The Craft Industry in Fez
Fez is one of the oldest cities on the planet. Its life has changed little in recent centuries. This city is one of the largest ones of Morocco along with other famous cities, such as Marrakech, Rabat, and Casablanca. However, many Moroccans and even travelers regard Fez as the pearl of Arab culture, the religious and cultural center of Morocco. The city was founded more than 1000 years ago by the Arab ruler Idris I, and after a while, his son made Fez the capital of the Idrisid state. After almost 300 years, the city becomes the biggest Arab city of the time and one of the most populated cities in the entire Islamic world. Residents of this town, according to the Arab tradition, preserve and save their traditions and customs, passing them to their children, from generation to generation. That’s why today’s Fez is a modern Arab city, but it still lives and is famous for the craft of its inhabitants, some of which have remained unchanged for many centuries.
Like many ancient Arab cities, Fez is divided into two parts – the old Fes-el-Bali and the new Fes-el-Jedid. The new Fez, which began its active growing and development about 800 years ago, is mostly new residential areas, but still full of Moroccan color and charm. It has a few famous attractions: Royal Palace of Dar el-Makhzen is 100 hectares and the “potter’s quarter” at the gate of Bab-Ftukh, which products are known far beyond the borders of the country. However, this is surely almost all the attractions of this area. The old city bears the real cultural and craft value. The ancient and new parts of the city are separated by an ancient wall, which in time immemorial served as a town border and protected from raiders. It is believed that the heart of Fez and its cultural center is the old city – Medina. It “grew out of the sand” more than 1000 years ago and had not changed since then, because this town continues to live according to ancient traditions, rules, and laws. On the streets of the old city driving cars and other vehicles is restricted, because very often the distance between houses can be measured with two arms outstretched.
One of the principles of dividing the medina is in the craft. In this case, the old city is divided into 40 quarters. For example, there are quarters of metal chasers, weaving, a quarter of hats, where the famous tarboosh caps are made. It looks like it’s far in the past – a red wool cap with a blue or black tassel on top. There are few original tarboosh factories are located there – it is made by hand in small rooms. But the most popular among tourists and residents of the city is the quarter of tanners. In the center of the quarter are the great leather-dyeing pits. Here, like 1000 years ago, workers cleanse, soak and color the skin. Although there is not the most pleasant smell there, the quality of the product is fantastic. All this is due to the use of natural materials such as natural flower dyes, and a manual manufacturing process. In the end, the material from these pits enters on Fez markets in the form of purses, bags and traditional slippers.
The gate to the old city is like a portal in time, intersecting which can be transferred to the distant past. As well as many centuries ago, there is a grass-roots market behind the gate on which everything is sold: from silver decorations to camel’s heads. Unfortunately, because of the high popularity of original Moroccan souvenirs, their quality and authenticity are gradually decreasing. To get a real keepsake, it’s worth visiting old markets or craft museums – they are in every major city in the country (“Shopping In Morocco | By Morocco Channel”). But, fortunately, the Moroccan charm was not lost – it was always, is and will be behind the wall of the old city. The streets are full of street musicians who play on a traditional instrument – Krakebs (qraqeb), or garagab. It is a pair of metal spoons with two ends. Musicians hold a couple of these spoons in both hands while playing and each pair hits each other. As a result, it gets fast, pulsating sounds that create a definite rhythm.
Also, it is necessary to pay attention to the traditional berber clothes – djellaba. It is a long closed gown with a hood for both women and men. Djellaba and similar clothes have always been associated with the climate of Arab and African countries. Most of their territories are very hot and windy, so a long hooded garment protects against such weather conditions. The tradition of wearing a djellaba is preserved for many centuries, and it is manufactured in the same way as in those times – from light cotton to protect from heat, and also from coarse sheep wool for high mountain areas. It can also be short or long, of different colors and types.
The markets of Fez deserves special attention. It is an immense labyrinth in which each seller offers a unique and colorful product. However, much that is sold, made specifically for tourists, which significantly reduces the level of authenticity. Real authentic souvenirs are not easy to find because if a customer finds a good thing and wants to buy it, he/she still needs to persuade the seller to sell it (Shah, 6). However, this influence does not make Fes’s markets to be fake. As well as many centuries ago, here is the atmosphere of ancient trade, centuries-old traditions, and family relationship reigns. There can be found almost every element of craft as well as the most popular Moroccan crockery called tajine. It consists of a deep container that is covered with a cone-shaped lid, so it turns out that the cooked in the tajine food is both stewed and steamed at the same time. The Moroccans are proud of this invention and try to improve it.
On the one hand, the dishes cooked in tajine are a national meal and each family has its unique recipe. On the other hand, the ceramic is made of any sizes, shapes, colors, but by tradition, it is made from clay. There are several ways to produce tajine: in factories that produce a lot of products, as well as handmade by individual traditions, which are very expensive, but it will be unique for sure, which is of great value.
In other places, Moroccan cosmetics is made and sold, which is gaining popularity around the world. The fact is that it is made from natural ingredients, such as flowers, roots, and fruits of trees or stones. A full range of products is made from them: decorative face cosmetics, creams, lotions, and shampoos. For more than 1000 years of the city’s existence, many generations have used products given by nature, to put their appearance and health in order. Now such cosmetics is popular because of its naturalness, utility, and accessibility for the Moroccans.
Fez, as well as the whole Arab world, is famous for making carpets. An original Berber carpet is made by hand only of wool. Thousands of people are engaged in carpet weaving, spending many hours to make even a small rug. However, this is a real Berber tradition, the oldest profession. The carpet is usually depicted with a variety of national patterns, sometimes with gold and silver threads.
Fez is a city with centuries-old traditions, the inhabitants of which preserve and transmit them to their children, the next generations. The walls of the old town keep many victories and defeats, stories of ancestors and achievements of modern people. All this for many centuries left an imprint on the life of people. The craft in this city developed over the centuries, especially under the influence of the culture of Berbers and European peoples with elements of Arab culture. That is why a huge variety of craft types has been achieved: from making natural cosmetics to making unique carpets. A lot of traditional occupations are based on the geographical location and nature of the city. One thing is clear: the craft in Fez, as well as other towns and regions of Morocco, is unique in its diversity and authenticity.
Shah, Tahir. Travels with myself: collected work. U.K., Mosaïque, 2011.
“Shopping In Morocco | By Morocco Channel.” Morocco.Com, 2017, http://www.morocco.com/shopping/.
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