It was a dark morning in Fez. I woke up in a room of a 3-star hotel. The wi-fi was only available in the reception so I couldn’t check the weather lazily on my phone (meaning without leaving the bed to go to have a peek through the window). Reluctantly, I got off my bed. I was indeed excited to spend the day exploring Fes, but the weather of recent days was putting me off. When I got to the window I couldn’t see much of the sky (our view was to a ugly courtyard, facing the other side of the hotel). But there wasn’t much light. That meant it was cloudy. Again.
The thing about travelling you always imagine it in your head like something full of light, and tend to forget that clouds, thunder, rain happens everywhere in the world at any time, really. It could be at different odds, but these exist. And sometimes luck is simply not on your side. You can plan as much as you like, choosing the rewarded best season to go a specific place, but in truth we never really know, right? That was the case. We had chosen end of April to go to Morocco to avoid the unbearable heat of Summer, and the cold and rain of Winter. That was not the case. So far the weather hadn’t been great, and well…. I wouldn’t let that spoil the joy of exploring such an amazing country and culture.
So, it was a grey day but a day to spend exploring the ancient city of Fes. And oh boy, despite everything, I was indeed excited. Ignorant (still) but excited. And why do I say I was ignorant? Because I really didn’t know exactly why that city was special. I only had a feeling.
There are two facts I will always remember about this city. I will always also remember exactly the spot where I learnt them, and the view I had from there.
After observing the fantastic golden doors of the Royal Palace and exploring the mellah (old Jewish quarter) we took a minibus to a strategic viewing point – an ancient military tower, once built to protect the city from its enemies. From there you have a fantastic view of Fes. Even if the sun is not entirely there to show you the colors of it.
I looked in front, amazed. Fes was a maze of light yellow patches in different tones, sewn together as to make a throw. Even from above, it was labyrinthic. I knew sometime on that same day I would be going down there and explore those same streets that already looked so intimidating from above. I couldn’t wait to go inside the medina, the true old town, those ancient streets where all has stopped in time. That same medina is today the largest car-free urban area in the world. But that was not what surprised me the most.
While Fes has also a “modern” area – la ville nouvelle – over 70,000 people chose to live in the medina. And why does this surprised me? Because having all the comforts offered by the modern times next door, these people still prefer to live their lives in a place stuck in time, made up of tight and twisting alleys, where in some parts the sunshine can barely touch turning the place dark. Our guide explained why. And the reason was as simple as touching. The new city or ville nouvelle is something that scares them. Because over there there’s no community, warmth and care. The world outside the medina is cold, superficial, harmful. In the medina, people know each other, take care of each other, they work as a community. It doesn’t matter if their life prospects are limited. They are born, they grow, live and die in the medina. Many times without stepping out of there.
These people have chosen the simple way of life. And they are the happiest.
But Fes is also home to the oldest (existing) university in the world. And that was the second fact I learnt that day, on that spot facing the view, while I was wrongly thinking about how these people stuck in the medina were complete ignorants. This is the University of Karueein, founded in 859 AD. It was a good slap on my face. Why, Nicole – don’t you know how advanced these ancient civilizations were before the europeans came to take away multiple times in History the best of these people? And guess what – even more mind blowing fact. The oldest university in the world was founded by a woman – yes, you “read me” correctly. A woman. Her name was Fatima al-Fihri, an Arab Muslim woman.
Learning these things makes me humble. Breaks barriers I didn’t even know existed in my brain. That is one of the top reasons why I travel. To break the chains which made me prisoner of prejudices, preconceived ideas and ignorance.
Is that also why you travel?
Fly with me @nic.in7