Although Fez’ Old Medina shares many similarities with that of Marrakech, there were still differences of note. The initial and most obvious was that Fez had a much larger Medina with its over 1000 winding alleys and streets. If I didn’t get lost at least once or twice on very journey out of my Riad, I wasn’t exploring far enough. In addition, the alleys were a bit smaller and the stalls a bit more diverse.
One morning, I woke up early to make it to the tannery while they were still working and while the stench hovering around it still hadn’t a chance to reach full force from the day’s heat. Even still, I had to walk around with a handful of mint leaves in my hand for me to bury my nose in when the smell reached uncomfortable levels. Pigeon poo is one of the chemical agents used and it makes make many a nose cringe, especially those that aren’t used to it. The processes at the tannery are elaborate eventually ending up in dyes such as henna, saffron, and mint that add a natural coloring to the leather.
After the tannery, I took a quick tour of a weaving factory. I learned of some of the techniques used to make the famous rugs as well as how to differentiate between rugs made by women and by men, as well as rugs made by hand and by machine. Men use a horizontal loom while women use a vertical loom. This, in turn, affects how the carpets start and end. The tightness of the stitch reflects whether it is done by hand or by machine with the tighter stitches usually being performed by hand.
Finally, to round off my artisan tour of Fez, I visited a ceramics studio, where along with watching the formation of bowls, cups, etc, I also watched the formation of the famous mosaics that I’ve seen in and around Fez. With only a simple seemingly imprecise hammer, these artisans were able to chisel away at tiles to create shapes that perfectly fit into one another.
Learning of the craft being created around Fez with its ancient techniques that have survived for centuries was an eye-opening and educational experience.