Fez. Love from the Second Sight / Miłość od drugiego wejrzenia

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Arab word فأس (pronounced Fes) literally translates as a “pickaxe”. According to a legend, Idris I, the founder of kingdom of Morocco supposedly used a  pickaxe made of gold and silver while planning out the borders of Fez. It was the VIIIth century AD and roughly a hundred years later, the city became Morocco’s first capital. Soon after, Fez was already an important cultural, economical and religious center of the country. The university of Al-Karawijiin saw its heyday with medicine, philosophy and mathematics being studied.

“Mekka of the West” or “Africa’s Athens” as it was called, Fez gradually began to lose its importance only in the 2nd half of the XXth century, once the French moved the capital to Rabat.

Arabskie słowo  فأس (czytane jako Fes) tłumaczyć należy jako “kilof”. Wedle legendy Idris I, założyciel królestwa Maroko miał posługiwać się pokrytym złotem i srebrem kilofem wytyczając granice Fezu. Było to w VIII wieku naszej ery, a już w następnym stuleciu miasto stało się pierwszą stolicą Maroka. Niedługo później Fez był już ważnym ośrodkiem kulturalnym, gospodarczym i religijnym kraju. Na uniwersytecie Al-Karawijiin kwitł rozwój nauk  takich jak medycyna, filozofia, czy matematyka.

“Mekka Zachodu”, czy też “Ateny Afryki” jak nazywany był Fez stracił na swoim znaczeniu dopiero w połowie XX wieku gdy Francuzi przenieśli stolicę do Rabatu.

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It is still the same gate as on the featured photo. Bab Bou Jeloud is blue on one side and green on the other. / To wciąż ta sama brama co na głównym zdjęciu. Bab Bou Jeloud jest po jednej stronie niebiesk,a po drugiej zielona.

On arriving, our first impression was that Fez is HUGE! The city has got over a million of inhabitants and thus the medina resembles crowded subway stations (while those narrower streets reminded me rather of the subway wagons).

Second impression is that you can NEVER be sure of your exact location or whether you haven’t come back to the same place. Fez medina is immeasurable. You can be quite sure that once your cross that gate it will end with fear and a strong urge to escape. Maps are not too helpful neither. It feels like in a fairytale. The streets meander and twist however they wish as if the labyrinth was living its own life changing the locations of exits on purpose.

“False guides” are this city’s nightmare. There are hundreds of them while each and every one of them is more persistent or even aggressive. Our first entry to the medina ended with a series of insults directed at us, after we kindly declined the services of a “guide”.

 Nasze pierwsze wrażenie było takie, że Fez jest OGROMNY! Miasto ma ponad milion mieszkańców, a medyna przypomina zatłoczone stacje metra (przy czym co węższe uliczki przypominają raczej wagony).

Drugie wrażenie jest takie, że NIGDY nie wiadomo gdzie się właściwie jest oraz czy być może już się w tym miejscu nie było. Medyna Fezu jest niezmierzona. Możecie być prawie pewni, że pierwsze przekroczenie bram skończy się strachem i chęcią ucieczki. Mapki są niespecjalnie pomocne, gdyż ma się wrażenie, że niczym w krainie baśni, uliczki wiją się i kręcą jak chcą, a labirynt żyje własnym życiem umyślnie zmieniając położenie wyjść.

“Fałszywi przewodnicy” to zmora tego miasta – są ich setki, a każdy bardziej natarczywy czy nawet wręcz agresywny. Pierwsze nasze wejście do wnętrza medyny zakończyło się falą obelg od właśnie takiego “przewodnika” po tym jak staraliśmy się grzecznie podziękować za jego usługi.

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All roads lead to… a mosque. / Wszystkie drogi prowadzą do… meczetu.

Yet putting everything aside, the medina of Fez fascinates and delights, more than any other. Getting lost inside it is one of the biggest Moroccan adventures. The next day, once we calmed our nerves, we totally gave in. It ended up with a true love from the second sight.

A jednak mimo wszystko, medyna Fezu, jak żadna inna, fascynuje i zachwyca. Zagubić się w niej to jedna z największych marokańskich przygód. Już następnego dnia, gdy uspokoiliśmy swoje nerwy, daliśmy się jej porwać bez końca. Skończyło się na najprawdziwszej miłości od drugiego wejrzenia.

