I’ve spent a combined time of about 5 months living in Fes (فاس), Morocco over the past year. During my first visit studying in the city I lived far down into the labyrinth of the old medina (old part of the city). My school was in the new city – where I lived during my second period of study.
I’ve decided to do more of a photo diary with this post, as the pictures speak for themselves in such a vibrant area. I had so many enriching experiences and there so much to say that this post would end up extreeemely long if I tried to explain Fes in text! Having said this, if you have any questions or would like me to elaborate on anything, please feel free to drop me an email.
Founded in 789, Fes is the second largest city in Morocco with a population of 1.1 million. Yet, when you’re there, you feel like you are only in a small town. Perhaps it’s due to the divisions of the city and narrow maze of winding streets which make the rest of the city seem a million miles away. The old city is always bustling with people, but totally silent at night, as if you were living in a very remote area.
The medina is also considered one of the world’s largest urban car-free areas, which is great for the environment, but can also be a hinderance when there is no chance of getting a taxi to your front door in the rain! I think this also minimises the ‘city feel’ as I was awoken each morning by the crow of a rooster rather than the hum of commuting cars.
I’d like take a moment to initiate the discussion of harassment here. It’s something which I feel is important to be discussed, as is often brought up in the conversation of Morocco, particularly in Fes. Naturally, after hearing Fes’ reputation for intense harassment, particularly for women, it was something which was a great concern of mine pre-travel. I remember reading the post of a single female traveller who had purposely left Fes off her itinerary when travelling around the country due to the concerning reputation, especially in the old city where I would be living.
However, having spent 5 months living between the old and new city, I can genuinely say that I never had any issues. I think it’s really important that you try to research and understand Moroccan culture before you embark of your travel and remain mindful of this for the duration of your trip. Fes is a very traditional and religious area and so you to be respectful of this. For example, dressing modestly is really important. You don’t need to be draped head to toe, but it definitely isn’t appropriate to be walking about in short shorts and tank tops. Try and observe what locals wear and use this as a guideline – you’ll never find local women wearing mini skirts and so, whether you agree with it or not, neither should you. It never ceased to amaze me some of the scantily clad tourists who more than likely would then return home complaining of harassment issues. After spending some time living in the city I even found myself staring at them because they looked so out of place!
This issue also depends on what you classify as harassment. Obviously, sexual harassment is never acceptable in any capacity. However, you can expect to be relentlessly bothered by merchandisers and invited into little shops as you walk through the streets. Perhaps some perceive this to be harassment, as it truly is relentless, but these people don’t pose any kind of threat, they are just simply trying to make a living.
What is key to dealing with harassment in this way, is understanding what is actually posing a threat to you and what you feel comfortable with. If noisy, narrow streets packed with tourists and locals alike sounds like your worst nightmare, then maybe this just isn’t the place for you. I personally felt more comfortable and safe living in the old city of Fes as opposed to the new city, for the fact that there are so many people around. The locals are so friendly and helpful that if you are experiencing any issues, even if it’s just the case of being ripped off in a store, there will always be someone to help you. It’s interesting, because I actually felt a whole lot safer here than in Manchester where I usually live in the UK.
I would also strongly recommend that you do not walk around the streets alone late at night when no one else around. You would be leaving yourself open and vulnerable which is never a good situation to be in, in any city. Despite the reputation, Fes was a wonderful, enriching experience of a warm, enchanting city of unique charm and culture which has so much to offer. I would absolutely recommend anyone to visit.
I’ll start with the beautiful place where we lived, a stunning property called Dar Sienna. The panoramic views from the rooftops were breath taking. Sonhild, the owner, and Said, the house keeper, always did their utmost to make us feel comfortable and at home. Trust me, no where else compares, you are engulfed in the medina and depths of Moroccan lifestyle – check out the wonderful rooftop breakfasts we had freshly cooked for us here: Moroccan Cuisine
Evening views from Dar Sienna
Evening views from Dar Sienna
Daytime views from Dar Sienna
I spent my time studying Arabic (MSA) at ALIF, the American Language centre, which is a lovely little school, open for both local and international students to learn English and Arabic. I was lucky enough to have the classroom pictured below for one of my terms, covered in traditional, hand carved plaster and mosaics. It was beautiful, but also very distracting! The teaching at ALIF was some of the best I have ever had and we all improved a great amount from spending even just one term here. Having said this, we all found the classes very intense, we had 4 hours of classes a day and at least an extra 3 hours of homework! It was tough at the time, especially in the heat, but absolutely worth it.
One of the ALIF classrooms
Here’s a photographic tour through Fes’ old medina. A labyrinth of narrow and winding paths, the two main of these streets, talaa kabira and talaa saghira…
Taken on Talaa Kabira on my first day in Morocco, you’ll find prickly pears and kittens dotted around all over the place!
Entrance into the wood museum
Inside the wood museum, 30 seconds from our home Dar Sienna
Fes’ oldest water fountain with intricate hand crafted plaster and mosaic decorations, right outside our home Dar Sienna (next to the wood museum). This is a famous site and we actually found a painting of it in a cafe in Ifrane! Learn more about Ifrane here: Day trips in Morocco
Inside ALIF’s medina riad, used for activities such as calligraphy lessons and film evenings
One of the lamp souqs ‘moorish lighting’ near Dar Sienna – this is only a very small selection of the beautiful, handmade lamps available!
A peek inside the Moulay Idriss mosque, unfortunately not open to non-muslims! But we lived next door to the mosque, the minaret of which can be seen in my earlier photos of the views from Dar Sienna.
Moulay Idriss mosque
A decorative bab (door) opposite Moulay Idriss
The view over Fez’s famous tanneries – beware of the smell!
A traditional public oven used for making the bread, which you’ll find all over Morocco!
Selection of bags made in Fez’s tanneries
A large shop selling traditionally styled bowls and other ceramics
Selling a range of traditional tea pots and glasses for all your mint teas!
(Top left) selling traditional leather babooshes (Moroccan slippers) made in the tanneries
Scarves and throws made using cactus silk
Wall painting in a local school on the way to Bab boujloud
Detailed hand carved plaster ceiling inside a little old shop
A nut and dried fruits shop – a photo of the king can be seen above, you’ll find a picture of the king in every establishment
The ceiling of an authentic, traditional restaurant located in the old medina
A small cafe located on the outskirts of the gardens ‘jnan sbil’
Inside Riad Fes, a well known, upmarket restaurant and hotel
The bab (door) of place r’cif
A main roundabout and mosque in Fes’ new city (ville nouvelle)
I’ve saved the best views till last… Take a trip up to Tombeaux Des Mérinides to get these stunning views over the ancient city of Fes. You can actually see my home Dar Sienna, right next to Moulay Idriss Mosque which is the huge green roof! Photos can’t really do the stunning scenery justice!
Evening views from Tombeaux Des Mérinides
Sunset views over Fes
This post really only covers a minimal amount of what there is to see and experience in this vast and culture rich city. My only recommendation is to fly out there and see it all for yourself! If you’re interested in staying in the accommodation that I lived in, you can find a link to the Airbnb listing by clicking here: Dar Sienna