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Around Fes

Fes is a big city. It is the 4th-largest in Morocco, after Casablanca, Rabat, and Marrakech, with a population of about 950,000. It contains a huge royal palace, and an absolutely enormous Medina.There are basically three parts, Fes el Bali (the old, walled city), Fes-Jdid (or "new Fes") which includes the old Jewish quarter (and which is only "new" relative to Fes el Bali), and the Ville Nouvelle (the really new part, created by the French). Fes el Bali is considered the world's largest contiguous car-free urban area. It is absolutely packed with shops and people and merchandise and from what I'm told, lots and lots of poverty. All of the old city is considered a UNESCO world heritage site. Included are beautiful mosques, countless artisans, museums, mysterious relics. The oldest continuously-operating university in the world is here as well - University of Al-Qarawiyyin (founded 859).

Fes is an old city, established in 789 by Idris I. During three separate periods in the distant past, Fes was the capital of the country (as much as it is possible to refer to Morocco as a unified country in those days). Fes played a major role in the sciences and arts, especially during the Middle Ages, when Muslims, Jews, and Christians all came to enjoy the flowering intellectualism.

Fes is a neat city. I have spent several days with my friends happily wandering through the complex maze, taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of the Arab world. We have seen beautifully-carved calligraphy in the Bou Inania Madrasa, a 14th-century mosque/college and one of the few religious places in Morocco that non-Muslims can enjoy. We have seen the Merenid Tombs, ruins from the same time period. From the hillside of the tombs, we have looked over the entire city. Just outside the walls of the Medina, we have walked through beautiful royal gardens.

If you, reader, ever come in Morocco, I will take you to Fes.

Finally, I want to share an amusing passage from my guidebook. Of Fes, it says:

"The Berber pharmacy in the Medina has hundreds of jars of twisted root and twig neatly lined up along the walls. Don't eat the seed-pod like things the proprietor offers you. Although he is eating them also, they are very high in estrogen and can cause a man's nipples to be sore for several days afterwards."

Duly noted.

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