Maghreb in Microcosm: Meknes and Volubilis


Breakfast is the most modest meal we have in a day, yet it is the most important. For travellers, breakfasts are the best time to meet new friends while sharing a simple meal. Like breakfast, my destination on this day is ironically modest yet a heavyweight in both history and in faith.

Meknes was the smallest among the four former imperial capitals of Morocco yet it is the home of the most impressive gates in this Northern African state. Moulay Idris is a simple whitewashed town located on twin hills with green mountains as its backdrop yet it is Morocco’s holiest site. Volubilis might look like a pile of eroded stones but it is in this place where the Carthaginians, Romans and Moroccans asserted their supremacy over the fertile lands of Northern Morocco.

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Lovely hats on display along the road to Volubilis.
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Pomegranate are grown across Morocco, the city of Granada was named after this fruit following the Moorish occupation. .
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The Roman ruins of Volubilis from afar. It is set in the middle of a fertile plain that grows olives.
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Contemporary architecture at the entrace of the Roman ruins.
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My travel companions in this Volubilis adventure.
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The Roman ruins of Volubilis

As we drive towards the ruined city of Volubilis we saw the complex Moroccan landscape. Winding roads dotted by shops selling Moroccan crafts, rugged mountains stretching from the sky to the barren plain, salty lakes surrounded by Martian red soil and linear plantations of olives.

In 1997, Volubilis was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Worthy, this place has a lot to offer for everyone’s visual appetite. From the Roman columns to the mosaics that survived a millennium. It seems one has visited the Grecian Parthenon relocated at the plains of the Maghrebi Africa.

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The whitewashed city of Moulay Idriss.
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Meknes medina, smaller and more modest.
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Potteries from Meknes medina. Want some?
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Potteries resembling the plates for tangines.

We took a short drive to Moulay Idriss to take a quick look at the Holy City before we continue our journey to Meknes, around 30 kilometres away. Although modest, Meknes has grand buildings including the huge 18th century Bab el-Mansour overlooking the medina. The medina is smaller and less complex compared to the medinas of Fez and Marrakesh. However, the assault of senses is as equal to its behemoth sisters. A short walk away from the medina is the grand Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail where I paid visit to the great king before going to our next destination to cap this trip, Heri es-Souni.

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The grand Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail.
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Heri es-Souni is a granary and stable house with symmetrical archways, perfect for taking pictures.

Heri es-Souni is a granary and stable house but as I ventured into its interior I felt its massiveness is comparable to a palace or cathedral. Its arches are symmetrical, bright red- perfect for a picture and the cool interior adds mystery to this massively royal stable. At its prime, the king had 12,000 horses under its roof, that’s very kingly.

History, religion and an empire that shaped this Maghrebi nation are represented by Volubilis, Moulay Idriss and Meknes. Truly, it is Morocco in microcosm.

Planning a trip to Morocco? You might also like some of my post on this lovely kingdom! Please check the link below:

Touchdown Marrakesh: My gateway to Africa

Fes el-Jdid on a Friday

Across Middle Atlas to Fez

Homestretch at Fes el-Bali

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