After two busy but inspiring days in Fez, we decided that it was time to venture into the vast prairies that surround the metropolis. In this post we tell you how to tour the ruins of Volubilis, the sacred city of Moulay Idriss and the imperial city of Meknes, all in one day from Fez and on your own.
The ruins of Volubilis in Morocco
Originally occupied by merchants of Carthage in the 3rd century, Volubilis was one of the most remote outposts of the Roman Empire. It is recorded that 20000 people lived there in their heyday.
Volubilis is an open-air museum, through which you can wander freely and travel at will. There are not many signs or information, so it is advisable to read a little before going or consider hiring some guide of the many waiting at the entrance. The place deserves at least 3 hours. Surrounded by extensive green meadows, not only the ruins are attractive but also the monumental landscape that is seen from there.
Among the most important constructions you will find: The house of Orfeo and the Galenic baths, which demonstrate an intricate underground heating system.
Also stand out the capitol, the basilica and the forum. On the other hand, you will find dozens of houses decorated with mosaics in which various scenes are represented, such as the House of the Acrobat or the House of Orpheus. Also stands out The house of the columns, which owes its name to the columns of different styles and periods that lie within it.
Although the wonder that will attract your attention is the incredible Arc du Triomphe located in the central part of the archaeological site.
How to get to Volubilis
There is no direct bus to Volubilis. Not from Meknes, nor from Fez, nor from Moulay Idriss. To get to Volubilis, you have to get to Moulay Idriss and from there take a petit taxi. If the weather permits, you can take a hike along a path next to the route. From Moulay Idriss to Volubilis the journey takes approximately 40 minutes.
The hike is beautiful, surrounded by fields, meadows and olive trees. As you approach Volubilis, the characteristic white of the medina of Moulay Idriss shines imposing, while it is lost behind your backs.
Moulay Idriss Morocco
Quaint and white-walled, Moulay Idriss is located between two green hills just 5 km from Volubilis. It is one of the most important pilgrimage centers in Morocco. Its name is due to the grandson of the prophet Mohammed: Moulay Idriss, who was the founder of the first Moroccan dynasty and is revered as a saint.
Idriss fled Mecca and settled in Volubilis where he converted the locals to Islam. Historically the town had sacred status and was closed to non-Muslims until the middle of the 20th century.
At present, many Muslims claim that visiting Moulay Idriss 5 or 6 times is equivalent to going to Mecca once.
How to get to Moulay Idriss
From the Français de Meknes Institute you can hire a grand taxi that takes the journey (40 Dh) and the journey takes approximately 40 minutes.
Another alternative, which is the one we implement, is to take the local bus that stops in the square one block from the Grand Taxis stop. The ticket costs about 7 Dhs and has the advantage of being quite more comfortable than the can of sardines to which the Grand Taxis resemble. In addition you can travel with locals and live a day in the life of the inhabitants of the area.
On the way back we took the same bus. This time, it was filled with teenagers returning to Meknes from one of the lost schools in the prairies. We could conclude that teenagers are noisy in all parts of the world.
Meknes is one of the four imperial cities of Morocco, the most modest by far, much smaller and quieter than the other imperial cities: Rabat, Marrakech and Fez. We only stayed for a couple of hours, but it was enough to get an idea of the place.
The main attraction is the el-Hedim Square, a gigantic plaza that also functions as an antechamber to the other monumental attraction of Meknes: Bab el-Mansour Gate, which precedes the imperial city of Moulay Ismael. The square is a good place to relax and watch the people go by. Something is always happening and gives the feeling as if it wanted to look a bit like Djema el Fnaa in Marrakech. On one side is surrounded by cafes and restaurants and on the other by street stalls.
How to get to Meknes Morocco
From the blue door of Fez, take a taxi for 12 Dh to the train station. It is not convenient to walk because they are like 4km and a route that really does not have any attraction.
Then take the train to Meknes. At any of the schedules listed on the ONFC web the public train company. There is a train every hour, for example at 08.30, 09.30, etc. The price of the ticket in 2nd class is 22 Dh and the journey takes approximately 40 minutes.
Once in Meknes, walk to the el-Hamam Square (a 20-minute walk) to tour the medina and the main attractions.
If the objective is to go to Volubilis, head to the bus stop or the Grand Taxis station at the Insitituto Français (10-15 min walking).
The return from Meknes to Fez
On the way back, to avoid returning to the Meknes train station (away from the main square) and returning to Fez by train (which would mean taking another taxi to the blue door once the train arrives) we decided to take an alternative bus (i.e. not run by the public companies CTM or Supratours) from the bus terminal a few blocks from el-Hamam Square. Another advantage of doing this is that the bus would drop us off at the main bus terminal in Fez which is just outside the blue door.
It was the ideal situation. The issue is that we arrived to take the bus from 16hs, which did not depart until after 16.45.
Then, the driver was picking up more and more people. That made a trip that should have taken 1h took twice as long.
To make matters worse, at the entrance to Fez, the police stopped the bus and began to ask questions to those who were traveling. One of the policemen approached me and asked me something in Arabic. Luckily when I answered in English, they left me alone. He would have thought that I was a confused tourist who took the wrong bus.
At 7:00 pm we were in Fez and ready to enjoy another evening in Café Clock. The next day we would travel to Chefchaouen.