A Travellerspoint blog

Frenetic, Fascinating Fez

sunny 26 °C

When it comes to Morocco there is always a risk of over-romanticizing. It is certainly beautiful, in places, and it is definitely exotic to western eyes, but it would be disingenuous of us not to paint a true picture of this intriguing country.
Morocco isn’t all sweetness and light. It has multiple personalities and some of them are not pretty at close range. The city of Fez is a character in point. On the one hand Fez puts on a modern French face with tree-lined boulevards, fancy shopping malls and, possibly, more upscale patisseries than Paris – (the marzipan petite fours are exquisite and the breads simply delicious). But turn the other cheek of Fez and you will find a much darker side. This is a view of the old city – the medina – from one of the fortresses built to protect it…
Life within this chaotic warren of interlaced souks has changed little for generations.
Many streets are insufficiently wide for two persons to pass and daylight barely penetrates the deep canyons. The whole place could be depressing and claustrophobic if it weren’t for the frenetic activity of the artisans and merchants who live out their lives, just as their forefathers, in the gloomy workshops and stores that are squeezed into every alley and corner…
There are more artisans per square foot in Fez than there are per square mile on our artistically inclined Canadian isle. Peek into any nook or cranny in Fez and you will find someone making something by hand…
Tens of thousands of artisans create a bewildering array of handcrafted items which are sold in a myriad of tiny shops and fondouks (ancient caravanserai – courtyard hotels where, in the past, visiting merchants would be lavishly entertained by artisans hoping to sell their wares). Many of the fondouks have been restored and are now used as the attraction to lure potential customers – “Just see building – It’s free – No buy…etc.”...
Little has changed in Fez for centuries. Once through the elaborate doors of the fondouk the gentle, but very persuasive, pitch begins and unwary tourists may pay ten fold for the experience. But the fondouks represent the attractive side of the souks. There are plenty of less appealing sights and smells especially where the meat and fish are sold. But it is the infamous tanneries that are both the most compelling, yet repulsive, attractions in Fez…
Every day the hides of thousands of sheep, goats, cows and camels are stripped of their flesh and fur and processed in these enormous vats of lime and dyes. The smell of rotting flesh and chemicals is indescribable and in the summer when temperatures hit the mid-forties it would be wise to give them a very wide berth…
Watching the men and young boys working in these conditions is like watching a depiction of hell. Photographs can never convey the scale of the operation or the medieval working conditions. This little boy, with his donkey laden with newly processed hides, is probably only ten years old…

There are a million photo opportunities every day in this incredibly diverse country and we are now leaving Fez to travel into the Atlas Mountains for a taste of the Berber life - destination Marrakech.

Readers are asking when our travel guide “Slow Train to China” will be published. Good news - copies will be available for Christmas. The Blissful Adventurer’s 220 page guide for independent travellers who dream to see the world is a very modestly priced and orders should be emailed to Gabriolablisspublications@yahoo.ca

However, you can win a copy simply by posting a comment on this episode of our blog.
We are nearing a thousand comments on our blogs and whoever posts the thousandth comment with receive a complimentary copy of “Slow Train to China.”

So – final reminder. Order copies for yourself, your friends and family for Christmas and post a comment on this blog to win a free one – it couldn’t be simpler.

Posted by Hawkson 09:15 Archived in Morocco

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Very interesting. Sheila would remember the red leather in Mubi market. It must have come from Fez or around that area. I wonder if Inge Olsen still has her red leather hot pants.

by keithandhelen

No romanticizing of this country. Beauty comes at a price. What is extraordinary is the richness of life past and present. It gives us an opportunity to peer into the past and taste what it takes to survive. A continual reminder of what we have and a respect for life.

by Sue Fitzwilson

Ah, marzipan petite fours. I'd risk the smell of stinky vats to have some of those. Luuuvvv marzipan.

by R and B

I remember that stench well…! Love that potter pic,,,

by sharon minkoff

Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, they say, and I agree. Ditto to Sharon's comment, I remember it well, too. What disturbed me on my trip from long ago was the severe poverty and how children bore the brunt of it...You two are seasoned travelers and bring a sense of reality to all of it, always much appreciated.

by gottfried

so glad there is no smellovision...

by c

I wonder how the process in the tanneries will affect the health of the workers down the road.

Also I wonder if centuries old societies may survive longer than ours who are so dependent on power and gadgets.

by Janet

Love this trip to Morocco! So glad you are doing the legwork for me :)

by Abigail Gossage

smelly vats with animal skins reminds me of New Zealand when we lived there in the 1970's. People used to say that they loved the smell of leather (we made belts, handbags and lot of other things) but you have to do a lot to get that smell out of the leather and make them smellable (is that a word?)

by Jean McLaren

Yes, I remember being struck by the spacious tree-lined streets and then we travelling hippies stayed in the souk area,not unlike the first photo. Great shots and thanks for the memories (could one call them flashbacks??)

by joyce

Makes you want to cheer the vegans on with alternatives to leather. Nice series of photos. Always sad to see child labour alive and well in too many places.

by Tom

I had a look at those dyed hides. They are pretty ragged. My boys in Owen Sound did a much cleaner job on the deer hides.


by Pat Goodeve

Thanks for letting us be armchair travelers. We really enjoy your blogs and photos.

by Jenna

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