Today we are leaving Fes el Bali and instead intent to explore Fes el Djedid. Another old Medina of Fes, but not as old as el Bali. This one was built and planned by the Merenids, end of the 13th century.
First we stop by the bus station to book our ticket out for tomorrow. Easy enough, we decide to pay a little extra and go with CTM again, as it is the most comfortable way of travel. We wander passed old gates and walls, as Fes is surrounded by an endless amount of fortifications. We go up hill through a graveyard to The old Kasbah. The space within is now used for a school and hospital, and as busy as it is inside, the walls still keep out most of the city sounds and it is a nice quite place.
We pass through some beautiful gates on the way down to Fes el Djedid, and hit the market. As this part of the city was planned, the streets are not as small and narrow and it feels airier. The market is busy though when we see another gate stick out, we go for a look there. It turns out to be one of the many gates of the Royal Palace. It is being guarded by the army, navy and a traditional guard. No photo’s allowed, and neither are we allowed in the Palace.
Oh, well. We make our way to the Mellah, the old Jewish section. As it seems to be in most towns, the Jewish population lived separated from the Arabs in their own part of town. The area is cramped full with small houses, mostly in bad condition. The Jews left after Morocco’s independence and after that the poorer Muslims moved in. The style of the houses is more European, with cedar wood balconies and different metal work at the windows. UNESCO and the government are working together to get some buildings fixed up and renovated, and they should turn into stunning houses.
A young man addresses us and tells us he is the son of the caretaker of the old synagogue. He would like to shows us how to get there. We let him know that we are not looking for a guide, as we have no money for it. He reassures us that he does not want money, but would just like to show us the building as his dad works there. Great. He takes us through some shortcuts to a terrace overlooking the Jewish cemetery.
Apparently it is better to see it from above, as they charge you to visit the cemetery it self. The view is nice, looking out over the white graves, to the green hills.
As we made our way back down, he asked us for 10 Dirham each for the view.. ? We came up, so we did not pay for the cemetery, we had told him we do not have money for a guide, but now he is holding his hand up.. ? Some of these Moroccans are strange.. We walk away, letting him know we can find our own way to the synagogue. He is quite verbal in letting us know his discontent. As if swearing at us, will make us change our minds..
We go back the way we came and back along the main street. This leads us to another Palace gate. This one is the most elaborate, facing a big square. Beautiful tile work and big golden doors, it is really something. It makes us wonder how stunning the actual Palace might be, but this we will never know.
We make our way through a flee market and manage to find the synagogue ourselves. (ok, it was not easy to find, but we did do it on our own eventually) It looks like any other building on the outside, besides the little plaque attached next to the front door. David heads in first and it told that there is a mandatory donation of 20 Dirham a person to enter. We are a bit shocked. Sure, most churches and synagogues etc. ask for a donation but don’t demand money, let alone an amount big enough for a good dinner. Even David is not allowed to enter without paying, even though he is Jewish, and should be able to enter freely. So we found the synagogue, but did not get to see much of it..
Last on the list for today were the Merenid tombs. Towering up over Fes back where we started this morning. We decide to take a petit taxi there. The taxi wanted to drop us at a nearby hotel, but we got him to drive us up. David and Sophia (in a different taxi) where not that lucky and had to walk the last bit.
There is not much left, but some bricks and a couple of towers. It was a royal burying ground and most of the structures were once covered in white marble.
Over the centuries different people plundered what they could from it and left it as it is today. Still the views are amazing. Looking out over Fes and the countryside. This hill and smaller hills nearby are covered with Muslim cemeteries. Some graves are simple, other decorated with tiles and inscriptions. Some even have glass covered walls surrounding the graves. We try to make our way through, without being disrespectful. There are no designated walkways, and we are trying not to walk on the actual graves. Further along we meet a goatherd with his flock.. If the goats can graze here and clamour over the stones, what are we worried about then?
Back down we enter the Fes el Bali Medina again through the Bab el Guissa. This is a new area for us, and seems to be all about woodworkers. Little shops line the streets specialising in tables, beds of trellis work. It smells great. There also seems to be an abundance of great cheap food around, and we plunder a little cake stand where all the cakes are 2 Dirham each. Happily snacking away we make our way to more familiar parts and again get called over by our German speaking, carpet selling, Moroccan friend. We cannot escape having a tea with him this time. After a while he starts rolling out carpets and blankets. So far he has not tried to sell us anything, but as this is the third time we have met him, apparently it is now time to buy. He proudly shows us his best pieces, but is also very understanding that we don’t have much money or bag space, so cannot buy a carpet. We are all tempted to buy something though as he has been very kind to us. David and Sophia enter into negotiations over two woven bags, and Anna and Andrew try for a pillowcase made out of old carpet. We all seem to settle on 100 Dirhams. David and Sophia have matching bags and because of money issues (and salesman pride) only buy one and are given the other one as a present. (Or haggled out friend down for a good price for two, depending on how you want to see it)
Unfortunately AA’s negotiations seem to have gone wrong somewhere, as when we hand over our 100 Dirhams, the pillowcase is suddenly 100 Euro’s. This is too much for us and we leave empty handed. (And quite disappointed. How can a pillowcase made of old left over carpet bits be this expensive? And why did he think we had that kind of money, when we turned down a beautifully made woollen blanket, because it was 50 Euro’s?) It kind of put a damper on the afternoon.
We drowned our sorrows in free tea, back at the hotel.