A donkey clomps past the cooking-meat smoke of a food stall, a television set tied to its back. Teenage boys on motor scooters zoom and honk, as veiled women fill water jugs at an exquisitely tiled fountain alcove. The sound of the adhan booms through loudspeakers, echoing off crumbling buildings and down narrow, cat-slinking alleyways.

And you are hopelessly lost amid it all.

As quintessential as couscous, medinas are the walled, crowded, mazing aortas of any Moroccan travel experience. While modern development and orderly urban planning have sprung up around them, medinas are the ancient heart of any city in Morocco, where East meet West, past meets modernity, tourist meets local. Some are reconstructed, some are touristy, some are pure snake-charming insanity. But none are alike.

Here are my rankings for the most memorable medinas visited on my recent Moroccan adventure:

Seediest: Tangier

American expats Paul Bowles and William Burroughs may no longer be on the prowl, but the narrow alleys of the Tangier medina feel just as gloriously grimy and hopelessly hash-laced. Glue-sniffing kids lurk past pushy medina touts, while fresh-off-the-ferry tourists sip mint tea at the old cruising spots of literary giants. Tangier’s proximity to Europe has long left it open to all sorts of Western influence—much of it nefarious. I didn’t feel unsafe anywhere in Morocco—except the dark backalleys of the Tangier medina.

Mazingest, Crumblingest and All-Around-Coolest: Fez

Fez Medina

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  • David Lee

    In late 2007, I quit my job and left the comfortable life in the USA for the open road with nothing but a 20-pound backpack, a …

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