Revival Of Old Medina Of Fez Extends Beyond Its Beauty


Undoubtedly,  innovation in architecture of old cities (medinas) in Morocco is with no doubt extremely important, but preserving and restoring the old buildings is also important because those old monuments are the reflection of the Moroccans history.  They contribute to understand and respect people who lived in different eras with different habits and traditions.

Stunning mosques, monuments: madrasas, mosques, mausoleums, trading domes, hammams, old houses, and shops just to cite these few, represent an outstanding cultural equivalent of an old-growth forest.

However, the centuries are taking a toll. Inhabitants and visitors can easily notice the aging physical structure of the Medinas Shop doors are askew. Hand-chiseled tiles called zellij are faded and chipped. Ancient wooden doors collect the dust of ages. But while in some places the wear and tear adds to the aesthetic, in other places it’s precarious: Ceilings bow, and walls fissure. Some structures look downright dangerous and, in fact, are. There is always this risk of houses to fall down that menaces many families.

Therefore, these historic buildings have to be saved. It’s a “must”. Preservation and upgrading of medinas are far more effective means to honor our ancestors and at the same time create a multi-generational legacy for future generations.

 The Moroccan Press Agency MAP reported that King Mohammed VI visited, on Monday, several projects that fall within the framework of the Fez old city rehabilitation and revamp programs, and launched the restoration works of “Al Batha” museum and the building works of a Jewish culture museum. 

These projects, either visited or launched today by the sovereign, are in line with HM the King’s insightful vision aimed at preserving the national heritage in all its components and protect it for the benefit of future generations, and with efforts to promote the influence of Fez which has always been an example of coexistence between civilizations and cultures.

They also show the King’s desire to ensure a sustainable and responsible development for tourism, with a high human and cultural value added, improve the inhabitants’ living conditions, preserve the urban and architectural aspect and promote the tangible and intangible heritage of the country’s spiritual capital.

The sovereign visited the Seffarine Hammam (public bath), restored by the ministry of endowments and Islamic affairs for 9.6 million dirhams, as well as the Staouniyine Foundouk (inn) whose restoration works totaled 50 Mlm dirhams and turned it into a center for innovation and sharing of ideas on weaving crafts.

HM the King also visited the development project of Lalla Yeddouna square artisan complex worth 333 Mln dirhams. The project consists in the rehabilitation of 11 traditional buildings, the construction of 7 new ones, the development of El Jawahir river and its outer areas, and the restoration of the Bin Lamdoune historical bridge.

Out of the complex’s 18 buildings, only one is still under construction and will be complete by the end of this month. The delay was caused by archeological finds.

The sovereign visited afterwards the Lalla Yeddouna heritage and information center “Fez: Heritage Center”, a place for raising the public’s awareness on the importance of the city’s heritage, as well as the different actions and initiatives undertaken to safeguard it.

The King, then, launched the restoration works of the “Al Batha” museum and the building works in the Fez Jdid neighborhood of a Jewish culture museum, projects that mirror the sovereign’s unwavering will to keep the architectural identity of the city of Fez, the special interest the Commander of the Faithful takes in the cultural and spiritual heritage of the Moroccan Jewish community and his steadfast determination to preserve the wealth and diversity of the Moroccan identity’s components.    

These two projects are part of the 2018-2023 Fez old medina complementary upgrading program worth 583 mln dirhams, under an agreement inked before HM the King on may 14, 2018 in Rabat royal palace. The large-scale program provides for revamping 11 historical monuments and symbolic sites, 10 sites of worship (mosques and Quranic schools), 37 places of well-being (hammams, fountains and sanitary facilities), the rehabilitation of 39 places for handicrafts and traditional trade, the amelioration of the urban landscape and buildings (15 sites) as well as the refurbishment of Dar Al Makina.

Two projects under this program were completed. They are the Lalla Yeddouna heritage and information center and that of Bab Mahrouq. 32 projects are under way, including 12 related to traditional fountains worth 97 mln dirhams.

As part of reinforcing the Fez old Medina’s tourism attractiveness and enhancing its inhabitants’ livelihood, a program to develop car parks, revamp public areas and establish an information mechanism is in progress.

The program, worth 400 Mln dirhams, seeks to improve access to the old city via the development of 8 car parks (Bab El Hamra, Bab Jdid, Bin Lamdoune, Oued Ezzhoun, Bab El Kissa, Ain Azelitine, Bab Boujloud, Sidi Bounafaâ) with 3,200 parking lots, road paving (23 km), the mailing for streets, alleys, squares and small squares in the city and the setting up of information stands to serve residents, visitors and tourists.

The development works on the Bab El Kissa and Bin Lamdoune car parks have already begun, while the development projects of the Bab Boujloud, Sidi Bounafaa, Bab Jdid and Ain Azelitine car parks are in the contract awarding phase. The invitation to tender documents for contract awarding concerning the Bab El Hamra and Oued Ezzhoun car parks are in the preparation phase.

Major rehabilitation and upgrading projects of old medinas are launched in Morocco. Dozen of monuments and old houses have come to life. Restoration work is still going on and the result is often breathtaking as such task is often tedious, intricate and costly process that rquires close collaboration and coordination between different government agencies. Skilled handicraftsmen, architects and designers work hand in hand to restore beauty to those historically valuable buildings. The community is involved during this whole process because this a Moroccan patrimony that should be preserved.

Revival of old medinas extend beyond their beauty. Their upgrading and especially preservation presents a lucrative economic opportunity that can generate jobs and boost tourism. These projects reinforce the handicraft sector as a source of job creation and value added. They promote the integration of the beneficiary women in the labor market, the preservation of some declining trades, the promotion of local handicraft products and the strengthening of the sector’s organization and structuring. Local economy is thus stimulated not to mention public interest, especially for children, in learning about historic sites and feel proud of all the work achieved by their ancestors. So the progress of rehabilitation and upgrading works of old medinas aim to enhance the building aspect of the city and ensure better integration into its urban environment.

Beautiful images of old medinas: colorful shops, smell of mint tea coming from small cafés, sounds of the muezzin’s call to prayer, skilled fingers of handicraftsmen giving the final touch to their products, sacred fountains, mausoleums — all illuminate Morocco’s spirituality and modern identity. Old medinas do talk.

Said Temsamani

Said Temsamani is a Moroccan political observer and consultant, who follows events in his country and across North Africa. He is a member of Washington Press Club.

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