The adhan it sounds early in the morning, even before the darkness has faded through the streets of Fez. The medina is the old city, a conglomeration of thousands of houses and squares that turn Fez into a labyrinth, the most complex that has ever been created in the Arab world. The city has been known to travelers since the Middle Ages. Ibn Batuta and Leon the African left at dawn to travel the known world, to Mecca, and later continue east in search of wisdom.
Because Fez has always been a city that has wanted knowledge. In their madraris the Koran was studied but also Aristotle, regardless of whether he was Greek. The traveler who enters the Al-Karaouine Mosque will be dazzled by the green and white tiles that cover the walls. The bare marble where the water of the fountains runs will remind you of a certain paradise that you have read in the biblical texts. The mosque was founded in 859 and the fasis are proud to consider it the world’s first university, founded by two women. Allah and Wisdom, there was a time when these two concepts went hand in hand and got along. It was in the north of Morocco where he reached greater heights of understanding and from there jumped the Strait of Gibraltar, to Al-Andalus.
AND The history of the first University of Fez it still holds the city in a position of ancestral pride. On the sides of the temple the houses grow, piled up like a paper castle. Strolling through the streets of the medina reduces the traveler to insignificance. Watch the rams and chickens in a rampage, knowing that the butcher’s knife will turn them into an early sacrifice. There are also bookstores where Koranic texts are combined with books brought from France by immigrant generations. The next street is reserved for shoemakers and smells of old leather. On the left is the spice market. A little further than rugs, metal and kettles. That of sweets dipped in honey, to the spasm of tourists, among flies and children who put their mouths to collect the fruit from the source.
Fez is a delicious swarm. The bustle of humanity for which there are no schedules. At night and by day there is only one possible rhythm: that of commerce. Men shake hands and kiss on the cheeks even though they have seen each other in the day. The women wear the veil but are not shocked to see tourists in suspenders and skirts, looking at leather purses and buying a gift to take to their relatives in Germany. Only measured chaos is interrupted when the muezzin calls to prayer. At that moment the shops draw their shutters and the streets empty. It lasts just an instant. Ten minutes. Then the men spread their mats in the middle of the street or go to the nearest mosque. It is a moment of intimacy with God. They speak in silence and the sound of the fountain coming out of the fountain in the center of the mosque is heard. The traveler tries to sneak among the faithful, but the glances stop him at the door. He does not speak the language of faith and therefore must remain on the sidelines. Entering the sacred precinct is too serious a thing to experiment with out of curiosity.
AND But Fez does not live by faith alone. The Jewish quarter refers to a lost world. The Sephardim who were expelled from the peninsula in 1492 settled in the Mellah neighborhood, southwest of the medina, right next to the Royal Palace. And lying on the walls they prospered. Today several synagogues are still preserved. The most important are those of Ibn Danan, from the seventeenth century and Al Fassiyine, which maintain the cult, despite the impediments of recent years. The rabbis allow entry to the temple. Architecture is a mix of cultures. A memory of the lost Sepharad and syncretism with the Arab world. The streets of Mellah are also narrow, but some commercial avenues open where men drink mint tea and women buy cheap underwear.
The last hour of the market the brand also adhan from the heights of the minarets. Jews adhere to the strict schedule set by the Islamic faith. The tanners who still resist the luxury hotels and the palaces turned into hamanes in the interior of the medina also do it. With the arrival of night, the city becomes impassable. The carts enter through the gates of the walls and take away the unsold merchandise during the day. Live animals that have not been slaughtered make their joyous sounds. One more day on this side of life. Time stands still in the medina of Fez. Restaurants smell of freshly made harira, a consistent soup that confirms the intensity of the day. In a few hours it will dawn again. First from the minarets. The cycle of life will be fulfilled in Fez.