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Beautifully ornamented Sidi Ahmed Tijani mosque in Fez / Przepięknie zdobiony meczet Sidi Ahmed Tijani w Fezie

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Aga with a friendly visit in a Moroccan school / Aga z przyjacielską wizytą w marokańskiej szkole.

 

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Perfumes of the world in a hand’s reach! Chanel no.5 is here, together with no. 6 and 7 :-) / Perfumy z całego świata w zasięgu ręki. Jest tu Chanel no.5 jak również no.6 oraz 7 :-)

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Thami’s restaurant serves some delicious tajines, lentils and kofta. / Restauracja Thami’s serwuje znakomite tadżiny, soczewicę oraz kefty.

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Should you wonder where all the garbage produced inside the medina goes, look at the photo below. It’s like sweeping the dust under the carpet. Huge dumps snuggle up to the medina walls while the kids scour them in search of treasures.

Jeśli zastanawiacie się gdzie lądują wszystkie śmieci generowane wewnątrz mediny to popatrzcie na zdjęcie poniżej. To jak zamiatanie brudów pod dywan. Ogromne wysypiska tulą się do murów starego miasta, a wśród nich buszują dzieci w poszukiwaniu wyrzuconych skarbów.

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Wooden balconies above our heads are a sign of arriving at Mellah, a Jewish quarter. It was founded in 1438 by the Marinid dynasty as a first structure of its kind in Morocco. It was built on a salt marsh and this is where the name Mellah originates from. In Arabic it means “salt”. Later, the name continued to be used throughout Morocco to indicate the Jewish quarters. Only a few centuries back, there were over 22,000 Jews living here.

What still remind us of those times is Rabbi Schlomo Ibn Danan synagogue built in the XVIIth century, which makes it one of the oldest and more important in the Northern Africa. Make sure you ask the guide to show you the magnificent Torah made of a gazelle’s skin.

Drewniane balkony pojawiające się nad głowami to znak, że docieramy do Mellah, dzielnicy żydowskiej. Została ona założona w 1438 roku przed dynastię Marynidów i była pierwszą tego typu strukturą w Maroku. Zbudowano ją na słonych bagnach i właśnie stąd wzięła się powielana już później w całym Maroku nazwa Mellah, w języku arabskim oznaczająca tyle co “sól”. Jeszcze kilka stuleci temu żyło tu ponad 22.000 Żydów.

O tych czasach przypomina jeszcze XVII-wieczna synagoga Rabbi Schlomo Ibn Danan, jedna z najstarszych oraz najważniejszych w Afryce Północnej. Koniecznie poproście przewodnika by pokazał Wam niezwykłą Torę wykonaną ze skóry gazeli.

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***

Though at first glance Fez may appear unfriendly, it will rapidly make you like it. It is worth spending here at least two entire days. A good idea might be also to book a room inside a medina (like the B&B on the photo below). In the evening the commotion dies down and there is absolute silence. It ends only with a morning call for prayer by a muezzin.

***

Fez, choć na pierwszy rzut oka wydaje się być nieprzyjazny, bardzo szybko Was do siebie przekona. Warto spędzić tutaj co najmniej dwa pełne dni. Świetnym przeżyciem jest nocleg we wnętrzu medyny (jak w tym B&B na zdjęciach poniżej). Późnym wieczorem jej gwar cichnie i nastaje błoga cisza, przerwana dopiero porannym wezwaniem muezzina do modlitwy.

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105 thoughts on “Fez. Love from the Second Sight / Miłość od drugiego wejrzenia

    1. Definitely! Don’t worry though, Fez doesn’t feel like it’s going to change in the nearest future. I had the same as you when I traveled to Peru and got sick before the sightseeing of Lima :/

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  1. The ornamentation is absolutely divine! Thank you again for another educational tour inside Morocco! Your photography is great… & very thorough, giving me a real perspective on the place. TY so very much!
    (ps. maybe a type-o in the 1st paragraph after the second photo. Perhaps million, not billion?)

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    1. Thank you Resa! I am extremely happy you’re still enjoying traveling with me :-) You are absolutely right, a billion inhabitants would make it HUGE indeed. Corrected now :-)

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    1. Well spot, indeed these are French fries. Still I haven’t seen many traces of French occupation apart from Casablanca ville nouveau and the fact that north-western part of Morocco speaks French. The Portuguese have left more in terms of architecture, forts etc.

