As the semester progresses, I continue to take the Moroccan Cultural Heritage class into the field (for previous class trips, check these posts on the cave houses of Zawiyat Sidi Abdesslam and on Volubilis). On Saturday 28 March we toured historic Fez visiting a variety of buildings currently under restoration (check this post on Morocco’s imperial cities).
Mr. Aziz Miziane of ADER-Fès (Agence pour la dédensification et la réhabilitation de la médina de Fès) agreed to spend his Saturday showing the students various restoration projects, most of which are located in the Qarawiyin quarter, and explaining the challenges they pose.
Firstly, the historic urban fabric is extraordinarily tight. Residential alleys are often barely one meter wide, and sometimes considerably narrower. This means that all construction material must be delivered by donkey or wheelbarrow and that rubble and other unwanted material must be removed by these means as well.
Some of the buildings being restored are grand or prestigious, like madrasas (law colleges) and funduqs (caravansarys, trading hostels). Sufficient government funds are allocated for state-of-the-art restoration involving authentic materials and craftsmanship. Others however are ordinary houses inhabited by working-class families with few resources of their own. The government allocates about 80,000 MAD to such projects but this is far from sufficient to cover all the costs. Families restore their houses as best they can given their budget, and compromises are inevitable (for example, use of cement brick and cement mortar, mass-produced tile instead of true zellij).
Sometimes the restoration work is conducted as a matter of urgency. Over the course of the last 70 years or so residential density in the old city more than doubled. Many of the old houses have been re-built or enlarged with additional floors. The weight of these upper floors has weakened ground floor walls. The winter rains are particularly destructive as water seepage causes walls to collapse.
Despite the daunting task of seeing to the soundness of the over one hundred thousand buildings which make up the historic urban fabric of Fez, ADER-Fès has chalked up an impressive array of successes. The students were shown some of the most recent ones.
The restoration of several funduqs is now nearing completion. These historic commercial spaces will once again be given over to commerce, mostly as workshops and sales outlets for traditional urban crafts (tailoring, leather-work, copper-work, cabinet-making, book-binding…).
Other types of buildings currently being restored include hammams (bath houses, too dark to photograph), the Aïn Azliten tanneries (sorry, no photos of the work-in-progress allowed) and neighboring Dar Dammana (guest house of the Ouazzaniya Zawiya).
Great fun, and the semester isn’t over yet. Our next excursion will be to Casablanca.