Did you know the Romans lived in Morocco? Well, I didn’t. At least I never really thought about it. When I think about the Romans, I think of ancient Rome and ancient Greece. I forget that the Romans spread out in all directions. So they also spread out to Africa. Near Meknes is the ancient site of Volubilis. It’s a perfect (half) day trip combined with Moulay Idriss.
When I arrived at my Riad, I told the owner I was interested in visiting the site and when I came home later that night, he told me he had found three others and a taxi would be waiting at 9.30AM the next morning. I joined 3 young Italians in a private taxi. It was perhaps a bit more expensive than taking the grand taxis, but this was a whole lot easier and certainly more comfortable. We drove towards the mountains of the middle Atlas and on the other side we saw the town of Moulay Idriss, proudly sitting on the mountain. First it was time to explore a more ancient city though.
Volubilis is thought to have been a city of 20.000 inhabitants. The ruins of the city are spread out over a big piece of land that lies slightly higher than its surroundings. Since there aren’t a lot of signs, we decided to see if we could find an affordable guide. We declined offers of the first few people we saw and then opted for the guide with the bad teeth and shabby clothes. As you do. He ended up speaking mostly French, with some Italian and English mixed in. Together we managed to figure it all out.
Our guide may not have been the most knowledgeable, but he could show us exactly what everything was and tell a story or two. I soon found out that the Romans really loved their olives, about as much as the Moroccans do. There were numerous volcanic stones from the Atlas mountains that were used to grind grains and press olives. You could still see the gullies through which the olive oil would flow towards the storage tanks.
Our guide pointed out the temples and houses and the preserved mosaics. He also showed us a special room. He first sat down on a stone and asked the Italian couple to sit on either side of him, facing him. It was all quite weird and awkward. When he got up we saw what he was up to. “Bordello” he says with a smile on his face as he reveals a gigantic penis between the couple. I’m honestly not sure if this was sculpted by the Romans, but it sure attracts the tourists.
After a good hour and a half in between ruins in the blazing sun, it was time to explore the more modern, but still old, town of Moulay Idriss. For a small town it was quite touristy, thanks to the nearby ruins that also get visited by gigantic coaches. The people here have adapted so much, that our taxi driver found it necessary to follow us to make sure nobody was bothering us. Many people tried to be our guides and wanted to show us a viewpoint.
One guy walked with us after having been warned that we were not planning on giving him any money. We walked through the beautiful medina and eventually saw the view over town. It was beautiful, but of course we were now stuck with a man charging us 50Dh, an absurd price. My fellow day trippers were about to pay it, when I found a 20Dh note and put it in his hand. We walked off to lunch with the man muttering grumpy things in Arabic.
Lunch was a whole other adventure. We were recommended a place where it was pretty busy. As I walked in I had to avoid a huge peace of meat, half an animal, that hung right in the middle of the entry. The town seems to be famous for kefta, or meatballs. They’re more like little sausages. When an order came in, a chunk was cut off the hanging meat, put into the grinder with some herbs, and put onto the grill. I must say it tasted very good, but I don’t want to think about hygiene!
Back in Meknes I still had time to walk around the medina and souks. And for a while I just sat outside on the rooftop, enjoying the sunshine and listening to the prayer calls. It had been another good day in Morocco!