Roman Ruins: Meknes to Fes


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Africa » Morocco » Fès-Boulemane » Fes
September 12th 2018
Published: September 12th 2018
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A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you can control it. - John Steinbeck

I woke up this morning to Susan saying “it’s 8 o’clock!” What do you mean it’s 8 o’clock? I set the travel alarm for 7 am! I leaped out of bed, threw on my clothes, washed my face, brushed my teeth, shoved everything into my bags, and was downstairs to breakfast at 8:15. A record, but not a nice way to wake up. Later I checked the travel alarm and turns out that I neglected to move the lever back to time after I set it, so it was on alarm set mode. I won’t be doing that again!

Abdul decided that we would go see the Roman ruins of Volubilis first, rather than do our activities in Meknes, as the site would be cooler and much less busy in the morning. We drove out 1/2 hour to the site, where we met our local guide Rashid. We toured around Volubilis for around 1 1/2 hrs. Rashid gave us a very informative tour. Volubilis has lots of really amazing, well preserved mosaics, which I loved. A skilled worker was restoring one of the mosaics when we were there.

Volubilis, a UNESCO world heritage site, is the best preserved Roman site in Morocco. It dates back to the 3rd C BCE, and at its height up to 20,000 people lived there. It was inhabited pretty continuously until the massive Lisbon earthquake of 1755 which destroyed the site.

There are remains of many Roman houses in Volubilis, complete with mosaics, and I got a better feeling of how people would have lived there than I have at other Roman sites we’ve previously visited. The mosaics are really incredible. It was a quite cloudy morning, not good for photos, but good for visiting as it wasn’t too hot, though it was humid.

After our tour we checked out the small museum, which contains Roman artifacts found at the site, and then hopped back on the minibus. On the way back to Meknes we drove through the town of Moulay Idriss, a very picturesque town clinging to the hillside. (Moulay Idriss brought Islam to Morocco in the 7th C.).

We drove back to Meknes and met our local guide, IItmet, at a coffee shop. It started to rain just a little at this point. Susan and I had a nice espresso type coffee, and we hopped back into the mini bus for a short drive to the “Thursday Gate” in Meknes, so named because of a market held nearby on Thursdays, since the 1600s. We stopped for a quick photo, and drove through the Mellah, the historical Jewish section of Meknes. Meknes used to have a large Jewish population, Sephardic Jews who were expelled from Spain. The Jewish population is now very small (something like 120), as most of them have immigrated, to Israel and other countries.

We walked around an area where a large reservoir is located, used just for irrigation now, and with some old walls and an aqueduct. At this area around the aqueduct, there were some horse drawn carriages, waiting to carry people, likely tourists, around to the sites. These unfortunate horses never seem to be in very good condition, despite being their owner's livelihood. We saw one man applying some sort of dark and smelly oily substance to his horse's leg, to cover the visible sores. How pathetic. Instead of treating the horse, he covers up the sores so people won't see. This enraged several members of our group, including Susan, who confronted the man, of course to no avail. What I don't understand is why people who depend on animals for their livelihood (like the donkey handlers in Petra and the horse drawn carriage owners all over Egypt) don't treat their animals better.

IItmet, who is a Berber woman, talked a lot about the situation of women in Morocco, especially the difficulties young women in isolated areas face. It seems young girls, of 12 or so, are married off to much older men. After a few years the girls run away and end up turning to prostitution to survive. There is also some sex tourism, where foreign men are preying on young Moroccan girls. That is a really disturbing and something I find reprehensible. It was very illuminating hearing about the social situation in Morocco from a woman who speaks her mind.

As interesting as IItmet was, I ended up being very disappointed by the time we spent in Meknes because we did not do any of the things which were on the itinerary. A few days before we left, Peregrine sent an email saying that there were some changes to the itinerary, because the Moroccan government has significantly increased entrance fees at some monuments in the country. So we didn’t visit the Chellah in Rabat yesterday, and today we didn’t visit the Heri es-Souani (Moulay Ismail’s 17th C. immense granaries and stables - room for 12,000 horses!). They are really supposed to be something so it was very unfortunate to miss it. Peregrine should have included it even if the entry fees have gone up. They can increase the cost of future tours to cover the increase, but should not have simply removed it from our trip, so close to the trip leaving. It’s not like we are going to be back this way any time soon.

