London - The cultural and spiritual homeland of Morocco, Fes is a city that does not disappoint.
London – The cultural and spiritual homeland of Morocco, Fes is a city that does not disappoint.
From its labyrinth-like souks to the splendour of the oldest degree-granting university in the world (the Qarawiyyin), it is a city full of hidden gems, which reveal itself to the wayfarer who fully embraces the city.
The second largest city in Morocco dubbed the ‘Athens of Africa’, Fes is home to one of the largest car-free urban areas, the old medina, Fes al-Bali, which is also a UNESCO world heritage site.
Whilst it is heralded for its various sites and attractions, it is after all, the people that make this city what it is. Its exterior, characterised by its buildings and monuments, behold a marvel to the eyes, but it is the interior, the people, which behold a marvel to the heart.
The kindness and hospitality of Moroccans is unlike anything I have ever experienced. Moroccans truly embrace all people that come into their country. They go above and beyond to make one feel welcome and comfortable, so much so that you become part of the family.
I experienced such sentiments when I spent a year studying Arabic in Fes and since departing in the summer of 2015, I have since visited twice more. The warmth of the people and the pace of life in this beautiful city called me back.
The experience was one from which I learnt many things. The fast paced and often-rushed life in the UK is a world away from Fes, where things are a lot more relaxed. Businesses, however, still flourish but the difference is that people appear to be more content. I once asked the owner of a shop selling leather bags about his trade and how his trade survives when there are countless others selling the same wares in such a small area. He said to me “my child, rizq (provision) is from Allah, and I have firm faith that He will look after me along with the other traders.” His answer both shocked and delighted me, this was really quite an amazing representation of the character of the Fes inhabitants.
I recall hearing the call to prayer for the first time in the medina. Sitting on the roof of the popular Café Clock, the nearby mosque, Bou Inania was the first to call, followed by numerous others. The muezzins voices ringing throughout the medina, calling people to prayer, calling them to their Lord and calling them back to their purpose.
The call to prayer is something I miss dearly here in the UK. One day, upon by return to my homeland, it had passed the midday prayer; I turned to my friend and said, “has the prayer come in yet? I have not heard the adhaan (call to prayer).” To which she replied, “Hinna, we’re back in England.” It had become such a normal part of everyday life that it seemed abnormal, in a way, not to hear it 5 times a day. Something so simple and routine in Morocco became one of my favourite features of Moroccan society.
As alluded to previously, a place is nothing without its people and becoming friends with the locals was truly a blessing, as they enriched my life in more ways than one and it is the kindness of the Moroccans that truly captivates the soul and renders the city so special. It is to no surprise that the city is known as the City of Saints.
The diversity of peoples in Fes, both Arabs and Amazigh makes the country so interesting and brings with it some beautiful customs. Customs that are not only to be observed, Moroccans want you to embrace them wholeheartedly. From the obligatory Friday couscous, to the multitude of dresses worn by brides on their wedding day (7 is about the number), Moroccan culture is deep, rich and diverse and they always invite foreigners to take part in their traditions.
Fes has become like a home away from home. Its breath-taking views, hospitable people and places of worship invite one to reflect, ponder and enjoy life the Moroccan way.