The Beauty Within

Fuzzy Logic
7th December 2017

Despite the late night we were up surprisingly early this morning.   I think what happened was I had to switch the big light on because of an enforced toilet visit, about 7am. That's when I saw for the first time the splendour of our room. How could I go back to sleep after that?

The amazement wasn't contained to the room, it continued throughout the entire riad. It was a truly  stunning building.

I stepped through a key-hole shaped door that opened onto our own private balcony. There were some wonderful antique chairs positioned in the corner, but not only did they look uncomfartable they also looked extremely fragile.  So I didn't sit on them.

 Whilst Julie came around I watched Al-Jazeera news channel for a while, intrigued by their regional perspective on Donald Trump, the American President, announcing that he was going to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and therefore make it government policy with an executive order. 

He's only been in power for a month and he's already stirring up shit. I'm not the only one who thinks he's going to go down in history as the worst president ever.  Watch this space.

Around 9am we went downstairs for breakfast where we met Nour, the hotel manager. She redirected us back upstairs to a table overlooking the inner courtyard. We really didn't mind where we ate.

What arrived was a proper feast of traditional Moroccan breakfast. Practically everything you could make with flour and dairy was put on a plate, with the exception of the black olives which didn't seem to belong amongst all the sweet stuff.

We had Meskouta, a polenta sponge cake laced with a subtle orange flavour, a thick layered bread called Meloui that was similar to a paratha bread but sweet, and a hole riddled pancake which back home we would call a very big pikelet but here it's a Beghrir. They were all super delicious.

Whilst Julie returned to the room for a lie down after a sugar rush I explored the riad, searching for the roof top terrace. After inadvertantly straying into the private residence I found the wonderful terrace at the top of the riad with a truly fabulous view over the Fes El Bali, the old medina.

The beautiful minaret of Sidi Ahmed Tijani Mosque with striking emerald green inlaid tiles towered over the old walled city like an ancient skyscraper. 

 After attempting to map out the medina in my mind we ventured out, trying to retrace the route we took last night back to the open space near to where the taxi parked. The minaret was an excellent reference point and in no time we had reached a road, . 

This area was very much a transport hub, a popular drop off point for people visiting the medina, and consequently a pick up point for those returning to their hotels outside the city walls. Local buses came and went and Petit Taxis waited patiently in line.

We took some cash out of an ATM of the Banque Société Générale and walked towards the impressive arch, Bab Rcif.

It was already deep in the heart of the medina so it wasn't a city gate in the traditional sense. by that I mean a gate to enter through the fortified city walls. But it was a symbolic entrance into the old city, as if the new road was not part of the old. In fact I think Bab Rcif was also a new addition to the city.

Beyond the gate was the wide open expanse of Place Rcif. Much of the left side of the square was taken up by the Rcif Mosque, one of the largest in Fez.

Also briefly running along the left, at the far end, was the river Oued Bou Khared before it disappeared beneath the city. At that point we crossed over a shop lined bridge. The Ponte Rialto it was not but it was the same idea.

We were now thrown immediately into the medieval souks. Turning right, because it felt like theright way to go, we walked through a narrow alley of clothes and fabric merchants. Their stores were so small they had to perform much of their work on the street. Barells of dye were spilling over onto the floor as they dipped cloth deep into dark greens and blues. They wore gloves to their elbows to protect themselves. I'm sure that dye would stain the skin for life!

 The clothing and fabric souk came to an end when it opened out into a small square. Here we began to see sellers of various metal works, brass, silver, even gold. Several alleys converged on this square, including another small bridge over the river. 

In the corner was a cafe, Cafe Mehdi where we decided to sit, have a small coffee and enjoy some fascinating people watcing.

We spotted our first Fez wearer, that distinctive red felt hat with black tassles named after this city, also known as a tarboosh. Apparently the connection with the city was that the deep red dyes used for the fabric was made here from berries.

The wearing of the hat isn't common place, and in fact this person was a tour guide leading a group of tourists into the medina, so it was contrived for his audience and not a true Fez fashion statement.

Once we finished our really good coffee we conitinued along the street towards the rythmical noise of tapping and hammering of copper pots and pans. Store after store of craftsmen were busy shaping and polishing their wares. They actually had some really nice stuff.

We reached Place Seffarine a small square created by the meeting of several alleys and filled with brass and copper at one end and crockery and leather goods on another as different souks converged.  An old tree stood in the corner as where we entered, then leading up some steps we were faced with a large whitewashed building with an oversized wooden gate.

Until now I had used Google maps impanted in my head to reach this point but there was a piece of the jigsaw missing. It just didn't show how us how to reach Rue Chouara, the street we needed so we could then find the famous tannery. But by using some kind of fuzzy logic I decided we had to exit to the right even if it looked too narrow to be the right way.

