We started in Lihoudi, in the northeastern corner of the medina. As you might guess from the name, this was once a Jewish area where jewellers and goldsmiths plied their trade. Out of respect for local residents, the mosque was built without a minaret so the call to prayer would not sound out over this quartier. There’s even a star of David carved into a wall to denote the boundary. Now Lihoudi and the area around Bab Guissa is full of carpentry workshops, the sound of electric saws and the smell of cedar wood in the air. There are long roof beams and intricate mashrabiya screens, no longer hand-carved but turned by machine.
Walking up the hill, we came to the beautifully restored Bab Guissa mosque and medersa and stopped for coffee in the sunshine. Just beyond the gate, part of the huge car park has been fenced off for rehabilitation, but there’s still enough open space for the Sunday bird market. It’s thronged with men and boys intent on trading their birds, or perhaps buying a new one after careful inspection of its feet and general health. There are small wooden cages for sale, larger metal ones and piles of accessories – plastic feed bowls, drinking tubes, leg rings, mirrors and toys for inside the cages and of course birdseed. Near the top is a pop-up tea stand where you can choose between mint or artemisia in your tea. There are a wide variety of birds: homing pigeons are a popular hobby and many houses have an aviary on the roof for pigeons and doves, song birds such as canaries, finches, budgerigars, some wild great tits, even a few chickens. They’re in cages within zip-up bags for easy carrying, in wire cages, in cardboard boxes or just carried carefully in hands. One little boy gets a lesson from his dad on how to hold his new pigeon safely.
The bird market takes place here on Friday mornings, too. It’s a fascinating look at an area of the medina not often visited by tourists and an event seemingly only for men.