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    1. It is because Fez itself is a great city! It is the most interesting one in Morocco. This post was just a teaser :-) There are more coming on Fez! Cheers Bob!

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  2. Once again an amazing adventure to an exotic place I’ve only ever read about or saw in movies etc. I love the picture of Aga with the kids and the instruments were so cool! Thank you so much!

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  3. This African tour is amazing. So beautiful ornaments and mosaics. It is good to see that everywhere is not so wonderful, children digging garbage. The Coca cola mirror is a great compination of different worlds. Are you ever afraid in these north African countries? Thank you again making the work so that I travel in my armchair.

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    1. Thank you for reading my posts. Each comment of yours leaves a huge smile on my face :-)
      Indeed, the children are poor and they’re trying to do everything to survive. At the same time though they learn how to survive and take care of each other. When I look at them, I also see smiles on their faces. They might be poor but they are definitely not sad.
      To be honest with you. I would go to Morocco even now. Aga said she wouldn’t. So far, it has been one of the safest countries we’ve traveled to. Seriously! Then… I am not sure whether I would drive my own car anywhere in Africa but Morocco…

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  4. Where to start! Let’s start with Aga and her smile amidst all those lovely children. Heart-warming it was! There’s the fact that I should always eat prior to reading your posts, as the tummy rumbles. Laughter. The instruments make me want to learn to play something but for everyone’s sake, I will refrain. The architecture is always incredible. The garbage made me sad, but one man’s garbage can be another’s treasure, so I will hold to that thought. Awesome post, my friend.

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    1. Belinda, your comment is like a post itself, it gathers both golden thoughts and jokes :-) Amazing.
      The diversity in Fez is great, the fondouks (market stalls) keep you interested at all times. There is so much going on whenever you look.

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    1. Thanks Dave! Right, it’s very bad PR for Fez. They are so stubborn. Sometimes aggressive which scares the tourists away. This doesn’t make any sense to me… why would they want to do that if the tourists bring them money?

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  5. I laughed when you said how HUGE Fez is. Yes, it is, and so beautiful. I just can’t get over how much art is incorporated into the buildings. And I love the narrow streets and outdoor bazaars. The picture of Aga with the children is heartwarming. We need to hug children all over the world. I enjoyed today’s tour. Thank you. :-)

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    1. I completely agree with you. The art is amazing, something you will not find anywhere else in the world. And the children were adorable! They were so friendly towards us, it was truly a great moment!

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    1. Thank you Peter and you are very welcome :-) This is going to be 20 dirhams for the tour, and remember that my own service fee is not included ;-) Make it 50dh.
      A practical joke, sorry. Then, this is how they do it in Fez.

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    1. Thank you Andy!
      We did not. The first day we got lost a couple of times. Twice we asked kids for help and gave them some spare change. They were so happy they could help. The 2nd day we made it on our own, not without difficulties though. Maps were never accurate :/

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  6. Food looks sensational. Might but some Chanel No. 7 as haven’t got that one !!!!!

    Really enjoyed reading about the history of Fez and your photos are so good. Only six months until I go but still really enjoying my holiday in China at the moment.

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    1. Hi Sue :-) I can see you are! Been following your blog. Morocco will wait, but let me continue with giving you more travel ideas! Let me know if you get this Chanel no.7 in the end, haha :-)

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    1. Hmm, we have seen some Jews, obviously not thousands of them. Morocco was a pretty safe place for them. Still I guess many have left for Israel once they could.

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  7. A little unsettling; somewhat scary. Every culture has its good points, and its underbelly. The challenge is to remain ‘unaffected’. Not always easy. Like all cities, life has its values. Were it not for the ‘undercurrent’ of menace we may miss all there is to see. The protected areas showing promise may go unnoticed. How richly you’ve portrayed this city. The fine buildings, long standing. Traditions that have been in evidence for centuries. The lives of its inhabitants intertwined with religious beliefs diverse and strong. The young enjoying education. And Aga in their midst. A splendid tour, which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed.
    My attention was drawn to the ‘drink’, Maciek – green in colour. Leaves/herbs?

