Not everything worth seeing in Fes is within the city walls. Hassan took us on an excursion to a few sites that are just outside the walls.
1. MERENID TOMBS AND PANORAMA VIEW OF FES
From the tannery, we had a good view of a part of the ancient medina wall, as well as some ruins on a distant hill.
In the foreground, omnipresent satellite dishes sprinkled on the roofs like Hansel's crumbs are a bizarre anachronistic contrast to the ancient city walls and stark square buildings. The current king, Mohammed VI, has made it so that if residents can buy a satellite dish and receiver (at a cost of about $300), they have free access to thousands of television channels with no monthly fees. Unlike his father, who was a bit of a controlling tyrant and limited television to state-owned channels, Mohammad VI believes in free access to information.
To get to the best part of the ruins, we had to leave the medina and drive up a road with several horseshoe turns. We were rewarded with a panorama view of the vast, tightly packed old medina (Fes al-Bali, dating to about 800 AD), and for the first time I could believe what we'd been told--that 150,000 people live here. We could see the green pyramid-topped Tomb of Moulay Idriss II and the zig-zagging green roofs of the University of Al Quaraouiyine (founded in 859 AD). I'm not sure what caused the black smoke on the horizon--perhaps some burning trash?
We could also see what is called "the new medina" (Fes Jedid, founded in 1276):
The geriatric medina wall has aged well (with the help of constant restoration efforts):
We weren't the only ones enjoying the view:
Our destination was the crumbling Merenid Tombs on top of the hill, mere skeletons of what must have once been fabulously sumptuous structures. Sadly, nothing is being done to protect them from further degradation caused not only by weather, but also by locals and tourists:
The Merenids (or Marinids) ruled Morocca from the 13th to 15th century, the golden age of Fes. It isn't known who was buried here, even though a few faint inscriptions are still visible on the walls. It's too bad these aren't being better preserved.
2. MODERN MUSLIM CEMETERY
As we crested the hill and looked down the other side, we noted a large cemetery below:
* Muslims can't be cremated and should be buried on the same day as their death if possible.
* Mourners must pay the government for a burial permit. It costs about $30.
* The body is positioned on its right side facing Mecca.
* Women are not allowed to leave the house on the day of a loved one's funeral.
* Grave markers are basically identical. One should not be more lavish than another.
* Only men and boys attend the funeral. We saw a procession of men following an ambulance into the cemetery. It wasn't a lot of mourners, but if a body has to be buried on the day of death, there isn't much time to gather friends and family from outlying locations:
* Widows mourn for four months and ten days, during which time they wear only white robes (no color in a very colorful land, which really stands out). Hassan pointed out a couple of ghostly white-draped widows in the souk.
Our final destination on our foray outside the city gates was the Royal Palace. Visitors are not allowed inside, but the impeccably maintained grounds alone are worth a visit:
As we approached the palace, I took a few shots of these lemon trees, not realizing (or perhaps I did) that a guard was standing against the back wall. He came striding out with a stern reprimand that I could not take any pictures with him in them and made me delete my last couple of photos.
In contrast, he had no problem with us taking photos of the palace itself, which has seven brass doors, one for each day of the week:
A substantial amount of text is engraved over the two niches flanking the three center doors. Hassan asked us if we noticed anything unusual about it. We studied it and admitted we did not. He reminded us that Arabic is written and read from right to left, and pointed out that the end of every line (on the left) ends with the same vertical line. It is poetry, he told us, and those are rhyming words:
Behind the seven brass doors lies a magnificent palace that is used by the king when he comes to Fes. There are several different buildings, over 200 acres of gardens, some parade grounds, and a madrasa founded in 1320.
A distinctive feature of the Jewish quarter is a row of windows on the second floor that open to the street, something never seen in the Muslim areas:
It had been a long but fascinating day, and we were ready to go back to the riad for some R&R. Fes is well-known for its elaborate gates that allow foot traffic (and donkeys, and bikes, and sometimes even motorcycles) into the medina. This one is Bab Boujloud, or the "Blue Gate":
The driver dropped us off here . . .
. . . and Hassan led us through the busy souk and back to our riad.
Fes is one of those places that left a mark on my soul. I hope our travels lead us back to it someday.