15 October 2013

Lots of history in Meknes and Volubilis

Having covered Fez in a day we were then taken to the nearby city of Meknes and to the Roman ruins at Volubilis.

I had a quick leg stretch before getting on the coach and took this picture of our hotel. The fountain in the roundabout had a twin at the other end of the boulevard that ran off to the right where the palm trees are.

It was a nice enough hotel in a nice enough setting, but it was not close to the old town and I like being close to, or in, the old town when I travel.

Our first, brief, stop was at the impressive Agdal reservoir built by Sultan Moulay Ismail in the early 18th century. This is about a third of it. It was built to serve his palace and, in particular, his large army and their horses.

The reservoir was next to the Royal Palace that was damaged by the Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 and was then abandoned.

The parts that we could see were the remains of the corn stores and stables. As with the reservoir outside, the scale and sense of history impressed.

The geometric shapes also made a big impression on me, from the large domes to the rows of arches. These were a big hit with the whole group and I have several photos with people walking in to shot at the wrong time (for me). I also had to wait my turn to stand in the best places where the most arches stood.

Inside the only light was artificial. Some of the store rooms had none and I took speculative photos with the flash just to see what was in there.

Outside the morning sun was bright and cast crisp shadows to compliment the shapes conjured from stone.

Having seen what Sultan Moulay Ismail built we then went to see where he was buried.

The work on the mausoleum started in his own lifetime, he died in 1727, and is arranged like a palace with grand rooms arranged around courtyards.

The tomb itself is in a dark room and tourists are not allowed to get close to it. From the doorway there is not much to see so the two photographs that I have chosen are from other parts of the mausoleum.

The first picture is a little pretentious, a weakness that I confess to, and while the floor is decorative it is the contrast with the plain yellow wall and the simplicity of the door that I like.

The picture below is more typical of the mausoleum and gives a fair idea of its grandeur.

Our final stop in our quick visit to Meknes was to the Bab Mansour Gate next to the mausoleum. This was also started during the life of Sultan Moulay Ismail and was completed five years after his death.

The marble columns were taken from the Roman settlement at Volubilis, which we would see later in the day.

The gate was grand but we were there at the wrong time of the day as the sun was right behind it. That is why I took close-ups but even then the effect of the very bright sky was to make the wall look dark.

The gate was on the edge of the old town and it would have been nice to have had some time to walk around, half an hour would have done. The castellated wall alone was worth a closer look but the tour was running to a pretty fixed schedule and we were whisked away to have lunch.

Our restaurant was on the hills overlooking Volubilis and we had good views of the site which was about 1km away.

Lunch was pleasant enough but, not for the first time that trip, I felt that we were spending too much time over eating when there were more interesting things that we could be doing. We had all gone to Morocco to see Morocco, not to have three course lunches.

The schedule for the day was odd for another reason. The original plan was to see Volubilis in the morning and Meknes in the afternoon but that got switched on the day by our local guide. That meant that we were in Volubilis at the hottest part of the day and, as you can see, there is next to no shade there.

We had a good guide to the site and over an hour he showed us many things that we could have missed, such as mosaics in buildings away from the centre of the site, and told us much of the history of the site.

A lot of the history is still lost. The site was also abandoned after the Lisbon earthquake and it was not until the French occupation that excavation started and so far about half the site has been uncovered.

There are few substantial bits standing, essentially just those that you can see here, yet me still managed to take an hour to see it all. I might have liked a little longer there unguided but we were not given that option.

As Roman remains go, Volubilis is a poor relative to sites like Carthage but from Fez/Meknes it was a brief detour and so it would have been perverse not to go.

After Volubilis we took the more scenic route back to Fez and were left alone for the rest of the day. For a lot of us that meant going to the reasonable looking cafe just up the road. There were lots of cafes around, as there were everywhere in Morocco, but most were very much for locals and did not have any women in them.

The few niggles that I have mentioned aside, this was a pleasant day steeped in history and beauty.

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