Visiting restoration projects in Fez

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).

The astronomical observatory of Qarawiyin Mosque (left) is currently being restored (ph. Eric Ross)

The astronomical observatory of Qarawiyin Mosque (left) is currently being restored (ph. Eric Ross)

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.

Main streets in residential neighborhoods barely allow two pedestrians to pass each other (ph. Eric Ross)

Main streets in residential neighborhoods are barely wide enough for two pedestrians to pass each other (ph. Eric Ross)

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.

Wooden braces prevent the outer walls of houses from collapsing into this dead end alley (ph. Eric Ross)

Wooden braces prevent the outer walls of houses from collapsing into this dead-end alley (ph. Eric Ross)

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).

Inner courtyard of the Berqa Funduq, whose restoration has just been completed (ph. Eric Ross)

Inner courtyard of the Berqa Funduq, whose restoration has just been completed (ph. Eric Ross)

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.

Restoration of this funduq is still very much work-in-progress (ph. Eric Ross)

Restoration of this funduq is still very much work-in-progress (ph. Eric Ross)

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.

Restoration of the Chamma'in (candlemakers') Funduq is very near completion (ph. Eric Ross)

Restoration of the Chamma’in (Candlemakers’) Funduq is very near completion (ph. Eric Ross)

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…).

Oued Boukhareb as it flows out from under Recif Square. At this point it is an open sewer but a project is under way to clean it up and restore it as a river. (ph. Eric Ross)

Oued Boukhareb as it flows out from under Recif Square. At this point it is an open sewer but a project is under way to clean it up and restore it as a river. One Fassi poet once compared the Boukhareb to the delicate arm of a bride, the bridges standing for her silver bracelets. (ph. Eric Ross)

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).

AUI grad students Ali Taimoum, Sawsene Nejjar, Walter Spain and Ajsha Kester

AUI grad students Ali Taimoum, Sawsene Nejjar, Walter Spain and Ajsha Kester asked terrific questions about the living architectural heritage of Fez during the day-long excursion (ph. Eric Ross)

Great fun, and the semester isn’t over yet. Our next excursion will be to Casablanca.

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About ericrossacademic

Professor of Geography at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco
This entry was posted in architecture, cities, field trips, teaching and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Visiting restoration projects in Fez

  1. Pingback: Presenting Volubilis, ancient capital of Berber Morocco | Eric Ross, academic

  2. Charles O. Cecil says:

    Very interesting! Many thanks.

    Charles O. Cecil

    Cecil Images

    4318 Louis Place

    Alexandria, Virginia 22304

    U.S.A.

    http://www.cecilimages.com

    Tel: 703-504-6956

    E-mail: chuck@cecilimages.com

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