I’m not really sure how to describe Fes to you all. I think the best way to explain it to you would be with this map:
Except that everything on the map that is within the bold maroon line is not a road so much as a walkway, some of which can not fit two people walking past each other at the same time. And also, the roads have no labels. And there are no landmarks because frankly, everything looks the same.
Put another way, when we went out to have what I will remember as one of my “meals of a lifetime,” the restaurant sent a man to fetch us from our hotel and show us the way to the restaurant (which was in someone’s house). When it was time to go back, he delivered us safely to our door. And it was totally necessary– we never would have found it on our own.
Houses and shops in the medina are packed in. You think a DC rowhouse is bad? People have been building, re-building, and morphing houses in Fes for the last 1100 years. It’s so old it makes the phrase “American history” sound like an oxymoron.
Every once in a while, there’d be a break in the beige walls and rows of shops and you’d see a public fountain, still working, and very much used for everything from vegetable washing to hand washing or filling buckets.
I personally was confounded by sewage…or the lack thereof. I know it’s kind of a weird thing to worry about, but how to do you retrofit an 1100 year old city for modern plumbing? Especially considering there are not a lot of places to dig and bury pipes. I was never able to get a satisfactory answer out of her guide apart from “Of course we have modern plumbing, why wouldn’t we?!”– I guess he thought my question was absurd, but I’m still impressed.
I’ve been told that Fes is like a mini-Marrakesh; frankly, I can’t imagine having to navigate a medina much larger than this, especially given the amount of time we had– it would have been (even more) overwhelming.