"Are you sure you know where you're going?" asked Julie. I could only answer with a "No".

It began by feeling like the wrong way, but it soon widened, if only slightly. Even then we had to step into a doorway to avoid being hit by an incoming donkey loaded with supplies.

Our confidence increased when we noticed a change in the air, the distinctive whiff of leather was getting stronger. We knew at least  we were heading in the right direction. 

We knew we had found them when a shopkeeper approached us with an invitation to his rooftop to see the ancient dyeing pots of the Chouara Tannery. We politely turned him down, prefering to carry on a little further.

 The next shopkeeper stood outside his leather shop with a bouquet of fresh mint. He also seemed the friendly sort so we accepted his invitation. At first Julie turned down his offer of some mint but he insisted. "It will help with the smell" I explained.

We followed him through his shop, up a few fights of steps and emerged outside to a wonderful view over the tannery. The first thing we noticed was the smell. Even from up here it made the eyes water. Shoving a sprig of mint up the nose didn't really help.

The shopkeeper explained that the smell comes from "pidgeon pooh" and "cow pee". The hides are soaked in this alkaline cocktail of animal waste and quicklime in a process that softens the skin and makes it more open to absorbing the colour dye. The process is entirely manual, physically demanding and all done in an atmosphere similar to the surface of Neptune.  

 It's believed that these pots could be as old as the city itself, dating back to the 9th century.  There is certainly evidence of their existence in the 16th century.

The shopkeeper explained that recent concerns about pollution from the tanneries seeping into the river have lead to a motion to move the tanneries from its current location to somewhere outside the city where the waste could be better managed. However UNESCO stepped in to save this iconic part of the city's heritage. Their solution to the pollution was renovation of the waste system.  

When we were ready to leave I was expecting the hard sell from the shopkeeper but it never came. He was gracious enough to allow us to browse on our own. Neither Julie nor I are big fans of leather products so instead we slipped him 20 dirham tip for allowing us to use his rooftop. I don't know what the going rate was for this and hoped that we didn't offend him by the amount. 

Back onto Rue Chouara we continued walking parallel to the tannery. It wasn't long before another tout asked if we wanted to see the "best view" or so he claimed.

I liked the idea of another opportunity to see the pots, from a different angle. So we agreed.

He then shot off like a whippet down this alleyway, its walls painted a bright blue. There was a light at the end of this tunnel, where the sun broke through and lit up the then ochre painted walls. He turned the corner, some distance ahead of us, which gave me a chance to take a photograph. As we followed him around the corner he was waiting impatiently for us. Once we caught up he then raced off again leaving us behind.

We didn't care much for his attitude so we turned around and made our way back to Rue Chouara.

Next followed a meander through the medina, once we had navigated our way around some donkeys who were blocking our way. We seemed to be drifting away from the souks as stores were appearing less and less frequently.

Next on our places-to-see list was the al-Qarawiyyin University and Mosque. We just had to find it!

I knew we had to turn left somewhere, returning back into the middle of it all. Somehow, by complete chance we quickly found oursleves back in the busy souks, in the souvenirs department of Tala'a Kebria street.

Al-Karaouiyn, as it's also sometimes written, was a massive building hidden in the heart of the medina. Much of it was unoticable, it's walls were the same as any other we had walked past but when we found one of its entrances the jaw dropped at the spectacular carvings of the arch. 

Sadly, as non-muslims, we were not permitted to enter. 

We carried on our way, just a little further, to the Al-Attarine medersa, a school of Islamic studies, where for 20 dirhams each we could enter the former school.

The building was undeniaby a stunning example of Islamic architecture. It reminded us so much of the medersa we visited in Marrakesh. But the most enduring memory of Marrakesh was the peaceful aura within its space.  It was a shame the same was not true here. 

Sadly, it was filled by a large very loud tour group. Some people have no respect for their environment. We might as well have been at a train station!


We tried to zone-out the chitter-chatter and focused on the mesmerising stucco. It looked magnificent from a distance but when you got closer there was even more delicately carved design within the detail. It was absolutely incredible. The geometric patterns of the zelige mosaic tiles were in complete contrast.

The presence of a tour guide, whilst irritating, at least gave us a running commentary of the medersa's history. It was founded in 1325, comissioned by Sultan Abu Sa'id Uthman II, from the Maranid dynasty who ruled Morocco between the 13th and 15th centuries.

The name Attarine means perfume and is because of its location within the perfume souks.

 Before we left we visited the student rooms on the first floor. They were simple and bare and some were fortunate to have a view, overlooking the courtyard through ornate cedarwood shutters. Two students would share a room and there were about 30 rooms in total.  

