Hopefully we are going to see the Roman Ruins at Volubilis today. The only issue that we can for see is transport.
Heading over to the grand taxi station, we were a bit apprehensive. This is only to be expected, given our experiences with them in the past. IT is a bit hit and miss. Here they did the usual. Wanting to do a dedicated taxi that would wait for us and take us back. No. We only want one way, and we want collective. 300Dh was the offer and only for us. No thanks we want a Collective taxi. We were sent to another taxi station. At least it was not that far away. At this station we went through the same process. The price was now 150Dh, and they wouldn’t go lower. There was no way we were paying three times the local price, so we walked over to the bus station, to see if we could get a minibus or normal bus out there. IT shouldn’t be that hard. There are towns all through the area and it is only 25km away. There is supposed to be a bus, but for some reason it was not running today. The people here recommended a grand taxi. On relaying our experiences to them, they got upset. Our advice was to go to the police about it. There was no point in doing this, as we had learnt in Beni Mellal. Still, one person was good, and with a bit of help from his mates, took us to a local bus stop. Talking to people there, he found out we could catch bus 29 to Mouley Idriss. We wanted to go there as well, and it is only 4km from the ruins. This would cost us 7Dh each. We were happy to wait the twenty minutes or so for the bus.
While we were waiting the guy from the Grand Taxi station showed up. He wanted to take us out there. One of the people at the bus stop, that had been told our story by the person that brought us here, went to talk to him. There was a rather heated discussion and a few other people got involved. It looked to us as if they were having a go at the taxi driver for trying to rip people off, and were not happy about it. The taxi driver left in disgust. We were so happy! There are people here that are willing to stand up for tourists. I am sure that if the driver had told the guy he would charge the normal price, we would have been allowed to take the taxi.
The bus ride out to Mouley Idriss is through some of the most fertile land in North Africa (apparently) and it shows. The grass is almost fluorescent, and there are trees and fields everywhere. As we approached the town we were hit by sights on both sides. To the left in the distance you could see some pillars from the roman ruins. To the right there was a decent sized hill. Not that unusual you say. No, not really, but it is covered with houses. It could be a picture from the Adriatic coast. The bus worked its way up through the small streets, and we could see how steep the hill was. Almost at the top it stopped at the main square.
We had a look around the main area, and saw a lot of stalls selling everything from the evil eye to metre long candles. Most had religious overtures. There was a small alleyway there as well. We went for a look. I stopped as it seemed to be the entrance of a mosque. Waved on by someone, we came to a wooden bar across the alley. From here we could not go any further unless we converted to Islam. This is the Mausoleum of Sultan Mouley Idriss. He managed to re-unite Magreb for the first time in over 500 years back in his day.
Snapping a few photos, someone came up to talk to us. He offered to take us to a panoramic viewing spot to see the tomb a bit better. Worried it might be a guide, we asked. Apparently not. He is a student in Meknes. Of what we were unable to work out. Now we were being led through winding alleyways, up steps, around corners and under buildings. Eventually we popped out on top of the opposite hill.
From here you get a fantastic view of the whole town. It has completely consumed the hill underneath, and is very compact. Off to one side is a valley, and forested hills beyond. On the other there is rolling fields. In the centre there is a large green roofed complex. This is the Mausoleum. A very important spiritual site for Muslims, as Mouley Idriss was the ?grandson? of Fatima and Ali. Mohammed’s Daughter and Cousin. A visit to the Mausoleum is worth 1/5 of the trip to Mecca.
Going back down the hill we were getting all sorts of facts. Most of which are in the book. About the Vizier and how he took over after Mouley’s death. Then he wanted to take us to the palace. This was starting to sound more like a guided tour. Sophia went and re-confirmed that he was doing this out of interest, rather than self-interest. It did turn out that he expected money, so we called off the whole thing, with him leaving us there and storming off. We had made it clear that we wouldn’t be paying for a tour upfront though.
Now we were in the middle of the city, stuck in a small alleyway and knowing that we needed to work our way down through these tight narrow streets, and find our way at the same time. As we descended through the depths of the city, we noticed some landmarks, and from this managed to make our way with little fuss to the central square in town. From here we needed to grab a grand taxi. Knowing it was on the other side of some buildings, we decided to walk around them in the opposite direction than what we knew would get us there. No point in backtracking too far. There was never a right turn though, and we passed out the city gates, leaving steep grazing land all around us. A u-turn and back into town. Here we managed to get a lift out to Volubilis. It cost the same as a grand taxi, and we didn’t have to go through the hassles.
The drive out to Volubilis is not far. IT is only a few kilometres from town. Driving up, it looked quite small. At the main gate, we got our tickets, and headed in. Meeting another group from Australia, that we would consistently run into during our time there (and later in Fez!).
The archaeological site itself is bigger than it looks driving up. The city was the most remote outpost of the Roman Empire. They never managed to get into the Atlas Mountains, and this was the staging post for their futile attempts against the Berbers. The town was not created by the Romans though, and is probably Carthaginian. The Romans left the city in 285AD, but little changed in the city due to its remoteness, with Latin still spoken well into the 7th century. This is when Mouley Idriss appeared on the scene. Originally staging himself here, as he started building the town Mouley Idriss, as it is more defendable. He also started construction of Meknes.
Walking through the ruins was definitely a good way to spend the rest of the day. IT is not as impressive as Jerash, or other Roman ruins, but there are still well preserved sections. Apparently it was common for houses in the region to have their own olive press, and one of these has been reconstructed in a building. I do not know if this is right or not, but with the amount of trees in the area, I would not be surprised if there was a section of town that did specialise in Olive oil manufacture. The same as it is today.
Most of the city is just its foundations, and not the multiple story buildings it would have once been. However here and there, pillars still reach up to the sky. These have all been resurrected from their leafy tombs, to once again soar above the landscape. The main archway is still in its original condition, and with a few other bits, give the impression of the site being small from the distance, while the rest of the city is closer to ground and easily missed. However these are the best parts. We will get to that though.
The same as most Roman cities, there was one long road passing through. This was colonnaded, with stalls and houses off to each side. The numerous temples mixed in as Mosques are today. This road terminates at the Triumphal Arch in the middle of the city. There was no real triumph, but instead it was used for processions, and just to look good. Apparently made for Emporer Caracalla according to an inscription. But you know those ancient Romans, always keen to plagiarise someone else’s work after the fact.
Now the best bit of the place (if you want more info, just look it up online – sure you can find more than this!): The mosaics. These are still stunning and range from Imperial to provincial in detail. There are numerous mosaics all around in different buildings. The house of Hercules (I thought he was a Greek, although he apparently did his trials here).
This was considered provincial, as the detail was not as exquisite as other examples. They depict the labours he had to perform here. From this, you go up through the ranks of those with money all the way to Decumanus Maximums. Here the mosaics are so detailed they look like pictures. With everything ranging in between.
Lastly there is the forum. Again the columns have been repaired, and now are the home to families of Storks. This is also in the centre of the city, and makes a great place for your final destination, as it is easily seen from around the site. It also provides excellent views of the area. Ruins, fields, and a city perched on the saddle of two hills.
Having done with the ruins, we now needed to find our way back to Meknes. This can be a tricky part. We tried to get a taxi to Mouley, but there were none. So we had to walk back to the main road, and hope we could get one from there. Being impatient, we decided to keep walking along the road, trying to hitch. This was not too successful, until a grand taxi stopped. He had room for 4 people, so we were fine. Sophia asked if he was going to Meknes, and it turned out he was. I would have just asked for Mouley Idriss! It was a bargain price, and the taxi back cost us the same as a bus and taxi in the morning. Score!