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    1. Thank you Carolyn. Now, I am not sure anymore what drink this was. Guess leaves of some kind, Aga likes a good lemonade.Myself, I was always going for coke since it helped me digest all those delicacies :-) You are right to say every culture has its good and worse points. This is what makes it even more interesting. We are always trying to appreciate all we see and experience and get ourselves a greater context to understand it better. No assumptions or judgment, just observation.

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      1. Yes, I thought the food (and drink) looked interesting. I’m sure it was healthy; though, according to their culinary expertise, robust with spices. I really enjoy this kind of food; however, the tummy doesn’t always agree… I’ve never considered ‘coke’ as a ‘digestive aid’. ;)

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        1. Truth to be told, Coke is an excellent drink for travelers. I rarely drink it at home, but always when abroad. Works like a charm, never had a stomachache, even eating on the streets very often.

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    1. Right Andrew, having seen Fez & Meknes first, I was not that excited about Marrakech. Fez is also crowded with tourists, yet somehow is feels more authentic. There is more mystery there, the medina labyrinth is one of its kind!
      We did not take any guide in the end. We only let one of them lead us to a tannery, which paid off in the end.

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  8. Great photos. The food looks delicious! How is it that Morocco seems untouched by the terrorism occurring elsewhere? You and Andrew Petcher seem to travel there unencumbered.

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    1. That is a good question. I suppose the economical situation in Morocco is much better than the one in other African countries. People are rather happy and free to do what they want and how they want to do it. I found Morocco an extremely safe place to travel. Apart from one single situation in Fez (aggressive “false guide”) we have not encountered any problems while there.

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  9. Super jest ta Wasza prodróż po Maroko. Sam spedziłem ponad 3 tygodnie kilka lat temu i teraz miło wrócić tam z Wami. Nie wiem czy udało się Wam dotrzeć do grabiarni. Super miejsce – szczególnie pod kątem fotografii. Całkowicie się zgadzam z Waszą opinią o noclegu medinie – dokładnie pamiętam ranną pobudkę ;-) a dla prawdziwych poszukiwaczy przygód – przy okazji polecam kąpiel w tradycyjnym hammamie z lokalesami.

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    1. Dzięki Wojtek! Nie udało nam się znaleść czasu na hammam. Naprawiliśmy to dopiero w Andaluzji – choć to absolutnie nie to samo przeżycie, to wciąż było bardzo przyjemnie. Do garbarni dotarliśmy – napiszę o tym osobny post, bo jak sam mówisz – pod kątem fotografii to raj! Pozdrawiam!

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  10. Fez looks like a very bustling, busy, and huge cities. After all this time, the intricate murals still look rather fantastic, but I found it sad to see the litter out on the streets. Fake guides can be found everywhere, but I don’t understand why they resort to insults and aggressive behaviour if they don’t get their way. It will only drive tourists away. Good to know that you still had a good time.

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    1. It is, Fez surprised us being that big. I now wonder how do the medinas in some other Arab countries look… It is worth going there, as it has history written all over its walls ☺

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  11. Fes is absolutely amazing. Entering its narrow street is like coming into never ending labyrinths. I always got trouble to find where my riad was, but there were always nice people to assist me. According to my observation, its medina is the best in entire Morocco 😊😊😊

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  12. Cudowne są te stragany i straganiki, wciśnięte jeden koło drugiego i oferujące wszystkie skarby świata. Szkoda, że sprzedawcy są tak nachalni, bo można by cały dzień spędzić na łażeniu tam i fotografowaniu tych cudeniek. Coraz bardziej chciałabym zobaczyć Fez …

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    1. Niech nic Cię nie powstrzymuje :-) Przy tym co się dzieje na świecie, Maroko jawi się jako jedno z bezpieczniejszych miejsc do odwiedzenia. Do sprzedawców i naciągaczy przyzwyczajasz się po paru godzinach, nie taki diabeł straszny! Pozdrawiam!

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  13. Thank you for the tour and wonderful photos. I recognize the false guides from Marrakesh. I always try to avoid them…but we were fooled this time. Horrid really. I prefer going alone. Egypt was swarmed by them.

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    1. Pity they are so persistent, sometimes even aggressive. We rarely use guides, also because we want to take our time and explore everything on our own.

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