Not far from Meknes is the UNESCO World heritage site of Volubilis which is easily combined with a visit to the picturesque village of Moulay Idriss. For a day of exploration I teamed up with Alex from Australia who I had met in the hotel and who also happened to be a connoisseur of good food which was helpful in all things culinary but which also meant we had to stop at nearly every patisserie we passed.
The town of Moulay Idriss is the holiest town of Morocco and before 2005 non-moslems were not allowed to stay the night. Travellers at the time were expected to leave the city before 3 pm (Edith Wharton called it grandly the Sacred City). It is known for its mausoleum of Moulay Idriss I, which, sadly, is not accessible for non-moslems, supposedly because Idris was the great-great-great grandson of the prophet Muhammed. That didn’t help him much from being murdered, poisoned it is said, by the caliph Harun al-Rashid, whose name means Aaron the Just. It was then apparently okay to kill a great-great-great grandson of the Prophet. Many Moroccans believe that six pilgrimages to the mausoleum are equal to a pilgrimage to Mecca which must be convenient for people who live in Meknes or other nearby towns. I took a picture from a safe distance:
Then we looked around for the only round minaret in Morocco, allegedly so, and I had seen a photo of it and it brought back reminiscences of Central Asia, but when we arrived at the structure it was rather disappointing. Not only was it quite small, but a text on the side suggested it was only built in the first half of the twentieth century.
The unusual round minaret at Moulay Idriss
When we arrived at a small market, Alex decided to buy some peas which, he explained, can be eaten raw, something I never knew. When I tried them they were deliciously crunchy and sweet. He also pointed at some acorns and we decided to buy some. They were the seeds of the cork oak and I later found out that its Wikipedia article completely failed to mention that they were in fact edible, though it did mention that they are also used to produce a pesticide…. They differed in quality, some were bitter, but most tasted very much like chestnuts.
On our way to Volubilis we walked by an old fashioned olive mill, witness to the town’s most important product: olive oil.
Volubilis was of Phoenician origin but is now more famous for being a well preserved Roman colonial town in Morocco. In its time it lay at the fringes of the Roman Empire. The entrance fee was a very modest 10 dirhams, roughly one euro, and which included access to the museum.
Many mosaic floors were still in remarkably good shape given that they have been unprotected against the rain or snow, or whatever else may have fallen upon them from the heavens, for all those centuries. The most striking I found a mosaic floor depicting Hercules and his 12 labours.
Another prominent structure in Volubilis was the Triumphal Arch which was built to honour Caracalla although I don’t know of any victory of this emperor who is mainly known to history for his massacres throughout the Roman Empire. Somewhat satisfactory Caracalla was being stabbed to death during a campaign in Parthia while urinating at the side of the road.
After the city fell to ruin its name was forgotten and the local people called it Ksar Faraoun or the ‘Pharaoh’s Castle’ as they erroneously thought it was built by one of those ancient Egyptian rulers. During the French colonial period the ruins underwent restoration which, according to some, was rather shoddily done.
On our way back we had some kofte (minced meat) served with cumin in Moulay Idriss:
After this I stayed a few more days in Meknes which I liked. Its medina is singular in style with its wooden porticoes. There are many little workshops where tailors are sewing and other craftsmen were happily um… crafting away.
The hotel is very cold. It seems colder than any other building I have been in in Meknes. I spent most of my time under a huge pile of blankets and I am glad I fortuitously brought my hat which I had never thought necessary when I left for Morocco.
In the morning I often drink coffee at the Hotel Regina where I only pay half of what you pay at the Place el H. where tourists from Fez and Casablanca pour out of tourist busses. When the waiter turned his back a vagabond took his chance and drank the dregs of the coffee that were left standing on a nearby table.