Fez is situated at the crossroads of all the important routes in the country and served as the capital for centuries until 1927, evidenced by an imposing royal palace area. The hat of the same name, a short, red cylinder with a black tassel attached to the top, originated in Fez but became famous for being banned in Turkey when Mustafa Kemal Ataturk wanted to modernize the country and abolish anything reminiscent of the old theocratic rule. In Morocco, however, it’s never gone out of fashion.
Fez is really three cities in one; a new town, an old town and a really old town, Fes el Bali, dating back to the foundation of the city in the 8th century. Here, the medina quarter is a giant maze and left to our own devices, we would probably not have found our way out again. It still took hours to half-run through at the heels of our local guide. An astonishing array of handicraft: leatherware, scarves woven from agave fibres, brass lamps, colurful pottery, straw baskets, carpets, the tanning and dyeing section where hides and cloth have been processed since the 11th century, braziers banging away with the sound reverbating so loudly that even my teeth hurt (I suddenly gained an understanding of the expression “braziers” being used in Swedish for a bad hangover)… and a sprawling food section, with everything from grains and spices to mouthwatering veggies and fruits, dates and other dried fruits swarming with wasps, bundles of fragrant herbs and a butcher proudly displaying the forlorn head of a camel outside his stall.
This did not, however, diminish our appetite when it was finally time for lunch. Like in most other places, we were served an array of vegetarian appetizers and the main course came in a tagine, a clay pot with a conical lid used for most cooking. Afterwards, we exited the medina through the imposing Bab Bou Jeloud gate, decorated with green tiles on the inside and blue ones on the outside.