After a brief night in Casablanca, three of us rented a car and drove to Fes. We stopped in Skhirat, a small fishing town on the Atlantic, for lunch along the way. We ordered giant plates of seafood (fried fish plate and paella….so good). After peeling ourselves from the chairs, we continued on our way to Fes. It was a lovely drive; Morocco’s roads are in perfect condition and everything is well-marked. There are beautifully clean rest stops, with cafes, and scenic vistas.
Fes is a very interesting place. Nearly 200,000 people live in the old city. The old city’s streets are too narrow for cars, so it’s estimated to be the largest car-free inhabited area in the world. Unlike Marrakech, which was filled with motorcycles, there are no (or very few) motorcycles either. Just donkeys, and cats. So many cats. Morocco is a country inhabited entirely by cats. Even at a rest stop, in the nice sit-down fast-food place, there was a family of cats hanging out inside. My two companions are cat lovers, so it worked out well.
Fes also has the oldest (still operational) university in the world, the University of Al Quaraouiyine, founded in 859. Much of the city was built in the 8th and 9th centuries. We also saw the Chaouwara leather tannery, which was a little smelly. It rained quite a bit while we were in Fes, so the smell wasn’t as pungent as it usually is, apparently. Still, we were given sprigs of mint to use as a gas mask.
We also took a walking tour of the city, as well as tours of a pottery training center and the Jewish Mellah. There are still about 300 Jewish people in Fes, and a few synagogues. Right next to the Mellah is the King’s Palace (the top picture in the title), which was beautiful. There was also a giant stork nesting on the palace’s roof, which was an odd sight.
The highlight of our trip was probably our hotel, Riad Dar Bensouda. It used to be an imam’s home, and the imam’s mosque is next door. When he died, he was buried in the mosque and the home was sold. It’s an exquisite hotel (think bed and breakfast), with beautiful mosaics and a fantastic roof deck. The food was amazing, and the staff was incredibly helpful. The hotel felt a bit like an Escher painting; you had to walk down some stairs to get to breakfast, which was upstairs. The entire city felt like a labyrinth to me. The hotel sent a guide with us whenever we wanted to walk somewhere, and would send someone to us whenever we needed to be picked up. Some of the streets are so narrow, you have to walk single-file.
After two delightful, albeit rain-soaked, days in Fes, we drove back to Casablanca for our flight back to Brazzaville.