Morocco Fès & Meknès 2001.02.09 - 02.13

Imperial Cities

Four cities, Fès, Meknès, Rabat, and Marrakech, comprise Morocco's Imperial Cities. Our final days in Morocco were spent in Fès and Meknès; Fès was chosen for its living Medieval city and Meknès for the nearby 2nd century Roman ruins of Volubilis.

We only found one semi-operational Internet Café in the medina in Meknès. The connection was interupted so often that FTP, web surfing, and email were nearly impossible. We didn't stop at any Internet Cafés in Fès, but there's one in the medina near the Post Office.

Fès Medina

Of the 3 sections of Fès, only the medina, Fès el-Bali, is interesting. Licensed guides will try to convince tourists staying outside the medina that walking through Fès el-Bali alone is difficult because of the complex network of tiny alleys. Furthermore, they insist, a lone foreigner is likely to attract hundreds of unwanted solicitations by faux guides and shop owners. In fact, Fès el-Bali is hardly difficult to navigate with a rudimentary map like the one in the Lonely Planet guide, and the most vicious solicitations occur along the outer boarder of the medina and significantly reduce after entering. Nevertheless, several travelers we met thought Fès had the most vicious and obnoxious hustlers in all of Morocco.

We decided to stay at a cheap hotel within the medina. That gave us the advantage of avoiding the hustlers on the outskirts and learning to find our way through the medina quickly. The only drawback is the quality of hotel and lack of services. The highest class hotel in the medina probably doesn't qualify for one star. The banks don't have ATMs. Hot water is a recent luxury.

A stroll through the medina street for a few hours is delightful and exhausting. The widest passages are about 5 people wide, and the narrow ones can fit one stream of pedestrians in either direction. Through these corridors trot mules carrying store supplies, men with carts moving inventory, plodding tourists, pestering kids, and the regular local folk. One section is primarily fruits and vegetables. 50 paces further are the butchers. A bit further are the jewelers, tom-tom makers, and carpet shops. Then we come to finished leather products, followed by leather material sales, and finally and the far end of the medina are the tanneries where animal skins are washed, dyed, and dried for future leather products.

Bab Bou Jeloud is one of the main gates into the medina, and most of the hotels within the medina are within 50 paces of it.

A shoe repair man stitches Masami's hiking boot as she waits. The cost to repair a seam on the spot? 3 DH (and a tip, if you so desire).

Washing and dying pits of the tannery in the Fès medina can only be seen from the balconies of leather shops, where surprise, surprise, you're asked to leave a tip or buy something. Acid from pigeon droppings in the white pits treat the animal skins. Then they're colored in the pits in the foreground.

Treated, dyed, and washed skins are spread on the rooftops to dry in the sun.

Roman Ruins of Volubilis

26km north of Meknès is Volubilis, the only Roman ruin in Morocco. Most tourists reach Volubilis by tour bus, but a combination bus (6 DH) / 30 minute walk will also get you there.

The most attractive feature of the Volubilis excavation is the number of mosaics. The site is open from sunrise to sunset daily and entry is 20 DH. Guides can be hired, but the information in Lonely Planet is sufficient.

This one of many mosaics depict a variety of animals and birds.

The dolphin mosaic in the House of Orpheus is one of our favorites.

The remains of the capitol stand at one of the highest points in Volubilis.

Today, the only residents of Volubilis are storks nesting on several of the columns.

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