Back out into the souks, next on our list to see was Zawiya of Moulay Idriss II, the mausoleum of the founder of the city. It was possibly Morocco's holiest shrine.

We entered a covered souk, with low wooden beams but we couldn't find the zawiya anywhere. Determind to find it we asked a friendly shopkeeper who, after we bought a bottle of Argan oil, gave us directions in a series of hand gestures. Despite his vagueness we eventually came across the colourful walls of the mausoleum.

 I was glad we made the effort to find it, even if we weren't allowed to enter. Its ornate zelige tiles and carved stucco decoration wasn't confined to its interior but covered much of its external walls. The intricate geometrical designs were incredible.


We reached a busy entrance into the Zawiya of Moulay Idriss II where I peered inside. I caught a glimpse of a sea of red carpet rugs covering the floor before moving quickly moving on as not to outstay my welcome.

The alley then took us down hill towards the small square of Place an-Nejjarine. Its focal point was a very pretty public fountain. It wasn't a gushing water feature but a functional drinking fountain.

To the side of it was the fabulous arched entrance to the Nejjarine Fondouk Museum. Originally built in the 18th century as a caravanserai, an inn and warehouse for travelling traders, the fondouk is now a museum dedicated to carpentry. (The word Nejjarine means carpentry.)

We decided to pop inside, not so much for the mildly interesting wooden artefacts but because it had a roof top terrace. The exhibitions were in a series of rooms around the inner courtyard but the best piece of woodwork wasn't any of the museum pieces but the actual building itself. The bannisters around the inner courtyard had some lovely lattice work.

After three floors of exhibitions we eventually reached the rooftop. We were expecting to be able to sit down at a table to enjoy a wonderful view over the city. Whist we did them both we had to do them seperately. A tall whitewashed wall surounded the rooftop hiding the city from view. 

Whilst Julie ordered the mint tea I went to have a look over the wall. In the distance, high on the hill to the North I could see the Marinid tombs.

It was the burial ground for the sultans of the Marinid dynasty, the Berber rulers of Morroco between 14th to the 16th centuries, whose palaces were also up on the hill. I had thought about walking up there to have a closer look. It's a popular point from which to watch the sun set. But having seen the distance I had second thoughts.

Refreshed and relaxed after our delicious mint tea we returned out into the hubub of the medina. We took the alley that was to the right of the fountain in Place an-Nejjarine and followed it until it came to a T-junction.

Thankfully we only had a choice of left or right which was made even easier as it was either uphill or down. Our next place of interest was Bab Bou Jeloud (aka the Blue Gate) which I knew was at the top of the hill.

We followed the Tala'a Kebira street all the way despite being lured off course every now and again by some interesting side streets.

Tala'a Kebira continued uphill, with the goods increasingly becoming more and more touristy. One store  almost got me reaching into my pockets as I fancied a djellaba, a traditional loose and long tunic. I can remember flouncing around my house as a child wearing one, (and a Fez!), that my father bought me when we visited Tangiers in 1978.

Julie's raised eyebrows put a stop to any thoughts of recreating my childhood memories!

The alley eventually levelled off as we approached the end. This area was filled with enticing restaurants but we had already made our choice after doing our research on-line earlier. 

We were very near the Bab Bou Jeloud, in fact we could see it and it was more of a green gate than a blue gate from inside the medina.

Turning back into the medina we entered another area selling street food, fresh fruit and veg and so on. In the midst of it all was a butcher who wasn't afraid from letting you know exactly which cows they had slaughtered for your cut of meat today, as they proudly displayed their heads on a hook. Their toungues hung low. For anyone it was quite a disturbing sight but for a vegetarian it was a shocking sight.

"They should do that in Tesco" said Julie "To remind people of what exacty they are eating." Despite eating meat Julie does have a conscience about it.

A litte further down the souk we came to a very narrow entrance on the left, with sign above it that said "Cafe Clock". It was large enough to see but in all the distraction of the souk it could have been easily missed.  Especially as it was next to the Dal al-Magana (or Water Clock) which did grab the attention.

After congratulating ourselves on spotting the sign we walked down the dark corridor to the end until we came to a closed door. We opened it and entered a very small open courtyard.  In the corner there was some steep stairs that lead to the rooftop terrace.  

It was surprisingly busy, with only a few tables for us to choose from. There were was a table for two at the top of the stairs or a large lounge area in the corner. Naturally we decided to opt for more space.

A few minutes later we realised we should have forgone space and gone for sunlight as it was surprisinlgy cold in the shade. However it did have a great (if limited) view of the minaret of the Bou Inania medersa, so it compensated for its coldness.

