If you enjoy the adventure of getting lost in a whimsical destination, Fez el Bali should be right up your alley…literally. And if you want to set this adventure to a spiritual soundtrack make sure your are there in time for the Fez Festival of World Sacred Music.
The Fez Medina
Known for its seemingly infinite winding alleyways, Fez’s old town allows you to experience ancient Morocco with its well-preserved historical character. Wandering through the city’s narrow walkways is like embarking on a journey as far back as the ninth century, shortly after Arabs arrived in the country.
Fez el Bali is a huge medina and UNESCO World Heritage site with narrow alleys packed with lively restaurants, spice markets, crafts, workshops, hammams, mosques, fountains and performers. You’re welcome to wander at your leisure throughout the medieval town, but, of course, if getting lost isn’t up your alley, plenty of local guides are available for hire.
Towering walls envelop the entire city, which has relatively few gates for locals and visitors to come and go. This is one of the world’s largest car-free urban areas, and because of this, people-watchers can observe family and friends using the alleyways for informal social gatherings, creating a joyful, welcoming ambiance.
The massive, bustling medina offers enough sights and activities to justify a full day of wandering. Plan to admire the ancient architecture, shop to your heart’s delight, haggle with shopkeepers and chat up a local to get a resident’s perspective on the scene. When your energy levels start to dwindle, relax with a glass of spiced Berber coffee.
The area is also known for its tanneries, so be sure to seek out locally made leather goods while you’re there. The local techniques for working an animal’s hide into soft leather have changed little since medieval times, so watching a portion of the process can be a lesson in traditional ways. You may also want to meander over to Mellah, the Jewish quarter. Its architecture and ambiance offers an intriguing contrast compared to the rest of the medina.
The Fez Festival of World Sacred Music
If you travel to Fez el Bali in early summer, try to be there for the Festival of World Sacred Music, usually scheduled in late May or early June. This year it ran from June 9th through to June 12th with the theme Architecture and the Sacred, exploring how people of all faiths have expressed their quest for the sacred through architecture.
Artists from around the world flock to perform at the Festival of World Sacred Music. The event attracts international stars and local talent. You can expect daily musical performances such as local ritual Berber music, Sufi chants, whirling dervishes of Konya, Japanese drummers, dancing monks from Tibet and Russian Orthodox choirs. Performances take place in a variety of outdoor venues throughout the area.
The festival offers more than just musical performances, and you’ll want to carve out time to visit the visual art exhibits, film viewings and poetry readings as well. For a more intellectual flavor, you can attend literary discussions in the area’s cafes.
First held in 1994, the music festival initially focused on Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions. Over time, the event expanded to include other religious traditions and eventually an array of global talent. Despite its growth, the event remains non-commercial and can be deeply spiritual for those willing to be moved by the experience.
Written by Shelley A. Gable.