Meknes, Grand Taxis and Roman Ruins

Posted on January 13, 2015

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I said farewell to Fez and loaded up my backpack. Now with a heavy rug I feel like a human mule. Running for a train with 25kilos on your back is not easy especially when that’s half my body weight!!

I just managed to catch the train with seconds to spare. Thankfully a large Moroccan woman with an awkward gait was squawking at the platform guard to hold the train as she tried to get up the stairs with several large bags. I bounded past her, pulling myself up into the train carriage using the handles. Result!

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In thirty minutes I’d be in Meknes. I was looking forward to seeing another area of Morocco and it has a reputation of being laid-back with grand buildings and it is close to the impressive Roman ruins of Volubilis and the hilltop town of Moulay Idriss where his tomb lies.

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My digs are modest to say the least but warm and clean. I repacked my bag and set off to explore. The heart of medina is Pl el-Hedin,a large square facing Bab (gate) el-Mansour. The gate was built for use in relaying good and bad news- public announcements and public executions. It is now redundant but very impressive. The square looks a poor man’s version of Jemma el-Fna in Marrakech not nearly as crazy, actually not even close

The gate was built for use in relaying good and bad news- public announcements and public executions. It is now redundant but very impressive. The square looks a poor man’s version of Jemma el-Fna in Marrakech not nearly as crazy, actually not even close.

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I ticked off the main sights, Dar Jamai museum a former palace, street markets, mausoleums and the Royal Palace.

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Got lost in the medina, found a route home and noted landmarks to get in and around the town. When I got back to my digs the television in the reception area was on. More on the Paris attacks. I sat an watched the output, trying my best to decipher the French.

A friend messaged me, did I know the King of Morocco had refused to go to Paris?! Badda-Bing – another news line. I spent the rest of night researching secured a yes from work for more material from me in Morocco and found some other news-lines. Al Jazeera had some embarrassing internal emails leaked which showed a cultural rift between its western and Arab correspondents towards their reporting of Charlie Hebdo. Satisfied, I hit the sack. Tomorrow would be a busy day of work and exploring.

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The next day I planned to get to Moulay Idriss. It only lies 33km outside of Meknes. If you hire a taxi private it’ll cost you 40 quid return and wait time, but according to the guide book if you get a Grand Taxi (this is where six people squeeze into a Merc to get to one location) you only pay a pound. From there you have to hire a private taxi to get to Volubilis which will cost eight pounds, so in total a tenner. Bargain.

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The town itself is very pretty. Buildings are dilapidated and the pastel paint works has peeled off most of the walls but it still lovely. You walk though the market to get up to the main square and from there through the archway to Moulay Idriss’ tomb. They say that five pilgrimages to Moulay Idriss during the moussem equals one haj to Mecca. From there you can climb some steep steps up to take in a wonderful panoramic view.

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At midday I was due to file. I found a quiet-ish park and waited. The phone rang. I answered and in the time it took to go live, a toddler had wandered over and was trying to rummage through my rucksack. With the phone in one hand i fought off my underage robber, while trying to sound authoritative and calm. His lazy mother watched on amused across the other side of the park gassing away to her friend. Job done I packed up and headed back to haggle a price to Volubilis.

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These drivers are chancers. There is no transportation there and back, It is only 20minutes up the road but you have to haggle hard. I managed to get mine for eight quid return including one hour wait time.

The ruins are spectacular. It felt like I was in Italy not Morocco. It is the best preserved archaeological site in the country and the UNESCO Heritage site is ginormous! I had a whistle stop tour and to be fair if things were labelled properly I may have spent longer but i did not pay for a guide. I read my lonely planet, used the map in there and did a DIY job of it. It’s winter now but my God it is still roasting. In the heat of summer it would be tough going. There are storks everywhere many of them nesting on the beautiful now crumbling pillars. Low season meant there were hardly any tourists and I wandered peacefully soaking up the atmosphere. Only about half of the 40-acre site has been excavated. It must have been quite something in its day.

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Waiting for my chariot I bought an ice-cream and took in the scenery before heading back. A wonderful last day.

Tomorrow I head the capital. I hear it is a classy city with lots of culture.

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