Doors across Morocco

Morocco is a photographer’s dream.  There is so much to capture, especially the architecture that reflects Morocco’s rich cultural and historical heritage.  The French, Moorish and Islamic influences are very evident in doors across the country, whether they are heavily embellished horseshoe arches or simple wooden doors with peeling, decades-old paintwork and simplistic latches.

In Ait Benhaddou:

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And in Casablanca:

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In El Khorbat in the Todra valley:

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In Fes:

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From Marrakech:  The first, brightly coloured door is in the Jardin Majorelle, the twelve-acre botanical and artist’s landscape garden, owned by Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Bergé.

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From the hillside hamlet of Moulay Idriss:

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And I haven’t even got to the port city of Essaouira yet 🙂

The Leather Tanneries of Fes

They hand you a sprig of mint to take the edge off the odour as you enter the building, but nothing, in my view, can disguise the smell of Fes’ tanneries.

You first get a sense of the magnitude of this industry as you approach the tannery complex – literally hundreds of damp and recently dyed hides laid out to dry in the sun wherever there is free space.

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But the real action is in the dyeing pits in the Medina, the subject of many photographs from travel books on Morocco, where dozens of men stand knee deep in the pits of pigeon poop and natural colors in the hot sun, dyeing hides before they are fashioned into jackets, handbags and other commercial products.  Work in the tanneries hasn’t changed for centuries and this is the place to go if you want to experience the real authentic Fes.  Be warned though – the stench really does take your breath away.

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And all around the tanneries, that all too familiar sight – the satellite dish 🙂

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“Balak, balak” in Fes

Said to be the spiritual heart of Morocco, Fes is one of the world’s best preserved and captivating medieval cities.

Our walk started at the Gates of the Royal Palace located by the Jewish quarter.  Built in the 17th century, this palace is still used by the king of Morocco when he’s in town, but it’s closed to the public, so visitors have to be content with the outside.  There is plenty of detail to photograph, from the ornate metal doors, arches and delicate mosaic work.

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Equally intriguing was the Bab Sammarine, a gateway into Fez el-Jdid (New Fez), dating back to the 13th century.

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And then on to the souks in Fes’s ancient Medina…..

In short they are exhausting. A winding labyrinth of damp and dark alleys that never seems to end,

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with laden mules and donkeys passing by where you can barely swing a scrawny cat, their owners yelling balak, balak” – move out of the way or “watch out”.  The first two balak’s are a caution – on the third “balak” you are practically bowled over as the stream of traffic through the narrow alleyways forges ahead.

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Inside the souk, the harassment and banter alone leaves you feeling like you’ve done a triathalon. The camel’s head dangling from the eaves in a butcher’s shop took my breath (and appetite) away and, and so did the strench of the leather tanneries where pigeon poop is used to fix the dye. And then a co-traveller ordered pigeon pie for lunch, can you believe?  (I didn’t photograph the camel’s head by the way – I hurried past as fast as the oncoming stream of jellaba-clad merchants with carts of oranges or heavily laden donkeys would allow).

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Founded in the 9th century and home to the oldest university in the world, about 1.1 million people live in Fes, where the ancient Medina has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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