The gateway Bab Boujeloud stands proudly as the entrance to the ancient city of Fes, beckoning you to enter through its asymmetrical opening into the frantic bustle beyond. From here the streets taper into narrow passageways of vibrant city dwellers.
Unlike its cosmopolitan counterpart, Marrakech, with its throng of tourist groups, Fes maintains a genial mixture of sightseers and everyday existence. Randomly selecting the left of two parallel narrow thoroughfares, I passed a make-shift Butchers with a young, blood-splattered boy determinedly cutting the tongue from the severed head of a cow. Wandering down the lane I passed plastic containers piled high with sticky black dates, strings of leather sandals hanging, sizzling doughnut vendors and narrowly avoid a lumbering donkey laden with rusted gas canisters. Carts of oranges, hand-hammered copper cauldrons, intricate brass lanterns, silver tea sets and deep-fried sardine stalls all line the pulsating veins of the souk.
A side-step through the inconspicuous doorway of the Medersa Bou Inania reveals a jaw-dropping vision of Moroccan Islamic architecture at its finest. A central marble courtyard is surrounded by domed arches and fringed along the roof by elegantly carved wooden beams. Ceramic mosaic tile-work, ‘Zellij’, adorns exterior and interior walls, flowing calligraphy fusing seamlessly with the exact precision of the flanking geometric patterns.
Dinner begins with a jostle and squeeze into tightly packed, street side tables where hot, syrupy mint tea is efficiently produced. A waiter weaves expertly down the street from an unknown kitchen carrying a plate of steaming Couscous, vegetables balanced on top and dribbled with rich, aromatic cinnamon and sultana T’fia.
Against the backdrop of a dark, vivid indigo sky, the elaborate wooden and carved stucco archway to a mosque frames the hive-like coming and going of scurrying worshippers. In the eaves of the archway a feverish mass of alpine swifts explode from their roost and jostle vigorously with a frenzied twittering for position in the crammed rafters. Serenading all the activity are the hypnotic, wavering tones of the Imam peacefully calling to prayer, the echo of the Azan “Allaaaaaaaaahuu Akbar” exuding from the buzzing epicentre.