So the Heri es-Souani was supposed to have been replaced with the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail. However the Mausoleum is closed for restorations and has been closed since 2016. So why did Peregrine, just last week, say this is our replacement site? They should have chosen a replacement site we could actually go to! I wasn’t very happy and I will be letting Peregrine know.

We stopped briefly at what IItmet said was beautiful gardens, but it was simply the royal golf course. Yawn. Plus I got in trouble for taking a photo of the nice entry gate, since I didn’t notice there was some sort of military person there along with the other guards, and it is a big no-no to take pictures of anyone in military dress. Why I don’t know. Anyway I deleted the photo, I didn’t want a photo of him anyway I was just trying to get the gate. Sheesh.

Anyway, we made our way to our lunch stop, which was at the home of a lovely family in the Medina. They have a room in their small house which serves as a small restaurant (called Restaurant Khadija). The husband serves the food and the wife, Nora, cooks. They have a little girl and a baby. The food was fantastic. We had a “light” lunch because we are having an included group dinner tonight we want to save room for. We had local bread (a thickish round bread) which we split and filled with fabulous vegetarian dishes (carrots, eggplant, a tomato and green pepper spread, lentils, etc). The dishes were all really nicely spiced and it was all delicious. The food so far in Morocco has tended to be a bit bland, so it was great to enjoy such flavourful food. The meat eaters had meatballs (made of camel meat!) that they ate with the bread. Susan said it was very good.

After we left the family we stopped at a shop to buy some wine/beer (Susan and I picked up six Casablanca beers and some tonic), and we began our drive of approximately an hour to Fes. Susan and I each had a beer on the drive back. First beer in Morocco!

We were dropped off close to the Medina, and we walked a short distance to our riad, Riad Almakan. Our luggage was taken on carts for us. The Riad is very nice and we have a lovely room with a nice king bed (we asked Abdul to make sure we have a double room from now on, rather than 2 singles, as we had booked with Peregrine). We enjoyed a welcoming glass of Moroccan mint tea and coconut flavoured cookies. We tried the mint tea without sugar and it’s quite refreshing that way, though I also like it with a bit of sugar, just not the extra sweet version the Moroccans like! We relaxed in our room (it’s like a stair master walking up the several steep flights of stairs to our room), and then met the group for the short drive to dinner. We were dropped off and then walked for a bit to the restaurant in the Medina. It was really interesting walking through the narrow lanes in the Medina. We went to another home-based restaurant, though much larger than the one we had lunch at. We were served delicious starters (dips of eggplant, zucchini, lentils, etc) with bread, then the pastille, a regional dish of Fes. It is traditionally a pie made of pigeon, but ours was chicken. There was also a vegetarian version which was delicious. We finished with little cakes and fresh fruit and we were all stuffed.

We drove a short distance then walked the rest of the way back to our riad. I will finish now as it is after 11:30 and I need to get to sleep. I‘ve set the travel alarm and the alarm on the iphone as a back up. Susan has also set her iphone alarm as a back up to the back up. No sleeping in tomorrow! Good night from Fes 😊.


Additional photos below
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Thursday GateThursday Gate
Thursday Gate

So called because there has been a market close by on Thursdays for centuries.


13th September 2018

Fascinating!
13th September 2018

Sneaky changes
How annoying that Peregrine removed included activities at the last minute and substituted museums that were closed! I would have been very annoyed too. Is the pastille the savoury pie with cinnamon sugar on top? It sounded strange to me, but glad to hear it was tasty! :)
13th September 2018

Sneaky changes
Yes Ren,the pastille was the savoury pie with cinnamon and icing sugar. Sounds strange but it was really good!
22nd September 2018

Volubilis
Ah, I remember this beautiful Roman town. Your trip is bringing back my own memories of travels in Morocco :) Sorry to hear about the changed itinerary, that must have been frustrating, though I do like your quote at the beginning :) I think we've all been there with the deleting of photos we're not meant to have taken - I remember a similar incident that happened to me outside the British Embassy in Belize... The food sounds lovely :D
19th June 2019

Sulking sky
Ah yes, I see what you mean about the weather you had in Volubilis - our photos from Meknes and Fes have a similar tone... we did walking tours in the rain :(
19th June 2019

Sulking sky
The clouds didn't lend themselves to nice photos, but it was quite pleasant when we were in Volubilis. For some reason the photos seem to appear darker on travelblog. Too bad about rain in Fes and Meknes (we had a little drizzle in Meknes), but the weather improved for you later right? I remember seeing lots of blue sky photos :) We've had our share of walking tours in the rain (particularly in Ireland)!

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