the less.