Published: October 19th 2007September 28th 2007
Photo From Volubilis
Roman Ruins and Medina Blues
As they seem to say in show-biz, “The Show Must Go On.” Despite our love of Fes with its gigantic medina, its friendly cultured population and views of the Arabian/Berber lifestyle of yore, it was time to go. It was sad to move on after a beautiful day exploring, but the time had come for us to move on to new sights and sounds. Volubilis: Roman Border Town
Only a few hours drive between Fes and Meknes lies the ruins of one of ancient Rome’s garrison border towns. Situated in a fertile valley between mountains, Volubilis seems an idyllic place for a successful town on the edge of a gigantic empire.
For over 400 years, Romans lived here at the edge of “civilization” living off the food grown in the fertile valley with the help of slave labor. As time progressed and the empire grew a little more fat and lazy, the town fell into disrepair and eventually was abandoned.
A little more than a thousand years later the remains of this Roman city was destroyed due to the Lisbon earthquake. The devastating rumble, which destroyed Lisbon,
buried Volubilis in a couple of feet of debris and soil. When it was rediscovered by the French in the late 1800’s, it was tagged for excavation. During the late years of French colonialism, a third of the site was excavated and refurbished by archeologists from the best universities in France. But, since the demise of colonialism, very little further work has been accomplished.
We were lucky that when we arrived temperatures were pretty cool for the area. In the low 90’s, Volubilis was manageable for a guided tour. This particular area gets extremes of temperature with summer highs above 100 degrees and winter temps going below freezing. It seems that September really is the perfect time to be here.
Our guide took us on a meandering walk through the decent sized set of ruins. Similar to other major sites we’ve been to in the last few months, most of the walls of houses and buildings are no longer standing but mosaics and columns seem to have survived. Much of the marble and expensive materials were stolen from the sight by scavengers prior to the earthquake in the 1700’s so the imagination definitely has to be hard at
work when here. Once your imagination kicks into overdrive, you notice that Volubilis has a unique mix of multiple Roman building styles with Doric and Corinthian columns right next to each other.
We spent about an hour and a half exploring all that Volubilis had to offer before moving on to Meknes, which is less than an hour from the ruins. The trip through the countryside really gives a great view of rural Moroccan life. Sadly, as is the case with much of the developing part of the world, trash, refuse and crumbling houses seem to be the norm. Unlike the beauty of Volubilis, the countryside is dirty and run down. The average Moroccan lives right around the poverty line with few jobs available and more than a 20 percent unemployment rate. It is an eye opening experience to see the beauty and splendor of a country and the harsh realities all in the same day. Meknes
Meknes is definitely a smaller sister of cities like Marrakech and Fes. Its medina is smaller, its size is smaller and the amount of time needed there is smaller. We only spent one night in Meknes and had
Stairway to Light
Photo From Marrakech
a chance to explore the town the afternoon we arrived. We spent about an hour walking through the Medina, checking out a few shops on the way.
For the most part Meknes is nothing more than a pit stop on our tour. The Medina is nice, but considerably smaller than the Medina at Fes. We did take a few moments to head to a nearby Mausoleum which was pretty cool. With intricate cedar roofs, ornate Arabic carvings and heaps of mosaic work, the Mausoleum is certainly worth a stop if you are tired of shopping or being heckled by shop owners in the Medina.
** While waiting in the lobby that evening for a local internet café to open, I got into a conversation with the hotel manager about Ramadan and its meaning to him and his Islamic faith. (Our whole trip in Morocco is during Ramadan, which is the Muslim month of spiritual sacrifice and reflection - it prohibits eating, drinking, smoking and sex during the hours of 6am-6pm for a month. It’s a really interesting time to be in a Muslim country as the faith is even more dominant in daily life.) When the
Waiting Out The Day
Photo From Marrakech
sun set, the manager was able to break his day long fast and his wife brought food in to share with him around 6pm. The Ramadan “breakfast” is very traditional and contains a special soup (harira), dates, coffee, bread and a sweet crunchy pastry. Since we had been having such a great conversation, he invited me to share the fast breaking meal with him and his wife. She clearly hadn’t brought more than what was needed for the two of them, yet they were generous and took the chance to share what they had. I was really honored that they invited me (and the food was great) - it really gave me a better understanding of Ramadan and Islam in a more personal way. Truly a cool experience. **
We got a pretty good dinner at a nearby restaurant and then hit the sack rather early. On Thursday morning we had to be up and prepared to leave early because of an all day (11 hour) mini-bus ride to Marrakech. Few things are more tortuous than being stuck in a small moving vehicle for what feels like days. We did stop a few times along our trip to get
water, use the toilet, or get some lunch but most of our 11 hours was spent in the van.
By this point in the trip some of the luster was wearing off between tour group members. Some people were very uncomfortable, getting motion sickness, or just having to deal with general intestinal distress caused by the Moroccan cuisine. Nothing can try a new friendship like being cooped up and uncomfortable for most of a day. By the end of the day we were all relieved and had remained friendly which is a testament to everyone’s personality and willingness to sacrifice for others. I for one am glad that the longest ride of the tour is over. Marrakech: A True Mix Between Arabian and African
Despite being tired after the monstrous car trip, we all scraped ourselves up for a quick taxi ride into Marrakech’s main square. Here, in the center of Marrakech’s Medina, the night life is incredible. Being here is unlike anything you can find in Europe or Asia. Snake charmers, musicians, food stands, pickpockets, hustlers, salespeople, and the smell of exotic spices all combine to create a truly unique environment. While the sheer
Arabs and Africans
Photo From Marrakech
magnitude of sights can be a bit overwhelming, after a few minutes of acclimation the seeming cacophony becomes a symphony of light, sounds, smells and sights.
By time dinner was over we were all ready for some sleep. Nothing seems to wear people out like 12 hours of travel. Lucas was thoughtful enough to give us more sleep in time so that we could recharge our batteries prior to starting a new day. Kel and I relished every moment of sleeping in until 8am…precious, precious sleep!!
Our first full (and only) day in Marrakech consisted of a trip through the Medina with a stop at a Koranic School and a local Palace. The Medina was slightly different from the others that we had seen because of its more African feel. Also, each town has its own crafts that are specifically from that region, so we were able to check out some new and different stuff.
The school that we stopped at was truly impressive. The craftsmanship that goes into making these buildings is amazing. Mosaics, carvings, and Arabic script tile work left everyone awestruck. There is nothing like these places in the Western world. While castles and
old towns are neat, they lack the detail work that you see in ancient Arabic designs. As the discoverers of geometry, the Arabs really know how to make intricate patters of words, colors and carvings. Often when entering a building like the school, you want to just stand and stare…it’s hard to even move as you try to comprehend the beauty that surrounds you.
After the school, the palace was a bit of a let down. While beautiful, with fountains, intricately decorated sitting niches and a few amazing chandeliers the palace is impressive, but just shy of awe inspiring. The comparison of the secular with the religious (the palace and school) really shows the devotion of Muslims. The best of everything is reserved for religion and the study of the Koran and worship of Mohammed. Muslims may be one of the most devout religious groups on the planet.
Tomorrow we are off on another long and grueling bus ride on our way towards the coast. Hope everyone back home is doing great and having some fun. We miss you and thank you for reading! Check Out Both Pages Of Pictures
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