Morocco to Madrid 12: Moulay Idriss and Volubilis


Hamza the Hyundai was right where we left him this morning, as our first experience with prepaying for parking in Morocco turned out okay.

I’m emphasizing prepaying for reasons you’ll discover later.

With a necessary bathroom run stopping us short of seeing the lake near the Royal Stables of Meknes, the Bassin Sahrij Swani, so that was our first stop of the journey today, taking a nice, cool, air conditioned five minutes as opposed to a hot, twenty minute walk.  Couple of pictures later and we were ready for the double-header of the day.

Moulay Idriss from the Grande Terrace.

Two of Morocco’s top sights are just outside of Meknes.  The first we hit was what some Moroccans have dubbed “Little Mecca”, the town of Moulay Idriss.  Named after the great-grandson of Mohammed who fled and took up residence there in the town, converting its residents to Islam.  At one point, the place was considered so holy that you couldn’t enter if you weren’t Muslim, a la Mecca and Medina, and even when that ban was lifted, there was a time you couldn’t stay in Moulay Idriss overnight if you weren’t Muslim.  The town is home to his Mausoleum and is a pilgrimage destination for Moroccans and it’s said that, if you do the pilgrimage to Moulay Idriss five times, it’s equal to one visit to Mecca.

The older gentleman who “found” us at the grand terrace viewpoint was amused that I knew this fact, as it seemed to throw a curve into his attempt to guide us, as did the fact that I found the only cylindrical minaret in Morocco without help.  We decided to let him show us around, though, knowing we’d have to pay him, which we did, and it wasn’t even all that expensive, about four dollars.  Truth be told, he got us to the main entrance of the Mausoleum (which we couldn’t enter) and to a place to eat lunch, so, worth it.

After sweating it out during lunch (and it was HOT), we were off to our next destination, the UNESCO Site of the ancient Roman town of Volubilis.

/Volubilis’ Roman Basilica.

The former capital of the Roman state of Mauretania, you can trace the ancestry of Volubilis from the 2nd century BC through the Carthegenians, then the daughter of Anthony and Cleopatra, and to Moulay Idriss, who sought refuge here as well.  Everything fell apart in the 3rd century (as it did for most of Rome), and the Berbers retook the territory, but during its heyday, Volubilis saw the construction of its huge Roman basilica, a triumphal arch and several massive houses with their floor mosaics still intact to this day.  It was a hot, hot walk to get around the site – Roman ruins, so no real shade anywhere – but a worthy addition to the day.

After we were done here, we started the long, occasionally sketchy drive to Chefchaouen.  There were a couple times where Google Maps just led me wrong today, whether it was an unnecessary shortcut before an easy to navigate roundabout, literally telling me to drive through a solid wall in Meknes, or suggesting I go down a dirt road it had labelled as a highway, getting here was a bit of an adventure.  We’ve checked into our hotel where, for the first time in Morocco, we were asked to be at the start of our stay, which I definitely found odd, but when I explained that we hadn’t made it to a cash machine yet, that seemed to be okay.  Though we were asked again after coming back from dinner, which was at a cafe around the corner.

And what a cafe!  It was run by a Belgian-Moroccan lady with a personality that was truly a force of nature.  We spoke French and she seemed quite intrigued by Daina, who wasn’t saying much on account of not speaking much French.  She says she’s visiting Canada next December.  Quite fun.

Anyway, we’ll be seeing Chefchaouen proper tomorrow!  Time for a well deserved sleep!

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