Shopping in the Medina – The artisans and workshops – Fes
Enter the gates of the Fes Medina, and you step back in time to a place where artisans still create handicrafts as they did centuries ago. Though a rise in tourism is inspiring more knock-offs and cheap copies, you’ll find the off the beaten path lanes abuzz with artisans carrying on age-old traditions.
Enter the Medina through the Rcif gate and make your way to Place Seffarine, where coppersmiths are at work hammering and tinkering.
Adjacent to Place Seffarine, you’ll come across the dyers at work, preparing the dye, mixing, stirring, and lifting the wool and yarn out of the vats to dry.
The Medina is a web of lanes, but getting ‘lost’ treats you to the experience of uncovering unexpected treasures. From Place Seffarine, take the route that leads you along Talaa Kbira towards the Blue Gate-Bab Boujloud. You may have to stop several times and ask for directions.
TIP: Do not ask for directions from any young men. They will offer to guide you, then lead you on a circuitous route and insist on being paid outrageous amounts. They are notorious for preying on tourists. DO go into a store and ask the owner – preferable middle-aged or elderly – for directions.
Remember that wherever you are IS the destination, so take your time to explore the side alleys. You’ll come across vendors selling nougat, chewy pastel-colored candy, and halva. Stop and treat yourself to these addictive, homemade delicacies.
Workshops where woodcarvers are making elaborate wedding chairs and carving ornaments and utensils from fragrant cedar wood, and a stall that sells only keys and locks.
A craftsman who carries on a technique passed down by his grandfather creating one of a kind ornaments and jewelry out of rich, dark ebony wood inlaid with fine strands of silver.
A feisty man of few words who creates elaborate beaded, embroidered, and tasseled, horse saddles and bridles used during festivals and celebrations.
The ladies who grind argan seeds into a paste and into oil. Argan oil is touted as the miracle moisturizer for the face and body. It’s also used for cooking. Unfortunately, the majority of vendors sell cosmetics that contain only a tiny percentage of argan, so ask the owner of your riad or the concierge of your hotel to recommend a reliable vendor.
The lanes of the Medina are a mosaic of merchandise: carpets, leatherware, ceramics, jewelry, metalware, fabrics, babouches (heelless slippers), cosmetics, herbs, natural remedies for every ailment that you can name, spices, plump, sweet dried fruits, and a wide variety of nuts. It’s a dazzling panoply of items for sale.
Stop in at Antiquité Nejjarine 3 Place Nejjarine – along your route. It’s in the square where the museum of woodworking is housed in a restored Funduq (Funduq al Najjarine – Inn of the Carpenters) beside the Nejjarine Fountain, which was a fountain used by the ancient caravans of merchants, traders, and visitors to Fes.
The owner of Antiquité Nejjarine, Bousifha Samir, is a true gentleman who has scoured the country for unique pieces. He guided me through his store, commenting on the origins and purpose of different pieces. He pointed out which were antiques and which were newer reproductions. It was like discovering a treasure trove. Not once did he try to sell me anything or allude to a purchase. I would recommend his store to anyone interested in antique pieces.
It’s almost impossible to visit Morocco and not purchase a carpet. Over the years, we’ve purchased several. We can never resist browsing the carpet stores.
Coin Berbere, at 67 Talaa Kbira (www.coinberber.com), is owned by two brothers – Idriss and Abdul. We were looking for a rug for a hallway in our home. I had the exact dimensions, and we knew the colors that we wanted: soft shades of rose (not red, which is very common) and cream colors. The brothers and their helper went through piles of rugs laying them out on the floor until they finally understood what we were looking for. When we found the perfect rug, it was too wide for our hallway. No problem. They sent it to their carpet maker who expertly altered it and today it lies in our hallway where it has found its new home. Of course, when it comes to price, you have to expect to have a discussion and negotiate, but this is common practice in the Souks throughout Morocco.
There’s a little store at 215 Talaa Kbira owned by Adnane Novichi. He sells Taureg and Mauritania Art Objects, jewelry, and housewares. While most of them are not antiques, his pieces are of high quality and have beautiful designs.
Stop along Talaa Kbira to relax in one of the little cafes and people-watch. Soak up the vibe and the theatre of life in the Medina.
Just before you reach the Blue Gate-Bab Boujloud, you’ll come upon a row of restaurants that serve delicious tagines and couscous dishes at incredibly reasonable prices. Directly across the walkway is a pastry store – Le Palais des Goûts Fassie, which dazzles the sweet-toothed visitor with its smorgasbord of sinfully delicious patisserie.
If you are not yet ready for lunch, walk through the Blue Gate and the next set of Gates/Arches, and on your left, you’ll come to Jardin Jnan Sbil. Amble through these exotic, tranquil gardens among the fountains, sculpted flower beds, under the shady trees, and around the lake.
Return to the area inside the Blue Gate and enjoy a tagine followed by pastry, then take Talaa Sghira back towards Place Seffarine. Talaa Sghira runs parallel to Talaa Kbira. Walking this roundtrip will give you a comprehensive walking tour of Fes. You may want to do it more than once as there is so much more to see along the way.