Helen goes to Morocco Day 8 – Fez, Voloubilis & Meknes

Today, we left Fez and headed off to spend some time at Volubilis before having lunch at Moulay Idriss and then on to Meknes for a city tour and accommodation for the night.

First though, let’s talk about Hotel Batha. Yes, it was dated but oh the bones, oh the sheer level of craftsmanship that had gone into building and decorating that hotel. It apparently had a renovation circa 2009 but I feel like that was likely only refreshing the common areas with regards to cleaning plaster work and probably new paint.

We drove out Fez back along the road that we had drive in two days prior, back past Barrage Sidi Chahed but then continued on the N4 and the N13 down. This was again an interesting drive through different agricultural lands and we climbed a little in altitude as well so it was nice to have some views as we drove up the hills. The drive from Fez to Volubilis took about 90mins.

Volubilis, oh Volubilis. We spent just under 2 hours here and I could easily have spent 4 hours there and maybe even 6 hours or more. We had a local guide who walked us round the site explaining and pointing out various features which was quite interesting. On my return trip though, I see it featuring a detailed map of the site and myself somewhat methodically walking various routes on the site. As someone who likes to take a photo or two (or three), another point that will feature on Helen’s return trip to Morocco is having control over the time of day when we visited sites :D. This trip was not a photography trip, it was a walking and sightseeing trip.

The sheer visual history of Volubilis is incredible, yes the remains are mostly from the Roman time there and the site in a fertile valley with good plains had quite a history before the Romans arrived as well which is just as impressive. Further the conservation and restoration work is also interesting to delve into, especially the reconstruction of the arches that has been done.

The museum/gallery/visitor information centre was very good. I would be inclined to say that this is primarily due to the UNESCO World Heritage status, I dearly would have loved to have spent more time going through the exhibits but that is another item added to the “to do when I return to Morocco list”.

We had lunch on the roof terrace of a lovely restaurant in the town of Moulay Idriss. The food here was good but my favourite feature was this fantastic screening. It was so simple yet very striking. Moulay Idriss amongst other things has a cylindrical minaret on its main mosque which is quite unique. We did not go into the town at all but did enjoy the vista from the side of the road near the restaurant where we had lunch.

It was then a very easy 45 minute drive further down the N13 into Meknes where one of the highlights was this radio tower with plenty of white stork nests.

Meknes, the town that is home to the Royal Golf Course and also a lot of gates in the city wall. Also the nominal home of silversmiths in Morocco. For me, it was also the home of some fantastic Art Moderne buildings in the Villa Nouvelles section in Meknes. If we had had a spare afternoon in Meknes, I am sure you can figure out what I would have been doing with it – yep, walking the streets of the “New City” taking in all the Art Moderne buildings of Meknes.

After we had checked into our hotel and got the most fantastic room keys with a heavy brass key chain (which I thought I had taken a photo of but it seems not), it was into the bus with a local guide for a hop on/hop off tour of Meknes.

We first went up to the edge of the new town to look across to one of the walls of Meknes, we then drove first to Bab-el Khemis gate and then past the old Jewish Quarter and Jewish Cemetery before coming out at Agdal Basin (Sahrij Swani), which was a large reservoir built as part of the city’s water supply for the palace but these days is probably mainly used to irrigate the royal golf course. We then walked round this part of the wall up to Bab Naoura before jumping on the bus for a short trip down the length of the golf course to Bab Moulay Ismail where we were off to have a look at a “studio”/”co-op” that had a needlework section, silversmith section as well as some general souvenirs and “antiques”. The needlework section no surprise was the most interesting but I am not going to regurgitate the story we were told as to the origins of the embroidery as I’ve gone down a few research rabbit holes in the last year about needlework and embroidery in Meknes and Morocco more broadly and like many things you are told by salesmen and guides, I feel that they often need to be taken with a few grains of salt. My best figuring thus far is that the French nuns in Meknes likely honed the existing embroidery and needlework traditions of the local area and helped to translate these into handcrafts that were easier to sell. We then walked through Bab Mansour which was a stunning gate straight out into the busy market taking place across the road at Ladhim Square.

Meknes is a city with a very interesting history and if you are after a good read this I recommend – a history of Meknes.

It was then back on the bus to the hotel to round out another day in Morocco to which I will leave you with the view from our hotel window of the many layers of Meknes and this blue toilet, total blue retro love.

You may notice that on today’s map, I’ve included some photos, this is another feature I’m testing out 😀

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