Destinations in northern Africa are known for interesting beaches, Sahara desert landscapes, the Atlas mountain range, archaeological sites, Berber villages, and finally, old fortified cities, the Medinas. Medinas can be found in almost every major city, from Dakar in Senegal to Egypt, following the Atlantic and Mediterranean belt in northern Africa. Also, can be found in Sicily and Malta. Virtually, every Arab city with significant history has medina quarter. Prophet Mohammed founded the first Islamic community in Medina, which means city in Arabic. Soon, the city of Medina became a model for the construction of fortified cities of the Arab world, by which they got their name.
Medina in Fez, Morocco
The best country for Medina tour is Morocco. Because of its historically significant Medinas and higher safety in comparison with other countries. However, each medina represents a special world, different from other parts of the city in which they are located. All have narrow winding streets, like a maze, a large number of mosques, madrassas, hammams, squares, souks, handicraft shops, the streets full of people and a special atmosphere, like nowhere else. Medinas represents the core of every major city and shows the character of its locals. It is the great mistery for the tourists. So, before the visit it is recommended to read some advice for enjoyable stay in them.
Medina in Essaouira, Morocco
However, no matter how much prepared you are, how much guide books you read, these interesting fortified cities will surprise you. Each Medina is beautiful on its own way. Each has their own style of construction and a special rhythm of life in it, totally unknown to the Western world. The normal thing is to get lost, to feel completely helpless, almost go crazy from the hustle and sellers who want to sell their product especially to you. But, just relax. It is precisely the charm of Medina. As soon as you realize that, you`ll begin to enjoy the opulence of the labyrinth filled with thousands of shops where you can find everything.
Souk in Marrakech (photo: B. Komazec)
In some Medinas the traffic is prohibited, as is the case in Fez, where even the motors can’t be used. Transportation of goods and people is carried out by donkeys, the trademark of the city. In Marrakesh is allowed to use scooters all over the city, and cars in some areas. Scooters are buzzing next to you like wasps. Simply, don’t know from where it will appear.
Passengers usually book accommodation in Medinas, because they want to be in the center of events. Also, to experience magical mornings that have some special charm in these fortified towns with narrow streets.
Mainly, there are no classic hotels in Medinas. Usual accommodation is in Riads, a traditional house or palace with an interior garden or courtyard that is as tall as Riad itself. Riads are inward focused, which allows for family privacy and protection from the weather in Morocco. These buildings have no windows in the room, only the glass dome on top, from where the light spreads all over the house. This is ideal solution for maintaining shade in the house.
Breakfast will be served on the roof of Riad, with a view of the whole city. There is no better way to start the day in Morocco. You can see almost the entire Medina from the roofs of Riad, and enjoy the special atmosphere.
Choosing accommodation in some Medinas may lead to certain problems, particularly in large ones, such as the Medina of Fes and Marrakech, where the most problems occur. Riads are often not well marked. GPS devices not working correctly because of the narrow streets. In most cases even maps can`t help you. So, it is inevitable to ask for help from the locals. This is the point where the new problem starts. Everyone really wants to help you, everyone knows where is your accommodation, but asking for money for this service and they are quite persistent. The fact is, that you`ll hardly find your Riad by yourself. Except if it is not one of the best known and most expensive in the city. Then follows bargaining, psychological games. They evaluate you, you do them, and it may take some time. Finally, in most cases, the visitor gives up and pay the locals to take tham to the accommodation.
In the beginning, you are not happy how things works here, you might be even furious, but soon realize that`s the way how it is. Tourists come to Medina to enjoy its beauty, to learn something new from history, to travel through time, for centuries in the past. On the other hand, cagey locals are there for tourists, because they live of them. Somehow, both are important to fulfill the “big picture” about Medinas. Later, you`ll find all that nice.
Of course, there`s a way to avoid wandering through the Medina. The most important advice for those who book their accommodation in Medina, particularly in Fez and Marrakesh, is to ask the owner of the Riad to met them at one of the many gates. This is especially recommended for tourists in one-day visit, because there is so much to see in such a short time. In some Medinas, info points and road signs to the major attractions can be found.
To be continued…