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December 18, 2002
There are some significant landmarks within the old medina that you may want to see. The most notable school is the Medersa Bou Inania, a theological college begun about 1350. Unfortunately, it seems to be perpetually under reconstruction. The Nejjarine Museum of Art is fronted by an attractively tiled fountain and houses various examples of Moroccan woodworks and crafts. The Zaouia Moulay Idriss II, the tomb of the Islamic saint who is recognized as the founder of Fes, cannot be entered by non-Muslims but is a significant pilgrimage site. Other attractions include the many tanneries, souks and fondouks (former inns now used as factories) that help make Fes the great attraction and distraction that it is.
It is strongly suggested by some that you hire an official government-endorsed tour guide to take you through the medina. Not only will you get a knowledgeable guide for the labyrinthine town, but the guide will deter other would-be touts from hanging on to you. You can arrange for such a guide at your local hotel or tourism office. You can also pick up an "unofficial" guide within the medina (do not worry about finding one, they will find you!). They will offer you a cheaper rate, but this is chancy because you may get a half-hearted tour geared towards his interests (shops run by his relatives and associates) rather than yours. Technically, unofficial guides are also illegal. Of course, you can try to venture in sans guide; this can really be an adventure. I went with my friend, who has visited Fes before. Despite all attempts to blend in and do our own thing, touts of various ages, sizes, and styles constantly harassed us. A couple of teenage boys basically rattled, insulted and bullied us for what seemed to be an hour. Frankly, if I were alone or with other people who have not been here, I would definitely recommend hiring an official guide. While I did enjoy many of the sensory explosions of the Medina, I think I would have had a better time without the endless harassment. Supposedly the local merchants do not approve of the more surly touts, but such is the complicated fabric of life here.
From journal Bill in Morocco - FEZ (FES)
There are many ways to enter the medina. The most prominent entrance is at the Bab Boujeloud at the western end of the medina. Of course, this is where there is an inordinate number of guide wannabees, so you will be heavily targeted for sales and services here. Perhaps a better choice would be taking a taxi to one of the other gates, as you will likely get less attention from the locals if you enter here. You may see maps from guidebooks and try to follow them literally to find landmarks and places, but keep in mind that these maps are really not that accurate or detailed. The streets and paths within the medina are not really marked at all by signs or names, so you truly are on your own if you are not with a guide. The major paths are quite narrow and congested, and any rain turns the dirt roads into mud roads. You will contend with folk selling almost anything imaginable (sweets, spices, clothing, trinkets, preserved dates congealed into large fruity masses), and lots of locals trying to lead you to meet other locals. The lesser paths are usually quieter and lead to residences, but you will run into bemused locals and some youngsters who may be guides-in-training and try their jive on you. It is a whole different world within the walls of the medina! Just try to enjoy it as best as you can. Take in all the exotic sights, odors, people, donkeys, etc.
(Continued in Part 2)