The Doors of Fez

3 min readDec 24, 2019

There’s much to say about Morocco, from musings over the tourism industry to seeking out beneficial experiences, but as usual, it’s the little details that marinate in your mind.

I try not to overly romanticize visiting any location — in the sense that, considering what I usually discuss online and offline, being cognizant of sensitives regarding politics, nationalities, and my own limited knowledge, a topic for another time — but often, a community gets something right.

An old building with chipped paint

The walls of most of the buildings in the old Medina of Fez look like this. Unadorned. Our tour guide, a local, took us through the winding streets and into the residential areas, away from shops and monuments, to spend a few minutes pointing this out. We even strolled past what was an old palace and you could not tell from the outside that it was a palace. It was simply a long stretch of beige, mostly cement wall.

When the medina was built, normal homes were not built with balconies, but rather, if you could afford it, some homes had a courtyard inside. Residents then and now don’t adorn the walls, but they hide decadent interiors. The floor plan allows for a small corridor that turns immediately after entering, so anyone at the door can’t immediately peek and see what lays inside the atrium — the home of a rich person, or a poor person.

The wisdom behind this is twofold:

  1. The rich and poor and in between live next to each other, and among one another
  2. Wealth and luxury is a private matter. It was a culture that cultivated avoiding arrogance and being showy, so as to keep the poor from feeling low.

We saw this in action when another local showed us a beautiful hotel — a narrow building from the outside belied the lush gardens within.

Sunlight shines through foliage of the courtyard of a hotel

But it goes beyond just overall appearance. Below is a picture of an average door to a home (it’s blurry, sorry). Notice there are two knockers, one on the upper left and another in the middle, which gives way to a smaller door (door in door).

The knocker higher up is for guests and strangers, and the knob in the middle for family. The smaller doors have a different thickness in wood so the knockers produce different sounds. If you were inside, you can distinguish the sound of who’s knocking. This way, it was helpful for women, when home, to know whether to cover or not when opening the door. The first knocker, also, was at a convenient height for merchants who often came by on horse or mule so they wouldn’t have to dismount in order to knock.

Good city planning integrates deep care into design and architecture, down to the door knob.