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Fez – A Reflection of Africa

Fez is the symbolic heart of Morocco, as well as the country’s spiritual and cultural centre. Green prevails on the mosque facades and domes and is regarded worldwide as the colour of Islam. This fact is also reflected in the Fez Festival of World Sacred Music, which attracts musicians from all over the planet every summer. This is a unique event which sets up avenues of dialogue between disparate cultures and religions from Islamic lands.

But, don’t start panicking! You needn’t expect slow religious concerts in the sense of Gregorian chant. Rather, this is a festival which, year after year, promises to dish out great chunks of entertainment. On previous occasions, the Fez Festival was graced by the participation of music stars of the calibre of Björk, Paco de Lucía, Patti Smith, Joan Baez and Youssou N’Dour.

Noteworthy among the cultural and musical offerings at this year’s festival – which features over 500 international musicians starring in more than 50 shows and 10 concerts – is the flamenco of Diego el Cigala, the rhythm & blues of The Temptations with their legendary seal of American Motown, the video artist Jean de Boysson and the Malian singer and songwriter, Oumou Sangare, among many others.

In Memory of Hassan Al Wazzan, Explorer of Al-Andalus

This the 21st edition of the Fez Festival will be held from 22 to 30 May. Under the slogan, “A Reflection of Africa”, the festival commemorates the journeys of Hassan Al Wazzan, the Andalusi explorer known as the Lion of Africa whose remains are buried in Fez.

The life of Hassan Al Wazzan, who lived in the 15th and 16th century, was one of a nomad who was forced to travel due to political and religious circumstances. He embarked on a diplomatic career while studying in a Fez madrasa and travelled across all of North Africa as an explorer and geographer. Finally, he went to Rome, where he was adopted as a son of Leo X. There he was baptised with the name Giovanni Leone de Medicis (or Leo Africanus), although he never turned his back on the Islamic tradition.

Alternative Activities

The music programme is supplemented by a comprehensive schedule of parallel activities, notably film screenings, conferences, exhibitions and children’s activities. An alternative cycle of free concerts will be staged throughout the festival in Bab Boujloud square, paralleled by the Nuits Soufies, featuring free, daily concerts in the Dar Tazi gardens, right in the heart of the Fez medina, a symbolic place providing a broad overview of the all-embracing Islamic culture.

Fez – the Cradle of North African Culture

With over a million inhabitants, the Fez el-Bali medina (Old Fez) stacks up as one of the largest inhabited medieval cities in the world. The district is listed as a World Heritage site and contains the world’s largest pedestrian precinct. Its interior is a maze of 10,000 backstreets, some of which are cul-de-sacs, while others seem to lead you back to your starting point. Getting your bearings in that labyrinth can be complicated, but that’s part of its charm.

Like Fez el-Bali, Fez el-Jdid is a walled enclosure. Set in the walls are a number of palaces, gardens, bazaars and Koranic schools, the architecture of which is more elegant than in the rest of the city. The most interesting sights in the area are the Dar El Makhzen Royal Palace and the Mellah or Jewish quarter.

One of the most popular places with tourists is the Chaouwara tannery. While not suitable for the squeamish, on account of the potent smell given off by the animal hides, a visit to this quarter comes highly recommended. Seen from a vantage point, the quarter is magical, resembling a painter’s palette.

Text by Scanner FM

Images by Phil Chambers, Deniz Eyuce, Pablo Jimenez, Elena, Adolf Boluda and Sergio Morchon