On our first Sunday in Fez, we had arranged with M for a tour through the Medina (old town). We met at half past ten in front of the main gate, the „Blue Gate“. It was built in 1913. The former main gate is to the left of it, is a few centuries (9) older and a bit smaller. The city wall has 14 gates and 17 km in length.
The Medina consists of two parts: The „Andalusian part“, built around 813 by Andalusians expelled from Spain, and the Tunisian part, built around the same time by immigrants from Tunisia. The two parts are divided by the small river Fes, but now no longer separated by walls, but connected by bridges.
Through the Medina there are two „main streets“, the „Small Slope“ and the „Big Slope“ and about 900 small cross streets… Under the Medina there are supposed to be over 60 springs, through which it is pleasantly cool in the Medina. In addition, there are over 80 public fountains where anyone can get water! In the Medina, there are three important sanctuaries and over twenty theological schools/universities. The University „al-Qarawiyin“ started in 859 as a madrasa and is the oldest educational institution in the world. It was founded by the merchant’s daughter Fatima al-Fihri. She used all her inheritance to establish this institution to provide education to the people. The university has 14 gates, one of which is especially for female students.
There was so much to discover in the Medina, so many market stalls, some of which reminded us of the markets in Russia. So many beautiful things, many hand crafts, but also delicacies. Copper smiths, carpenters, tailors, bakers, butchers with camel and goat meat. A „Pharmacie“, a place where spices for the kitchen, herbs were prepared to oils and ointments for cosmetics and also for medicine, was very impressive. And always so much historical information about the houses and squares of the Median, also about the residential streets located between the „market streets“.
We also visited a weaving mill. There are woven and processed so great, beautiful fabrics from ONLY natural „ingredients“. From tough cactus leaves fibers are obtained, these are dyed and woven together with wool and cotton. The cotton forms the warp threads (longitudinal) the wool and cactus threads form the weft threads (transverse).
The short tour of the tannery/dyeing plant, which has existed since the 11th century, was also impressive. Leather is made here from animal skins for centuries. The guide explained to us that no chemicals are used. The first thing that they do with the animal skin, is that the hides would be put into a solution with limestone. This would loosen the hairs and the remaining not usable things from the hat. Then the skins would go into a bath, that would soften the leather. Then into the „dye pots“ with only natural dyes. Poppies for red color, henna for brown, mint for green, indigo for blue (I forgot the others). The skins lie in the various solutions for 5-6 weeks and must be moved daily. Then they are hung up to dry for another 4-6 weeks….
During the tour of the tannery in the old town, it was not only the aim of the guide to explain us the process of work, but also, if possible, to sell something 😉 There were so many beautiful things made of leather. Most of it from goat and camel leather, which is to be much more durable and softer than cow or sheep leather. But since I (Fränzi) had already spent a little more than my pocket money in the weaving shop, we excused our „not buying“ by saying that we had no more money with us. „That doesn’t matter at all,“ said the nice young man, „you can arrange different kind of paying.” They would also take bank cards, or they would even bring the purchase to the hotel, then we could settle the bill through the hotel. After a few moments he said with a smile, that the best way of paying would be: „The woman buys nice things and the man goes to work for a few weeks in the tannery….“
Again and again we saw these special doors, especially on old houses. When I asked our guide „why“, I got the following explanation:
They look like keyholes, because behind the doors is paradise. Whoever has the right key, has access to paradise..… This is even more understandable when you consider that this type of house, the „Riad“, has a enclosed courtyard with a fountain and usually a small garden. In addition, „Riad“ means paradise…
Below the „blue gate“ from a the back…and there it is green 😉 To the left of it „our Medina favorite coffee place“ with pretty terrace, which we will visit only next time…