The Bab el-Khemis Gate of Meknes was our imposing first stop after hitting the road on Sunday morning. G Adventures’ draw card is environmentally and socially conscious travel, so we picked up a local guide in almost every town we visited. We met our Meknes guide outside the city arches and he took us onward into the old city, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
From 1672 until 1727, Meknes was the capital of Morocco and the shell of that former grandeur is still very present. Our coach stopped at the Agdal Reservoir to let us off. The local guide wanted to introduce us to Moulay Ismail, the second ruler of the Alaouite dynasty in Morocco, by showing us his Royal Stables. Moulay Ismail was not a man to do things in half measures. He was Morocco’s great warrior king (driving out the British and the Spanish from Morocco) and this stable reputedly housed this 12,000 horses. Not only did he have 12,000 horses, but each horse had it’s own groom and slave.
The world must have been a splendid place to be at the beginning of the 18th Century. This Moroccan king was the contemporary of Charles II and France’s Louis XIV (the Sun King). As if that weren’t enough, Moulay Ismail is also the world record holder for the most offspring by one man; supposedly fathering over 800 children. No wonder Marie Anne de Bourbon, the eldest daughter of Louis XIV, refused his offer of marriage. I’m sure Marie Anne was enjoying her independence. Something which would have been lost had she joined that harem!
After experiencing the magnitude of his life, we paid homage to the King at his mausoleum. A visit to the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail is believed to bring a charismatic blessing (baraka). Tourist visitors, however, are only allowed to approach as far as the annex. We nipped in for photos before being rushed to what out G Adventures guide assured us was the ‘best 1/2 chicken in Meknes’. As there were no alternatives I cannot compare it to anything. It was good. I shared with a friend and it turned out 1/4 chicken was more than enough to feed me. So, with hurrying being the theme of the day, we wolfed down out part-birds and were herded back into the Sprinter bound for Volubilis.
The thing I like best about Volubilis is the name. When our guide said it, it sounded like a funny sort of illness. In fact, it’s a Roman (originally Phoenician) city dating back to the 3rd Century BC. All the hallmarks of the Roman Empire are present here, sprawling villas with baths, a basilica, a triumphal arch; all overgrown with wildflowers and overlooking acres of olive groves. Very reminiscent of Italy.
Our guide called the Atlantic side of the Atlas Mountains ‘useful Morocco’. We all must have had some serious stereotyping going on before we came, because no one had expected Morocco to be this green. The whole drive from Casablanca to Fes was fields. Very beautiful, very peaceful. After doing a round of the site with another local guide, we all hid under the triumphal arch to as rain swept across the plains towards us. Our only rain of the trip.
Volubilis, like Meknes, is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Perhaps UNESCO sites should be my new purpose of travel? The local team seem to be looking after the former colonial city very well. Every corner we turned the guide was yelling at someone to get off the ruins. It was really great to see.
At this site you get a really great feeling for everyday, provincial life during the Roman Empire. Walking up from the arch you can just imagine the main street bustling with people and stores bursting at the seems with olives and oils. The public spaces of large merchant houses have beautiful mosaic floors. It’s easy to imagine walking into an oil merchant’s villa for a banquet. Earlier in this post I mentioned the 18th Century would have been very interesting. Now I’m thinking that the Roman Period may also be worth a visit. Excuse me while I get working on the time machine now!
Short and sweet today. Jeans and a long-sleeved blouse were fine for transitioning from town to countryside. Good walking shoes were essential in Volubilis, particularly with the weather.
I mentioned we weren’t given much of a choice for meals during the trip from Casablanca to Fes. Still, it was cheap MAD30 for chicken, rice, chips and a bit of salad. Dinner that night we went to a dinner and show in Fes. It was a bit fancy and special, so I’ll include those prices tomorrow. Had we not gone to the show, my daily budget of MAD150 would have been more than sufficient here.