The medieval magic of Fes

Travel Destinations — By on October 10, 2008 at 5:19 pm

The city of Fes, Morocco, has enchanted many a traveler. Tahir Shah was spellbound by the medieval magic of Fes and wrote about the city for the U.K. Guardian.

Walk through the bustle of Fes’s medina and it’s impossible not to be catapulted back in time. It is as if the old city is on a frequency of its own, set apart from the frenzied world of internet and iPods and all the techno clutter that fills our daily lives. Abdul-Lateef and his magic-medicinal stall are a fragment of a healing system that stretches back through centuries, to a time when Fes was itself at the cutting edge of science, linked by the pilgrimage routes to Cairo, Damascus and Samarkand.

These days the low-cost airlines shuttle the curious back and forth to Europe. And everyone they bring is tantalised by what they find. Fes is the only medieval Arab city that’s still absolutely intact. It’s as if a shroud has covered it for centuries, the corner now lifted a little so we can peek in. Once the capital of Morocco, Fes is one of those rare destinations that’s bigger than mass tourism, a city that’s so self-assured, so grounded in its own identity, that it hardly seems to care whether the tourists come or not. Moroccans will tell you that it’s the dark heart of their kingdom, that its medina has a kind of sacred soul.

Wander the labyrinth of narrow streets and you can feel it. It’s all around you – in the meat bazaar, where shanks of mutton nestle on fragrant beds of mint, and it’s down in the most ancient quarter, at er-Rsif, where the seed of Fes fell more than a thousand years ago.

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