During our tour of the medina we visited a couple of traditional workshops where we got see and meet to some of the craftsmen at work. The first one we visited was in the corner of a funduq, somewhere in a back corner of the medina, a place I'd have difficulty finding again. A man and his two sons were busy at work creating small, colorful tiles for use in mosaics. They didn't mind us at all coming in to look around, though we didn't get to speak to them as we had no Arabic and they spoke no French or English.
The man gave us two of the small tiles, in the shapes of a star and a triangle, which, though probably worthless, are worth far more to me than any of the things we haggled for later on in our trip. It seemed strange that the boys had to work at such a young age, but this is something very common in Fes. Many skills are passed down from generation to generation.
We also visited a wood scribers shop, slightly more "up market" (if such a term can be applied to Fes?) than the mosaic place. It was very refreshing to be ignored by the men and his sons working there, something that rarely happened in some of the more touristy shops in the medina. They were far more interested in their work, than in trying to sell us anything.
Tile and Pottery Artisans South of Fes
A few kilometers south of Fes by petit taxi is a excellent pottery/tile artisan area.
From my journal:
We entered their small workshop and found two rows of crouched men chipping tiles with hammers. Their ‘work stations’ were haphazard piles of rocks, blocks and tiles that had no perceptible functionality; as though their fathers’ fathers had stacked the blocks generations ago and the men saw no reason to question or improve upon their fathers’ design.
The delicate sound of clinking tile filled the air as each man carefully tapped his hammer against a fired tile, chipping off a precise triangle or a diamond or a complex geometric shape. As I noticed the bags and bags of the shapes surrounding them I imagined crouching awkwardly like this hour after hour, day after day, chipping out bag after bag of blue triangles or yellow diamonds. How uncomfortable and tedious and monotonous and dull: my knees aching and my day’s highlight coming when the boss tells me to switch from blue triangles to yellow diamonds. The guy to my left telling and re-telling the same joke about the camel and the tent maker, the guy to my right with his endless complaints about his wife’s cooking: “She can’t even boil couscous!”, the guy across from me constantly complaining “I hate these cursed yellow stars, why do I always have to make the yellow stars? How come Ahmad always gets the easy shapes?”
To me, their occupation looked like the job from hell, but the men joked and chatted, seemingly content with their careers. They were probably following their father’s lead, proud of their ability to rapidly cut the precise shapes that would one day become beautiful zelije.
As we nodded goodbye, one of the younger men smiled shyly and handed Kareen a small tile cut into the shape of a heart.
CTM bus to Chefchaouen
CTM have 3 buses departing for Chefchaouen.
Journey time 4 hours.
Tickets are around 60 dirhams plus 5 dirhams for luggage.
All buses depart from the CTM Bus Station near Place Hussein de Jordanie next to the mosque.
Please use prices as a rough guide only.
Arabic language school Fes, Morocco
I did an Arabic language course (having studied Arabic for some time) in Fes, for about four months and stayed on another month just for fun.
the school there is ALIF; it is mostly a school where Moroccans learn English, but also they have courses in modern Standard Arabic and Moroccan colloquial (also divided into certain themes as literature or media Arabic). The school was relatively expensive compared to many other Arabic language schools in the outside world, but since that was the first time I went abroad on my own to an Arab country to learn Arabic, I wanted to have everything booked securely, classes, accomodation and all. It worked really well and was one of the best times in my life. I went to class three or four hours a day, did some homework and had fun the rest of the time. there is a house next to the school where students can live (they don't have to, we got an apartment after a while), which is pompously called "the villa". It is not what you would think a villa is like, but it's decent enough and clean and the bathrooms are fine. It was nice to live there, I got to know people so quickly and I have nice memories of all of us sitting together, talking and cooking, never watching TV.
The classes are kind of expensive but run really well, and I got a lot of of them. I also had classes in Moroccan colloquial, which most people tell me is useless and "corrupt" compared to the other "Arabics" but o well, how can one dialect be worth less than another? I liked it, and it really helped me get around in Morocco!
Altogether I'd say it's worth it going for this kind of language stay in Morocco, especially since I was really unlucky (with a cheaper and much less planned language stay) in Syria.
I like Fez, it has character, is beautiful and interesting and Morocco is beautiful. I much preferred Fez to the awful traffic of Damascus and thought the medina was prettier, too. Syrian food is better and more variegated, I find, but altogether I would go back to Morocco in a second!
The Bou Inania Medersa
The word medersa comes from madrasa, a classical Arabic word for "school" -- which meant, of course, Koranic school, in which the only subject was the memorization of the Koran. The medersas housed students while they learned to recite the Koran and the Hadith, the words and deeds of the prophet; and once they had mastered these, they were passed on to more analytical studies.
The Bou Inania Medersa was built by order of Abou Inan, the first ruler of the Merenid dynasty, which would become the most decisive ruling clan in Fez's development. (Nearly all the medersas were built by the Merenids, with the exception of the Moulay Rachid Medersa, built by the Alaouites.) The main components of the medersa's stunningly intricate decorative artwork are the green-tile roofing, the cedar eaves and upper patio walls, carved in floral and geometrical motifs, the carved-stucco mid-level walls, the ceramic-tile lower walls covered with calligraphy (Kufi script; essentially cursive Arabic) and geometrical patterns, and, finally, the marble floor.
The most dazzling display is the carved cedar, each square inch a masterpiece of handcrafted sculpture involving long hours of the kind of concentration required to memorize the Koran. The stucco is made of plaster toughened with egg white (a technique that, after more than 1,000 years, must be pronounced effective). The black belt of ceramic tile around the courtyard bears Arabic script reading this is a place of learning and other such exhortatory academic messages.
The Can't Miss:
- The Facade;
- The Praying Room;
Opening Hours : Daily 9-7
COST: 10 DH