We had a 9AM start to head to Fez via the olive region, Southern California landscape, and abandoned Roman city Volubilis (Oulily). After a lavish breakfast at our Rabat hotel, we got our luggage situation sorted out and on the bus. Gate 1 had a very orderly system of having us put the luggage outside of our hotel room doors 45 minutes prior to our “go” time so that it was carried down and waiting for us just outside the bus for loading. We then discovered that we played a crucial part in the process – prior to boarding, we identified our bags and asked the bus driver to load it for us, ensuring that we saw our bags make it on to the bus. We thought it was unnecessary and inefficient at first, but as the trip got on, we appreciated it more (especially as we accumulated more souvenirs).
We drove straight to Volubilis, just past the city of Meknes. Volubilis was the ruins of a Roman city named after one of the native flowers, the morning glory. You can’t find it on the map because the Amazighs and Arabs call it Walily or Oulili, which means Oleander – one of the other native flowers to the region. Even though I slept for most of the drive to Volubilis, I did perk up every now and then to glimpse some olive groves and the beautiful rolling hills and semi-arid countryside climate, which looked *exactly* like the win region of the Santa Ynez Valley in Southern California. I even recognized many of the trees, including Sycamore, Eucalyptus, Oleander, Orange, Oak and more. It was a fertile agriculture regions where, if one just added water, anything could grow.
When we got to Volubilis, we walked past a small merchant area of artisan olive oil stands (which we eventually made a purchase from a female cooperative) and into the past. Volubilis dated from the 3rd century BC and was originally Amazigh, but eventually became Carthaginian and then Roman, becoming the capital of Mauritania until the 1st century AD.
It was reclaimed in the 3rd century by the Amazigh and was inhabited over the next 1000 years by Christians as well as the early Islamic settlers on diaspora from the Arabian Peninsula (Moulay Idriss). It eventually fell to uninhabited ruin after the capital was moved to Fez and much of the population had relocated to the city on the hill nearby, Moulay Idriss (that, while more defensible, was harder to irrigate and draw water in to).
Volubilis is a UNESCO World Heritage site, largely in part to its excellent state of ruins.
Archaeologists actually are still excavating the city and it is only 1/3rd exposed as of Nov 2017. We found the mosaic work to be superb, as you can see from the 12 Labors of Hercules tile work below.
Our guide during Volubilis was a local guide who augmented what M’hamed explained to us on the way. He was very patient and waited for the stragglers to describe each new area, not quite understanding that we all had connected headsets so we could hear him from about 100 feet away (thanks to the new Whispers system Gate 1 invested in for the first time in Morocco). At the end of the tour, he showed us a Berber surprise.
So yeah, that was the brothel (attached to the library) in the ancient Roman civilization of Volubilis.
After Volubilis, we went to Meknes for lunch at a restaurant that specialized in grilling.
We also had a quick city tour of Meknes, and M’hamed relayed the story of the glory days of Meknes under Moulay Ismail in the 17th century, who made it one of the 4 Imperial cities of Morocco. This Moulay (descended from the original Moulay Idriss) at one point was on a quest to win the hand of a French lady, and had lakes built for her so that she could swim. Even though she rejected his hand in marriage, the lakes remain to this day. His consolation prize was several ornate clocks from French king. C’est la vie.
We didn’t make any real stops in Meknes, but did do a quick drive-through as the history was explained.
After another hour or so, we arrived in Fes, and some of the history was explained to us – that there was an old city, a new city, and a modern city, Ville Nouvelle. Both the old and the Fez blurred together in one giant living organism. We stopped at a panoramic overview to take it all it. It was huge. Now we understood why M’hamed warned us about tackling the city alone without a guide – over 9000 winding, labyrinthine streets awaited us in only a day.
The old city was 8th century, and was founded by Moulay Idriss the I and expanded on by Moulay Idriss II on the opposite bank of the Jawhar river. Moulay Idriss II divided his empire and Fez was inherited by his son, Muhammed, who really brought the city in to the glory that it is today, including founding the world’s oldest university, University of Al Quaraouiyine. New Fez expanded on Old Fez in the 13th century and Jews and Christians prospered alike under the Marinid empire. Ville Nouvelle Fez was established in the 20th century under French rule and is where we stayed during our time there.
We checked in to our hotel, the Marriott Jnan Palace hotel and were floored. What a wonderful way to spend the next few days!
That night we negotiated guide services outside of Gate 1 with a guide that Aunt Leslie used in Morocco the year before, Khlafa. He was going to meet us the next morning at our hotel at 10AM, and we would head to Fez al Bali (the old city) from there.
For dinner, we walked across the street to a Japanese and Thai restaurant which was just so-so (good Tom Yum Goong soup, but bland red curry and disappointing Pad Thai). The Casablanca beer, however, was a hit! We were asleep around midnight.