The Fès Medina
Photographs: Suzanna Clarke
The old Medina of Fès is situated in a bowl shapped valley dissected by the river the Oued Fès. Unlike the modern city (the Ville Nouvelle) founded by the French, it is sheltered from the extremes of climate by its geography.
Many people think of Morocco as always being hot, but the temperatures last January were really cold. Sitting in the Cafe Fidous in Batha each morning, clutching a nus-nus - a half and half coffee and hot milk, the temperature was often minus three degrees Celsius. During the day it would get to about fourteen. At the end of the month, near the festival of Aid El Kabir, it actually snowed.
Aid el Kabir is one the oldest and most important religious festivals of the Islamic world. The festival celebrates the willingness of Abraham to obey God and sacrifice his son Isaac, but also honours the giving of gifts, keeping of promises and making of sacrifices.
As Aid El Kabir is a festival of sacrifice each Muslim household that can afford to do so will sacrifice an animal - usually a sheep. The head of the household will turn the animal’s head toward Mecca before slitting its throat. None of the animal is wasted as all parts will be turned into brochettes and eaten, except a few small pieces of the heart and liver which the women of the household cast into the corners of each room in order to keep away evil. Special prayers are said on the day of the festival and the holiday is a time for the giving gifts and visiting friends and family. Islamic law also says that some of the meat of the sacrifice must be shared with the poor.
Aid el Kabir usually takes place around March every year in Muslim communities throughout the world. It's a festival which attracts controversy and outrage around the world from animal rights workers, who see the ritual as exceptionally cruel as the animal is conscious when their throat is slit and causes a bloody and painful death.
Bab Bou Jeloud - The Blue Gate
This is one of the main tourist entrances to the Old Medina. The Blue gate (Bab means gate)is actually only blue on one side. the fine zellij tile work on the side facing into the medina is green - the colour of Islam. The blue on the outside represents the colour of Fès. Fes pottery is famous for a blue made by firing a cobalt mixture painted on as a design. The potteries overlooking the Medina are well worth a visit.
Just inside the Bab Bou Jeloud are the entrances to the two main alleyways into the medina - the Tala'a Kbira and Tala'a Sghira. Also, just inside you will find several great eating places, though you may wish to go further into the medina to escape the tourist prices.
One of my favourite places to eat is inside the gate and around the first corner to the right. There are several small eating places here, but the furthest one, with a single plastic tabel and a kitchen behind it the size of a chicken coup, has great cheap food. Once, when I was ill and had booked myself into the comfort of the Hotel Batha to recover, the owner of the shop, realising I had not visited for several days, tracked me down and had a bowl of delicious bessara delived to me.
Tags: Morocco, Fès, Books, Fez,