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Fes: A Medieval Town of Fairytales

My forefathers, the first settlers of America, were immigrants fleeing the corrupt kings and strict monarchies of Europe. Because they faced such injustice in their former homeland, one of the main hopes of life in America was to establish a system that ensured them liberty, a luxury they didn't have in Europe. Once they reached the new world they formed a new system of governance called democracy which would ideally represent their needs as citizens. So there are no kingdoms in America and no old towns like the old medinas (cities) of Morocco. The closest we've come are fairytales of peasant girls, fairy godmothers, rich kingdoms, handsome princes, and magic pumpkins. And though these stories are only fiction, as I look out over Fes, Morocco's most ancient city, I wonder if just maybe, there's a bit of truth behind the tales.

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Fes, where the imagination soars
Morocco is still a monarchy today, and though recent amendments to the government have added a parliament to better represent the people of Morocco, the king remains the dominant decision-making force of the nation. In this and many other ways kingdoms have changed over the years; kingdoms of today are very different from the old ones. In the age of the information superhighway, it's especially hard to imagine that Morocco was once a medieval kingdom. The French, for example, only recently erected the ville nouvelle (the new city) in 1916. It has the same convenience, comfort and appearance as any other modern city. It's not until you visit Fes el Bali,
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Not a lot has changed on the streets of the 'old medina'
the old medina, that you get a picture of medieval life. Not only does the old medina preserve the history of the nation in its famous thousand-year old landmarks and architecture, it preserves the lifestyle and the culture of the people as well. Not much has changed.

Fes el Bali is one of the largest medinas in the world and the people of the old city pride themselves on the tradition of their lives. Despite the fact that Rabat is now the capital of Morocco, the people of Fes justifiably look on their city as the cultural and spiritual capital. The entire medina is still surrounded by the old wall built centuries ago to protect the kingdoms from its adversaries. Small stations where canons were once positioned atop the walls and holes from enemy fire are evidence of the transitions and hardships
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I was swept through the mystical streets
the city faced over the years. Nonetheless, the Fassis (the people of Fes) have been able to uphold their tradition in many ways. The seven gates in the wall, for example, still function as the only entrances to the city. Once inside, tiny winding roads crisscross a small river with bridges, forming a maze of confusion if you don't know your way around.

I was quickly swept up into a flow of foot-traffic that seemed to be heading in a particular direction, down steps and around corners, through small backstreets, and into an open courtyard. There, in the center of it all, I found one of the largest and oldest mosques of Morocco, the Kairouine Mosque.

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The Grand Mosque
Founded between 859 and 862 AD by Fatma bint Mohammed ben Feheri, it has one of the finest libraries in the Muslim world. Beautifully carved woodwork painted in colorful elaborate patterns adorn the huge door at the entrance of the mosque. And that is just the beginning of the craftsmanship of the old medina. As I passed through small streets crowded with donkeys hauling heavy loads and a million people going about their daily business, there were blacksmiths, shoemakers, and bread bakers in flurry of activity all around.

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You can buy just about anything in the markets
It is truly an amazing sight! In the United States, when it's time to buy shoes we go to the shoe store, but here there's a shoemaker, who hand crafts shoes from leather and rubber for the people of the town. The artisans create beautifully decorated lamps and teakettles from sheets of brass. And I even met an eight-year-old girl who weaves huge magnificently designed rugs and carpets on a loom. Her father explained that when girls start young they are masters of the craft by their early twenties and can eventually train to take over the family business. The larger rugs take up to 3 months to finish and sell for as much as $5000 US dollars.

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It's here that natural dyes are used to color the leather
In the maze of small windy alley-like streets it's almost impossible to know what you'll find behind any given door. If you can find a shop with a terrace you can look out over the entire medina. From there you'll instantly notice the most exciting and unique features of all, the dye-pits. These dye-pits are hundreds of years old, the oldest of their kind, and are used to dye skins for leather crafted items. First, animal skins are taken from the slaughterhouses and dried. They are then placed in white limestone pits to remove the fur. They are hung out to dry again and dyed in the dye pits. The dye is made of all natural ingredients like poppy (red), saffron (yellow), henna (orange), and kohl (black). After the skins are dyed they are taken to the tanner. He then creates beautifully designed jackets, purses, hats, and even furniture.

I could easily imagine the cobblestone and brick streets of the medina as the same small roads that Cinderella ran across as she raced to beat the clock as it struck twelve. But I no longer have to imagine her fairytale village because I know the real thing exists, in the wonderful old medina of Fes. With the hammering of metal workers, small crowded streets, teams of heavily laden donkeys, tanneries, dye pits, royal palaces, and grand mosques, this kingdom definitely has it all.


Abeja - Abeja's camera visits Volubilis
Kavitha - Beauty is Only Skin Deep: Discover Meknes's Tortured Past
From Rags to Riches: Take a tour of Asilah, Morocco and see the transformation
Making a Difference - Abeja gets M.A.D.-- She's Making a Difference

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