Yesterday, the group rode our bus to the city of Fez, maybe 120 miles east of Rabat. A beautiful superhighway took us through the green region of Morocco. The world’s second largest forest of cork trees (largest is in Portugal), wheat fields, olive groves on a gently rolling landscape. Eventually, the city of Fez came into view. We exited the highway and drove into the town.
Fez has one of the world’s largest vehicle-free zones, the medina, a warren of 9000+ tiny streets and alleys dating from the 9th century. Here is the oldest university in the world, operating since 859. In the late 15th century, Morocco had a big influx of Jews and Muslims fleeing the Spanish Inquisition.
I have always figured Judaism and Islam are fundamentally the same, both descended from Abraham, with similar beliefs and practices. Here, there is lots of overlap. City gates, mosques, and street decorations display the star of David worked into designs that also include the 8 sided Islamic star. You see the hand of Fatima all over the place; both Muslims and Jews need protection from the evil eye. And of course, both were feared by the Spanish Catholics.
This part of Morocco has a lot in common with Andalucía. The people look the same. The little alleys in the Fez medina look just like the little alleys in Córdoba, if a lot more lively and a lot dirtier. The landscape is similar. And the name Andalucía Is all over the place. The “new” medina is called the Andalucía quarter.
The name “Fatima” is shared by Muslims and Iberians. Fatima was the daughter of Mohammed. Fatima, Portugal was named after the daughter of Mohammed in Moorish times. In 1917, three girls in Fatima, Portugal saw a vision of the Virgin Mary, said vision being labeled as Our Lady of Fatima. So evidently, our sister-in-law Fatima is named, very indirectly, after Mohammed’s daughter.
We are staying in a Riad, a traditional Moroccan home in the medina. This one is really 4 Riads combined into one with 25 guest rooms arranged around several courtyards with fountains, lots of intricate tile work, delicately carved plaster, carved wood, the place is fantastic. Minor physical inconveniences like a 4 minute wait in the shower for hot water, but it beats a regular hotel by a mile.
Today we walked a couple of miles through the labyrinth of the medina, stopping at a leather tannery, stinky with big vats of pigeon shit to cure the leather. Big vats of dye, all different natural colors. Yellow leather is dyed with saffron and costs more. And of course the showroom with beautiful, soft leather jackets, slippers, purses, etc.
Another stop was a weaving coop where they wove vegetable silk: fine soft threads made from agave and dyed – we had seen the dyers on the street earlier. We got wrapped up in turbans here, getting ready for the Sahara.
This evening, we visited a family for a home-hosted dinner. I’ll save that for some other time (maybe never), I want to get this sent off.
Sorry for the lengthy previous email, I should have sent that in 2 shots. We are both feeling back to 100%.