Having spent a couple of hours investigating the tannery, we changed direction and headed deeper into the walled maze that is Fes El Bali.
Immediately the closed walls and busy alleyways captivated my imagination and I felt a twinge of the romanticism I’d long imagined of wandering, lost in a labyrinth of alleyways in a city hidden since the 11th century.
To be fair, there was a fair bit of more recent influences to the journey with the odd moped flying past, a healthy district-wide stall rejuvenation project in many places, and more than a few people (locals and travellers alike) lost in their smart phones.
Nonetheless, the environment within the laneways was vibrant, and different to anything I have ever experienced. At the same time there was an air of familiarity as people went about their lives oblivious of my intrusion. The fusion of ancient and modern in Fes and cities like it, intrigue me, frustrate me, and delight me in equal measure.
We passed and visited ornate Mosques and Islamic places of learning, alleyways dripping in colour, and spice stores beyond counting before eventually finding ourselves at the Blue Gate, or Bab Bou Jeloud, the main western entrance to Fes El Bali. We found a second story balcony café in view of the entrance and sat down for a Tajine before making our way back through the alleyways, taking a different, and longer way home.
Our return journey took us away from the busy market and tourist lanes and through deserted alleyways and underpasses where the sun did not reach. As the afternoon sun turned the stone of the city orange, we found the Bab Rcif, an old medina gate and central square that is about as central to Fes El Bali as we could get. This square was one of the highlights of our wanderings as we came across it largely by accident, and saw it as an excellent spot for a rest and a cup of coffee at the Societe Generale right next to the gate. We watched the sun drop below the Minaret towering over the square as locals took their children to ride motorized bikes and cars in the square.
After our break we continued back to our riad to relax and catch the sunset from the rooftop. After another filling tajine for dinner we began our preparations to leave before dawn the next morning for a long drive south towards the Erg Chebi Dunes in the Northern Sahara.
I could have spent a week in Fes wandering the city and visiting The new city (Fes el Jedid) built around 1248, or the modern French Quarter. But my two days in Fes will stay with me for a long while.