Sunday, September 20, 2015

Volubilis, Meknes Fes

We left Chefchaouen a bit after 10.00am on saturday morning for the day's drive to Fes (a distance of around 200klm), the so called cultural capital of Marrakech.

Once out of the "blue town" we drove through this region's rich agricultural lands - dry dusty sage green country, but quite intensively cultivated with groves of olives, haystacks, orange orchards, and ploughed fields as far as the eye could see - but all very bleached dry. By mid morning we were in more fertile plain lands in the expansive valleys between the mountains and I could see little pockets of landscape that reminded me of Tuscany - green oases on hilltops with cypress trees as accents amongst the olive groves.

It was around 1.00pm that we reached Volubilis, the UNESCO World Heritage listed ancient Roman city, dating from the 1st century AD. The site was very damaged in the severe earthquake of 1755. The French colonisers started excavations and some restoration (and a lot of looting) during its occupation (1915 - 1957).  Today the restoration work has got to a stage where it is really easy to imagine the site as a busy, well resourced, efficient (with excellent roads, shops, community spaces and amenities including a spa and a brothel) and rather beautiful Roman city overlooking the fertile, surrounding farmland and distant mountains.

We really enjoyed our private guided tour of Volubilis, not only our guide's knowledge of the history of the place but also the lively way he incorporated Latin references to the way words are used today. The beautifully preserved, vibrant mosaics decorating the floors of the patrician's villas are a real highlight of this site.

It has been very hot and thirsty work exploring the ruins so we are all pleased to eventually get to Meknes around 3.30pm for a very late lunch and a serious session of rehydration (no alcohol - we're in Morocco!)

We all like the look of Meknes, a relatively affluent looking city with extensive sandy coloured ancient city walls and expansive and well maintained parks, gardens and community spaces. Its an ancient seat of power of the Berber dynasties, but today is the centre of this region's rich agricultural industries. we stop to admire the famous Bab Mansour (gate) built by the sultan My Ismail before enjoying a wonderful lunch on the rooftop terrace of the Cafe Salma, set into the fortified walls of the old city (medina). We are loving Moroccan food, even the olives here are a taste sensation for us.

It's well after 5.00pm before we leave Meknes for Fes, the so called cultural capital of Morocco, in the calm capable hands of our driver Mohammed. 

Our Riad Salma Fes, located in one of the winding laneways of the old city is quite jaw droppingly beautiful. We are greeted in one of the beautifully decorated water cooled courtyards with gifts, mint tea and sweet almond shortbreads. Our rooms are ornately decorated in traditional style and quite palatial...what an experience! We end off the day with a drink and many laughs on the beautiful rooftop terrace overlooking he ancient medina. We sneak a glass of wine or two as the Muslim calls to prayer bounce around the glowing bell towers of the mosques dotting all corners of the medina.

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