Fes, Morocco: The Athens of Africa

Fes, Morocco: The Athens of Africa

Fes can often get overlooked in favor of other cities like Marrakesh and Casablanca, but it's a part of #Morocco I don't think you should miss. One of the most amazing things about our trip was a chance to observe their amazing #culture in the form of pottery and mosaic #art. Hand painted with incredible precision, it's nearly impossible to choose something to take home!


Fes is, according to Wikipedia, the world's biggest car-free urban area. It's a complete maze and labyrinth - streets so close to each other and all looking so similar that you wonder how on earth it's possible to navigate through all of this.

My hostel was pretty good about providing activities, so I joined up with a group that was doing a Fes tour. Although I usually like exploring cities on my own, with everything in Arabic and the streets being such a maze I figured a tour would be a good way to orient myself first.

I figured a tour would be a good way to orient myself first

Because I'd got into Fes at 3AM the night before, I had no idea what Fes was like - so when I saw the overview from the top of one of its hills, I had to do a double-take to be sure of its sheer size.

WOAH! 
WOAH! 

It is a city very unlike any other I've been to. Sprawling but dense, and everything is just so old. Ancient and medieval.

from  $65

Fes Discovery Tour

AspirationalCulture
 Fés, Fes, Fes-Boulemane, Morocco
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I'd had the good fortune to befriend some of the people who were staying with me at my hostel (true hostel experience, making traveller-friends!), and we set out to explore all of Fes together, sightseeing and getting some good ol' shopping in along the way.

Nature still manages to find its way in a dense city
Nature still manages to find its way in a dense city

Fes, which is the cultural capital of Morocco, maintains a strong tradition of handicraft. Even in the age of mechanisation, everything is still done by hand here.

Local crafts
Local crafts

In a ceramic and mosaic factory, intricate designs are hand-painted on clay that has been moulded by hand and fired in a kiln. I was amazed by how precise their hand movements are - with only a few pencil guidelines, all the designs were painted on so quickly and without any mistakes, too.

Intricate painting work
Intricate painting work

How many years would it take for someone to achieve that level of precision?!

Incredible precision, but still done so fast, it's almost unbelievable! 
Incredible precision, but still done so fast, it's almost unbelievable! 
These would make the best gifts for your friends at home!
These would make the best gifts for your friends at home!

Some of my new friends were doing study-abroads at the Florence University of the Arts - musicians, sculptors, painters and all. When they saw one of the sculptors for the factory, one of them commented that he'd probably do a pretty good job as a sculptor in her course!

Waiting for their painter
Waiting for their painter

Seriously though, these people are so practiced at what they do that they churn out pieces like it's nothing. This guy churned out five tajines in something like three minutes!

Making tajines
Making tajines

But the real highlight of this factory is its mosaic - hundreds of thousands of tiles that are painted, glazed and fired, then chipped into tiny pieces and arranged around each other. Creating the mosaic takes a long time, needing to individually select the pieces that will go toward creating the final product so that they line up perfectly with one another.

Collecting pieces for the mosaic is a painstaking process
Collecting pieces for the mosaic is a painstaking process
Making sure they'll fit together
Making sure they'll fit together

One of the guys even offered to make a little turquoise heart tile for me! How cute is that?

How sweet!
How sweet!
My (turquoise) heart!
My (turquoise) heart!

It takes so much effort to produce every mosaic tile it's really quite remarkable when you see just how much mosaic there is. Mosaic fountains, mosaic walls, mosaic vases, mosaic display pieces of all kinds. How long would it have taken to create all this?

How long would it have taken to create all this?

The answer - a very long time. (And they've got a price tag to match too, or I would've taken one home.)

Incredibly gorgeous mosaic pieces
Incredibly gorgeous mosaic pieces

My friend Ryan was going crazy in the shop, trying to decide which pieces he should buy. There were selections of tajines, ash trays, teapots, tea cups, dish-ware, jewellery... Everything you could possibly ever want.

It was a case of even if you don't want to buy it, buy it anyway because it's so pretty.

Me? I wound up being so spoilt for choice that I didn't buy anything in the end.

I don't even know where to start!
I don't even know where to start!

Then we headed to a little look-out at the top of another hill, overlooking the old medina walls. Fes sure does look pretty from high above.

Looking down over Fes
Looking down over Fes

Our last stop on the tour was the Sultanate Palace, or Dar el-Makhzen. We weren't allowed to go inside because it's still a residential palace (and they have serious guards, to boot - we weren't even allowed to take pictures of anything besides the fountains and doors) but the outside is pretty fancy.

Just look at those doors!
Just look at those doors!
Some pretty gardens
Some pretty gardens
oely and her cool headscarf
Joely and her cool headscarf

All I could think about was how there might be a real-life Princess Jasmine behind those walls and we would never know.

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