On September 4th, 2011, my 2nd day in Morocco, I went to Meknes and Volubilis on a semester at sea trip to both Volubilis and Fes. Meknes was not originally on the itinerary but it was a nice addition. And it did make me happy because the original trip I signed up for included Meknes, Fes and two nights in a Moroccan homestay, but it got cancelled because not enough people signed up! We stayed at a hotel on this trip and not a Moroccan home :(.
Meknes is one of the 4 “Imperial Cities” or Morocco, which means that it is 1 of 4 cities that have been the capital of Morocco, the others being Fes, Marrakech and the current capital of Rabat. Meknes was only the capital during the rule of one Monarch, King Moulay Ismail. Our first stop was the royal stables and the granaries, this building was constructed by Moulay Ismail. The grain house was constructed with thick walls for insulation and had wide open spaces, it felt like walking through a winery in Europe. The royal stables was a wide open space with arches and columns, the old wooden roof was long gone and because it was recently declared a UNESCO site, restoration work was slowly under way as there were many plants and shrubs all over the site. Right outside the stables and grain house was the Agdal reservoir, built by Moulay Ismail. It was quite a large and nice reservoir. We then headed to see what many consider the most beautiful gate in Morocco, the Bab Mansour gate. The story goes that when it was completed Moulay Ismail asked the architect if he could create an even better gate, the architect felt he needed to say yes, however this infuriated Moulay Ismail and thus the architect was executed. This is because Moulay Ismail asked the architect, El-Mansur, to build the most beautiful gate in Morocco, and he did so the fact that he answered yes to being able to build an even better one meant that he lied to the King. After this we had a surprise lunch included in our tour, the original plan was to eat box lunches provided by the ship, but instead we were treated to a Moroccan feast inside a Moroccan palace, more like Moroccan mansion. It was delicious, details on it will come in a Moroccan food post.
That afternoon we arrived in Volubilis, one of the best preserved Roman ruins in North Africa. Having never been to Rome, I cannot really compare Volubilis to the ruins in Rome, but from what I heard it was very similar and some say parts of Volubilis are preserved better than some of the ruins in Rome. We took around 1.5 hours to tour and walk around the entire site. We saw the Agora, the Basilica, the Capitol, the Triumphal Arch, the Temple of Jupiter, a mansion, Hercules’ residence, the Thermae (thermal baths), lots of well preserved mosaics, a vomitorium and even a Roman brothel. I found it all very exciting as I have never been to Rome but always wanted to go to see the ruins. Actually I found the countryside of Morocco and the drive to and from Volubilis to be very reminiscent of Tuscany. And I found out that the landscape and climate were indeed similar to Tuscany because Meknes and the surrounding area of Volubilis was the wine country of Morocco, and I tasted some Moroccan wine during my lunch in Meknes,it was quite tasty.
Volubilis and Meknes are worth the stops as you venture out to Fes and they are on the way so you aren’t making any detours. Meknes was the first sight of the Moroccan I had in mind as it was the first city I visited outside of dirty Casablanca.