Volubilis

The ancient Roman city of Volubilis lies 35km from Meknes. Thanks to Mokhtar, I had a ride in a rather elderly Citroen, driven by Abdel Kadir. I tried not to wince when he overtook.

This part of Morocco is a vast fertile plain. Apparently it produces much of Morocco’s wheat, not that one could see that at this time of year. I was impressed by the huge quantity of olive trees – we drove through large plantations. And there were clearly other fruit and vegetable farms. This abundance of food was obviously the reason for the development of Volubilis and of Meknes.

The ruins of Volubilis rise up the side of a hill and can be seen from miles away. Exploring the site was a challenge for me, as it required lots of climbing up and down high steps (occasionally helped by others). But it was worth it: much was sufficiently intact to give one a good sense of the orderliness and engineering expertise of the Romans. I reminded me a bit of visiting Hadrian’s wall and admiring how the Romans managed to achieve this in their most far flung outposts. The setting on the hillside made it even more spectacular. The forum and basilica were great, but my favourite bit was some quite well preserved mosaics. Happily Unesco has put money into the site, which explains why it is relatively well organised and preserved.

Inevitably there were lots of tourists, which made taking photos a challenge. I find it particularly irritating when people spend ages taking selfies, unconscious of the wishes of others tourists round them. Today there was a couple I found particularly irritating. He would take various pictures of her (yes, she was young, well dressed, pretty, and aware of it). Then she would take selfies in front of the same Roman pillar. I think I would have found it less irritating if they had shown any interest in Volubilis itself. I was not the only one: a group of Australians, exasperated, finally asked them to move on, and one woman called out « This is not a catwalk, you know ».

After two hours I was back in the car, on the way to Moulay Idriss. This is a lovely white town, built on two outcrops, with a big mosque between them, and at the top, the tomb of Idriss I who founded the first Muslim dynasty in Morocco in the ninth century.

Abdel was a bit résistent when I insisted on going to Moulay Idriss. But he was right, the ascent for the panoramic view next to the tomb of Idriss ended up having too many steep steps, particularly after my hot tour of Volubilis. I admitted defeat, descended (losing my way of course on the way down) and rejoined Abdel and the car. Annoying. I think I should have ignored his impatience and persisted. Or maybe joined all the tourists on the attractive white terrace filled with cafes down below. But I’m glad I insisted on the detour.

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