Monday, March 12, 2018

Morocco: in the Medina

I learned a lot of new words in Morocco. Words like "souk" (marketplace), "kasbah" (fortress or fortified city) and "medina". Our itinerary mentioned visits to several medinas, which I learned referred to the old, walled city existing within the modern parts of a city. The Medina Of Fes, for example, was built in the 9th century, is the largest Medina in the world and also the largest urban area with no automobiles in the world. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a totally amazing experience. You enter, through a large, arched gate into a different world of narrow, winding passages, claustrophobic and confusing as you make your way toward the center of the maze. In places the passage narrows to a width that accommodates only one person and if you meet someone coming from the other direction, one of you must step back into a doorway or alcove to let the other pass.

Just when you begin to worry about the walls closing in, the passage begins to open up to areas of small shops, gathering spots at fountains and wells and people bustling about, making deliveries, shopping, selling, socializing.

The streets, if you can call them that, are too narrow for trucks or cars, so everything that comes into, or goes out the Medina, including building materials, arrives on backs or heads, in small handcarts, on motorbikes or the occasional small donkey. The shops include all manner of goods for sale and many are workshops for craftsmen doing metalwork, leatherwork, sewing, dyeing, etc, etc, using mostly well-used traditional tools.

The food shops offer beautiful displays of candies, olives, vegetables, fish, sheep heads and pyramids of beautiful spices

Rugs, Ceramics, Jewelry, textiles, artwork in tiny shops line the inner streets of the medina. All prices are negotiable through a predictable, polite and usually friendly bargaining ritual. I'm very bad at it. At one shop I saw some beads I liked and asked the price. "What price will you pay?" was the response. "I only have $10," I said (which was true). "Oh, no—beautiful beads $40." I repeated, "I only have $10." "35" he said. I showed him my $10—"really, this is all I have..." he took a deep breath and patiently explained, "you are doing it wrong. I give my price, you give your price. I lower price, you raise price..." he waved his hand in a circular motion as if to say, "now, do you get it?" At this point I was embarrassed and handed the beads back to him apologetically and turned to leave. He thrust them back into my hand, sighed deeply, grimaced and said "OK, give me money." I felt a little bad about the whole deal despite getting my beads so cheaply. Usually these negotiations conclude with a smile and a handshake—win-win, everybody's happy. After that I made sure I had enough money in my purse to play the game correctly.

The medina is a world unto itself, sounds of metal hammering, jingling bells, children laughing and chattering in Arabic and stringed instruments and little hand drums; smells of spices and orange flower and grilled kabobs; men in striped jelabas and women in silk headscarves and long black dresses, brilliant colors of rugs and ceramics and Berber beads and carvings and brilliant textiles fluttering in the breeze. Has it changed in all the hundreds of years? It seems not. Though I suspect that the deep pockets of those traditional clothes might conceal cell phones, I don't remember seeing them. The medina is the essence of Morocco—timeless and wonderful in every way.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


  1. What a colorful feast for the eyes!

  2. What a wonderful experience. Thanks for sharing. Must say that I would be terrible at negotiating, too. :)