Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Shopping the souks of Fes

We started our day in Fes at the Dar el Makhzen, the King’s home when he is in Fes. The gate is a beautiful bronze restoration that has a timeless beauty.  Next to it is the old Jewish quarter, built around 1250 when the Arabs and Jews were driven out of Spain during the inquisition.  The majority of the Jewish population of Fes left in 1956, at the end of the French occupation, but signs of their time there remain.

We walked through the Fes Jajadid, the medieval Fes built outside the walls of Fes el Bali where goods and services were advertised with signs in French, Arabic, and Berber, often with pictures that made everything clear:

After a trip up the ridge opposite our hotel to see with the wonderful warren that is the old medina, we went back toward the old city. 

Our first serious shopping stop was at a factory and school, where apprentices are trained in the ancient skills of ceramic that have made such a mark on every important structure in Morocco for over 1,000 years.

We saw the pot dug in the ground where the clay is mixed with an ancient formula that includes local pigeon poo, the kiln where hand painted tagines, tiles and other objects are fired using olive pits for fuel.  There were the foot pumped potters wheels where artisans made cups and vases.  The only concession to modern technology was the assurance that no heavy metals were used in the glazes.  Everywhere I looked there was a still life, moments of beauty.  Would you like to see?

It did my heart good to see that Fes has found a way to continue to build the beauty of Morocco and that the young people we saw were getting the skills to continue the tradition.  I did my part to support them by buying some of their most beautiful work:

They make me smile.

But there was so much more.  Our next stop was as a textile cooperative where they sold handmade rugs made by Berbers.  We drank our mint tea as they brought out the rugs and I could not resist.  They were so beautiful, and they felt almost intimate as you thought of the women and men who sat at their looms and had the vision to create such beauty.  See for yourself:

I had to bargain for the rug I bought, of course, but that was all part of the ambiance. 

After a wonderful lunch we went to the Chouwara tannery, a place that had not changed in centuries.  After seeing the process, I could not bring myself to buy:

We held mint under our noses to hide the smell, but the view of the workers stomping in those vats was like a scene from Les Miserables.

So we moved on.  At a local shop we saw artisans weaving scarves, a process often done by men:

My final purchase of the day was the best 30 dirham of the trip.  I bought a shesh that would prove that Moroccans know their desert gear.  My first attempt to tie it was a little clumsy, but I got better with practice.

We went back to our hotel pumped from the excitement of the day, and ready to begin the trekking part of our journey.  Tomorrow would be the Cedar Forest and the Atlas Mountains, and then, the desert.

Salaam alaikum.

1 comment:

  1. I loved this. Beautiful pictures and makes me want to be there. I forwarded on to my friend Laura whose newly married daughter is in Morroco for a 2 week honeymoon. Thought she would enjoy seeing the sights.