Whilst we browsed the menu two guys sat opposite us tucked into their camel burgers.

"You should try camel" I suggested, but Julie couldn't bare the thought of it, choosing instead the chicken fillet burger.  I went for the falafels which came with hummus and tabbouleh which was really tasty. I also had an avocado smoothie which was absolutely delicious.

It was now about 3pm, time for a siesta but first we wanted to take a closer look at the Bab Bou Jeloud. We walked out of the medina, through the blue gate, stepping out into the road before turning around to have a better view.

It was an outstanding sight.

We could see the minaret of the Bou Inania medersa and of the Sidi Lazzaz mosque in the distance.

It appeared to be a timeless age old view but what we see today was only built in 1913 by the governing French Protectorate. Just to the left of the grand Blue Gate was the original gate, a small basic arch into the medina, which was now unused. 

Having reached our final destination all we had left to do was to find our way back to our hotel. Of course that was easier said than done.

We re-entered the medina through the Bue Gate and returned down Tala'a Kebira until we came to a sign for The Ruined Garden restaurant. From there we followed the general rule of taking the path that went downhill.

I had no idea where we were but was confident of at least reaching the bottom of the hill. I was aiming for Place Rcif from where we could then easily find our way back.

We had left the souks behind and entered a maze of non-descript walls. I'm sure we could have walked around in circles and not realised it because there wasn't any distinctive features between one alley and the next.

Eventually our path brought us back into the hubub of the souks and to a familiar sight, the fountain of  Place an-Nejjarine. The amusement in the fact we could have stayed on the shopping street and reached here in half the time was lost on us. Although we did eventually see the funny side. 

At least returning to a familiar point allowed us to retrace our steps this morning, from Place an-Nejjarine past the Zawiya of Moulay Idriss II, Al-Attarine medersa, the Chouara Tannery, eventually reaching Place Rcif.

Having spent most of the day inside the medina it felt strange, almost agrophobic, walking across the wide open space of the square towards the Bab Rcif gate. A few minutes later we were burrowing our way back into the medina to find our Riad Borj Dhab. This we did with surprising ease.

It was time for a siesta and a nice cup of mint tea. We drew the curtains, switched off the lights and drifted off into a deep sleep.

A few hours later we woke up just in time for our dinner reservation. We had originally planned on eating at our riad but apparently the chef was ill today and Nour, the manager, recommended the Medina Social Club which included a pick up/drop off service.

Another couple from the riad also took up Nour's recommendation and we all got into a minibus then driven around the outside of the medina walls to the opposite side of Fes El Bali. It was then on foot from there as we followed our driver down the shopping main street, Rue Taiaa Kebira. 

He then disappeared down a dark alley. "Where is he taking us?" asked Julie genuinely concerned.

We came to a dead end where behind a solid wooden door we entered the Medina Social Club Hostel and Restaurant. We would never have found the place on our own!

We stepped inside a large open courtyard with a lovely tiled floor and fountain in its centre with a couple of tangerine fruit trees in the corners. The walls were also painted a shade of tangerine giving the courtyard a warmer glow that it was in actual fact.  Being open to the elements it was basically like sitting outside.

The younger couple decided that a chilly December evening was fine for al fresco dining but we chose to sit inside one of the rooms just off the courtyard.

One of the waiters saw me rubbing my hands and blowing into them to keep the circulation going, so he rolled a gas heater over to our table which was kind of him.  

We browsed the menu and unfortunately there wasn't a vegetarian option as a main meal. When we mentioned this they said they could do me a vegetable pastilla. Great.  I also ordered a "chickpea curry" starter whereas Julie went for the lamb.  

The food arrived quite promptly. My curry was really tasty although it was more of a Harrira soup with chickpeas. Then came my pastilla which was this massive pastry filled with tasty vegetables of all types, like carrots, potatoes, cabbage as wel as peppers and tomatoes, seasoned with Moroccan spices like cumin and corriander. I really enjoyed it.

A bottle of locally brewed Flag beer was a perfect accompliament for the pie.

Julie was equally pleased with her choice. The menu described it as a knuckle of lamb confit. She has struggled through many gnarly pieces on her travels but tonight the cut of meat was a familiar piece that she knew as a lamb shank. She even had the pleasure of a glass of Moroccan wine.

We paid our reasonably priced bill and waited for the driver to give us the nod for our return back to our riad.

Nightlife around the medina by Western standards was non-existant. There was a buzz around many coffee houses, filled exclusively with male customers but nowhere for couples to chill out unless of course you knew where to go with many of the larger hotels and riads open to non-residents.

However, we were tired enough to simply return to our own Riad Borj Dhab. We were met by the night watchman. The riad was dark and already tucked up. He wished us a good night.  

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