Tourist First

Travel notes and advice from around the world. Above, the daily flight from Managua at the San Carlos, Nicaragua, airstrip.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Morocco: Meknes and Volubilis

A highly decorated door at Riad El Ma in Meknes. 

  Meknes is a city I'd never heard of until we got interested in visiting Morocco. Meknes is largely the creation of Sultan Moulay Ismail, a brutal (but supposedly beloved) tyrant. He reigned for 55 years, until his death in 1727, and for some reason chose the provincial trading town of Meknes as his capital. He took marble and other stone from the nearby Roman ruins at Volubilis to build his city, which at its height had more than 50 palaces and 45 kilometers of exterior walls with 20 gates, one of which, the magnificent Bab Mansour, remains adorned with Roman columns brought intact from Volubilis.
     After his death, his buildings and walls remained, but the government, power, prestige and cachet moved on. What remains today are busy souks in a living and vibrant medina, the tomb of Moulay Ismail (the only shrine in the country that non-Muslims can visit), and a large student population that enlivens the French-flavored Ville Nouvelle, the more modern area outside the medina.
     We stayed two nights at Riad El Ma, a low-key but very comfortable inn in the medina. Even after a seven-hour drive, we arrived early enough on Wednesday, March 22, to explore the medina before a family-style dinner at El Ma. The other guests, a French father and son and a French-Belgian couple who were in Meknes completing the adoption of their year-old son from an orphanage, made for a pleasant evening of conversation over traditional Moroccan tajines.
       A good portion of our one full day in Meknes was spent visiting Volubilis, the ruins of one Imperial Rome's furthest outposts, complete with triumphal arch, temple, forum and private homes. Some of the mosaics rival those of Pompeii. We also briefly visited Moulay Idriss. The town is named for its founder -- who also founded the first Arab dynasty and is considered an important saint. His mausoleum is the focus of the town, and non-Muslims are not allowed to visit. Indeed, there's little in this town to attract western tourists other than the view of it you get  from four kilometers across a valley in Volubilis. Its white buildings crowning a steep green hill make it look like the pilgrimage site that it is.
     Here are some photos:
A narrow gate keeps cars out of  the Medina in Meknes. This street connected
the medina with the Ville Nouvelle.

Our room at Riad El Ma is called the White Suite. 

A water course runs from the reception area and dining room
at Riad El Ma to the fountain in the open-air courtyard.

View from our room into the courtyard at Riad El Ma.

The forum at Volubilis as it is approached from the entrance to the site,
which has a modern museum explaining Roman provincial culture. Roman rule
here lasted from around 40 A.D. (the reign of Claudius) to 285 A.D. (the reign
of  Diocletian) when the garrison was withdrawn.

Corinthian columns of the basilica or courthouse.

This is one of a series of mosaics depicting the labors of Hercules. I'm not sure, but
I think this is meant to be his capture of the Ceryneian Hind, the deer that could
outrun an arrow. 

The triumphal arch was built in 217 A.D. to honor
Emperor Caracalla.

The town of Moulay Idriss as photographed from Volubilis.

The main square in Moulay Idriss. The larger arch
to the left leads to the mausoleum of Moulay Idriss,
a saint and an important figure in Arab as well as
Moroccan history. His tomb, off limits to non-Muslims,
draws many visitors to the town.


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