Fes el-Jdid on a Friday


I arrived at dusk, I decided to rest. Three days on the road would make anyone tired.

As the sun rises, I decided to visit a new found friend at Riad Layla. The road to the riad leads us to the heart of Fez medina. It is a maze that even GPS leads us to dead ends. Up and down the narrow alleys of Fez we met mules and donkeys and man saying “Balak!” meaning look out or make way. But after a long, confusing journey we finally found it, Riad Layla just in the middle of the medina.

The riad was newly refurbished, opulent with its Moroccan design and high ceiling. One of the best catch of this riad is the privacy, few room means few visitors and their two roof tops offers an unobstructed view of Fez skyline.

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One of the rooms at Riad Layla.
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Panoramic view from the roof-top of Riad Layla.

Today is Friday, and we were having a dilemma. Shops are mostly closed especially at noon but the life of the medina resurrects as the sun sets. So we decided to explore the Mellah in Fes el-Jdid hoping that the Jewish quarter still opens its doors in this Islamic holy day.

Fes el-Jdid, meaning new Fez, was built 700 years ago by Abu Yusuf Yacoub and filled this quarter with Syrian mercenaries to cover his paranoia. Today, a large portion of this quarter is occupied by royal palaces.

On our way to Fes el-Jdid, we had a quick stop at Jnan Sbil (Bou Jeloud Gardens) to check how the Moroccans tend their garden. Surprisingly, I found bamboos in the middle of Jnan Sbil which reminds me of home.

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Bou Jeloud Gardens
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Jewish cemetery from the roof-top of the synagogue.

One distinction of the Jewish quarter is its architecture. Contrasting Moorish designs, houses for the Jews has open balconies towards the streets. The Jewish community back then holds strong influence to the kings but today most of them left Morocco for Israel. However, their mark and influence remained visible from the remaining synagogue and Jewish cemeteries.

For I don’t want my life to end at the cemetery today, on our way to the gates of Bab Bou Jeloud or the “Blue Gate” as we call it, we paused for a while at Café Restaurant La Noria to savour another authentic Moroccan dish. For most of us, after spending 4 days in Maroc and eating tagine, Moroccan salad and harira, we conclude that this restaurant offers great Moroccan food at an affordable price and the ambiance is also a winner. Still, I am still looking for a camel burger!

Off we went back to the Bab Bou Jeloud, the gates to the old medina and dive into the overwhelming maze of winding alleys of the Fez medina. As what I always do, just go with the flow. Until we found the Medersa Bou Inania, a Quranic school, built by Sultan Bou Inan of the Merenids in the 14th century. Similar to the medersa in Marrakesh, only less grander, yet it has onyx marble stones and green tiles minaret.

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The Blue Gate and the emerald minaret.
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Moroccan are are very sophisticated, just like this piece.
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From the windows of Medersa Bou Inania.

As we look up the minaret we remember the sunset, yes the sunset. So we went out from the halls of this medersa and jump again at this mind boggling medina at Fes el-Bali. The GPS seems to be lost just like us, it was fun, racing against the sunset. People tried to help only to lead us on the “wrongest” direction. So we continue, connecting the dots of the alleys that cannot be found on Google maps. Until the sun sets, we did not make it to the Merenid tombs but we found an unusual hole in at the walls of the medina where we enjoyed the view of the city and the sunset.

We decided to go back to the Blue Gate after the sunset but not on the same route, we don’t want to be lost again under the blanket of the night. So we took a longer route, outside the walls of the medina. Its easier but longer and tiring.

Capping our day, although my tummy is still filled with Moroccan salad, we went to the rooftop of Café Clock and grab a bite of a camel burger and “nusnus”. Poor camels I said, we rode at them at the dessert, then they are skinned for leather which we admire at the tanneries and now I am eating them. And surprisingly, Café Clock’s camel burger isn’t just a burger. It comes with a large serving of salad. I was overwhelmed.

Planning a trip to Morocco? You might also like some of my post on this lovely kingdom! Please check the link below:

Touchdown Marrakesh: My gateway to Africa

Maghreb in Microcosm: Meknes and Volubilis

Across Middle Atlas to Fez

Homestretch at Fes el-Bali

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