Medina in Arabic means city.
Any person who visits Morocco (or reads about the country) is going to listen to and read this word a lot and will, for sure, walk through its streets. It’s any given city’s historical center, as well as the most interesting area. Thus, it’s important to get familiar with how it works.
A common medina is comprised by an entanglement of sinuous and narrow streets (they can make a total of 9000), which are delimited by a wall with watchtowers. Even though it is a pure maze, getting lost in one of them is a spectacular experience… For those unfamiliar with it, it’s chaotic, but it does abide by some criteria.
In Morocco, some of the most well-known medinas are the ones of Fez, Marrakesh or Chefchaouen. The one of Fez is the country’s oldest and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1981.
The one of Marrakesh is considered to be the most exotic and fascinating.
In a medina’s center one can find the major mosque, the place of worship of those who follow the Islamic faith. Usually, that central area also comprises a wide street, which links the wall’s two gates.
The existence of distinct quarter, or souks, is acknowledged, and they don’t have a visible delimitation. Some factors which led to the establishment of these quarters are related to ethnicity, religion or some kind of trade, and the occupation of the inhabitants as well. In each one, there is a communitarian oven, a hammam (bath) and a madrasa, which is a cultural and religious institution.
The names of the products which are produced and sold usually give the quarter its name. In a medina we can find the quarters of jewelry, animal skin goods, carpets, stringed instruments, bronze, copper and clothing, among others. The tanners’ quarter is very well known, in which the hides are processed. They are cleaned, soaked in bowls and dried. This process is extremely interesting and I’ll talk about it in another article.
As we stroll through the several medina’s souks, we start to acknowledge a Moroccan tradition.
The art of bargaining.
When a customer shows interest in a product, the seller gives his initial price, and then a whole process of bids and counterbids begins. It’s a subtle game between the seller and the customer, which one can witness with any given product, regardless of its cost. This game can take some time and the seller can even serve us tea. That happened to me a couple of times.
To stroll through the labyrinthine streets of a medina is to go back hundreds of years. It’s an absolutely unmissable experience on several levels. Colors, smells, sounds… it’s a sensory challenge. I know some medinas in Morocco and I must confess that the one which I like the most is located in the city that I’m totally in love with. Marrakesh. I visited it for the first time 2008 and I never stopped doing so since… I’ve already spend many hours in the streets just looking around. I really recommend this trip.