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The ancient and modern mingle in Fez

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Fez lies at the edge of the Middle Atlas Mountains in northern Morocco, surrounded by a dry, rocky landscape. Wide, Paris-like boulevards and promenades bordered by palm trees and cafes are juxtaposed with a densely packed Medina, a labyrinth of narrow alleys lined with vendors of lamps, leather goods, spices, traditional clothing, and anything else a shopper might desire, even broken sewing machines. New shopping centers featuring the latest in fashion and edibles from Europe vie for commercial attention alongside colorful markets that brim with dates, oranges, eggplants, live chickens, and fresh olive oil sold in recycled water bottles. It is in this fascinating city that the ancient and the modern worlds converge.

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The Medina is the old city, fortified from invaders by a thick wall. Massive gates, or babs, allow entrance. It is behind these walls that the centuries old existence of Fez emerges fully. The fragrance of spices and exotic scents waft in the air, mingling with the pungency of discarded garbage and donkey dung. At the heart of the Medina lies the Madersa, a center of Islamic learning and prayer that is stunningly decorated with Arabic calligraphy, colorful tiles, and intricate geometric patterns. Embedded in the streets resides the city's great mosque, calling out to the faithful to pray, a sacred place non-Muslims may only peer into from behind its impressive keyhole doors. Deep in the Medina there also still exists a tannery where hundreds of animal hides are cured each day by the workers, thigh deep in vats of variously colored water. A stench of death lingers over the tannery, as visitors marvel at tanners scraping, dunking, and beating hides into supple leather. Stacks of hides are moved in and out of the Medina by little donkeys that navigate through the busy pedestrian-packed streets. These hides are dried on a hill that overlooks the city and later worked into leather bags, wallets, and belts that are eventually sold in the many souks (shops).

While leisurely sipping a coffee or Moroccan mint tea in an outdoor café in the mild, sunny winter climate, shoe shiners, beggars, and children selling packets of tissues stop to ply their trades. Meanwhile, the streets are filled with a chaos that most westerners never experience in day-to-day life. Cars swerve from one lane to another, the drama of maneuvering through the round-a-bouts seems to have no other rule than to emerge alive, car horns sound their displeasure, and pedestrians wander into the streets with a remarkable confidence and indifference to aggressive vehicles. Donkeys even enter the mix of traffic madness as they race through these busy byways with carts laden with goods.

Fez is a city where the wild, the exotic, the colorful, and the ancient mingle to create a unique experience for anyone looking for a bit of adventure.

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