In the belly of Fes el Bali

Going into the Fes medina is like descending into an ant’s nest, down underground where there’s no connection to the outside world. It’s a place of its own, another world, one where what goes on is only apparent within the immediate vicinity, that anything elsewhere is irrelevant, only the proximate fully relevant. There is no where else in existence, when you are in the belly of Fes el Bali.

Over 1200 years old, the medina of Fes is said to be one of the largest living mediaeval cities still in existence. It’s full of hangovers from an era long gone elsewhere in the world. Narrow streets twist down from its numerous gates, descending deeper into dead ends or weaving, tunnel like, into other tiny laneways that thread across the walled market. Mules, donkeys, men, women and children wind through the labyrinth with walls too high to know what colour the sky is, dogs and cats run overhead; a concoction of sellers, jewellery makers, leather craftsmen, tannery workers, butchers, dried frutists, herbal medicine men, brass artisans, blacksmiths, sandal sellers, guides, beggars, chanters, dancers, singers, con-men, blend among one another, working side by side often with tools from other centuries. There are plenty of tourists too now, in hordes, by the bus load, following their guides who hold up red umbrellas or some obvious object for their group to follow. They appear as if invaders of the nest, but everyone in the medina knows how important they are to its survival. We’re constantly reminded that without a guide our discount is larger, just for today a two for one, amazing deals to be had, if we only step across the line, into a shop. It’s a ruthless world, everything has its price, all is up for grabs, nothing will be spared, including us.

We dodge the mules. Loaded with enormous weight they are the kings of the road here, giving way to no one, plodding their way through the narrow lanes while people buzz around, scurrying this way and that, if they’re not just hanging on a corner, minding everybody else’s’ business, waiting for a chance to get some lucky break, to lure someone somewhere, into a carpet shop, or a tannery, where there’s money to be had.

We head for light, climbing our way out of the nest, after sitting sipping coffee, eating cakes, while bees swarm the sweet meats. We follow the flow, one wrong corner and we could end up anywhere; there has to be a Queen ant somewhere, a forbidden sector. We come to a gate, take a bearing, coming up for air, then plunge back in again, into the incomparable medieval world.


~ by Drifting, Rambling on October 30, 2008.

One Response to “In the belly of Fes el Bali”

  1. great stuff tim Love it

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