When I went to Fez, Morocco with OverseasAdventure Travel, we were in parts 9th century, parts 14th century, in a glorious country that had the modernity of Tangier and Casablanca and the antiquity of Fez. We had left the 21st century behind in the capitol city of Rabat where the base trip began for Morocco’s Sahara Odyssey. Even our Riad, or traditional Moroccan guest house, was a step back into a different century with unique architecture, vivid colors, and artifacts from the past everywhere.
The first of our two days in Fez was a tapestry of traditional Moroccan sights, smells and sounds, but quite different from others we had already seen. They were perhaps the richest day of travel on the entire trip, although each day was unique. We spent the day at the Medina and started in the Mellah district also known as the Jewish Quarter. We visited the Aban Danan Synagogue, which is a UNESCO world heritage site. The synagogue had a very simple door entrance as any other house in the same neighborhood, but the interior was somewhat elaborate and had undergone restoration. It even had a very old mikvah there, or a ritual cleansing bath. Our Trip Leader opened the Torah ark, and I was invited to take the dressing off the Torah along with one other woman who is Jewish. But she knew better than I… a Rabbi needs to be present, and a special blessing said, and she didn’t know the blessings (nor was there a rabbi). Still, it was nice to have my heritage recognized like that, which I was hardly expecting. I left a donation in the tzaka box on the way out for charity.
From there, we walked to a different part of the Medina and changed Centuries again. There are at least 200 mosques in the Fez Medina, and we passed and visited a number of them, as well as an old madrassa. I personally feel that Islamic art and architecture are intricately beautiful, so I very much enjoyed the designs on the mosques inside the Medina. One that especially caught my attention had Stars of David incorporated in the designs, as a sign of respect and understanding between the two religions. I had seen that before in Marrakech on an independent trip year prior and looked forward to seeing it again. From what we were told, Morocco still believes in tolerance and diversity. But as I have also learned on this trip, that hasn’t always been so.
While the souks in Fez are not necessarily intended for tourists, we enjoyed the authenticity of the locals, seeing stalls stuffed high with merchandise for sale, and even a donkey careening around a tight corner as we wandered the labyrinth for which souks have been made famous. Our last night in Fez we walked around by the Palace and took in the night life. Due to the heat, people come out of the woodwork at night. We drove through the Jewish Quarter on the way back, and it was as lively with its own activity as the market we saw today with the man carrying the sheep. Olive vendors, fig salesmen, fruits and vegetables of every variety, all for sale on the streets at night.
But the real beauty of my time in and around Fez was not in the planned itinerary, but in special moments we had. On the way to Roman ruins some 90 miles away, we saw a Monday market for locals. It was fantastic to walk around and see the donkeys loaded up with goods, and even a donkey parking lot! As we entered the market, a man ran out hurriedly carrying a sheep, probably food for a month. The poor sheep looked bewildered. I saw Singer sewing machines everywhere as people lined up to have garments repaired. We even saw a man sitting next to a vat of water with two cups. He was a water salesman. I learned when we were walking around the Royal Palace earlier, that one king wanted there to be water available to him at all times, specially in summer. So, the concept of a water salesman emerged and has continued. I was not only in a different century, but a completely different time.
Before I took this trip with OAT, my intention was to just see Marrakech, which I did a number of years prior to get a taste of Morocco. However, I had heard from others that Fez was the most authentic part of the country. I thought of that when I was there and can only agree. This trip gives the traveler exposure to a large cross-section of Morocco, Spanish speaking, French speaking, and Arabic speaking, and includes ancient. modern and desert sites. It should absolutely not be missed, especially for those who want to step back in time.