The Roman ruins at Volubilis are a popular day-trip from Meknes and many people combine a visit to the ruins with a trip to the nearby town of Moulay Idriss. Volubilis is about 32 km from Meknes and the ruins are 1km west of the N13 road to Sidi Kacem. There are frequent Grand Taxis and buses to Volubilis from Meknes.
Volubilis was one of the most remote outposts of the Roman Empire and the ruins here are amongst the best preserved and definitely the best known in Morocco. It costs 10 Dh per person to visit the ruins though hiring a guide costs extra. The ruins are spread out over a large area so you’ll need about 2 hours to see everything. There are a couple of cafes and a hotel near the ruins though it’s a better idea to bring a picnic or have lunch in Moulay Idriss.
Like most big Moroccan cities, the medina in Meknes contains the most interesting sites while the Ville Nouvelle is the area with the more modern amenities including plenty of hotels, cafes and restaurants. There are no real historic sites in the Ville Nouvelle, though it was a pleasant enough place to walk around in the evening. In particular, the square around Hotel de Ville seemed a popular place to hang out and there were plenty of Moroccan couples sitting out in the fine weather. From here, there were nice views of the mosques in the medina to the west.
Madrasat Abou Inan
This school was built in 1345 by Sultan Abo Al- Hassan Almareeni (aka The Black Sultan) who also built Chillah, although for some reason it is named for his son Sultan Abo Inan. Both sultans are barried at chillah. You can enter this school daily from 9-12 and 3-6. It will cost 10 dh. You are free to take as many picture as you want. The school is located near the grand mosque.
The school has 2 floor surrounding acourt yard, There is a prayer hall and lots of class room. This is a superb example of high craftsmanship.
Students were entitled to free boarding.
Moulay Idriss Zerhoun
This is a town lying 30km north of Meknès. A visit is easily combined with a trip to Volubilis (as I did) - they are only 4.5km apart.
It is Morocco’s holiest place being the site of the mausoleum of Moulay Idriss. He established the country’s first imperial dynasty there in the 8th century, having fled persecution in Baghdad.
The town has only been open to non-Muslims for about 80 years, and until about 5 years ago they were not allowed to stay there overnight. They are not allowed into the mosque or shrines, but can look into the courtyard of the mosque and by climbing through the village, can overlook the sacred buildings.
It is a place of pilgrimage for Moroccans (on a scale with Mecca) with an annual one taking place each August. The royal family take part.
The mausoleum is easily found from the main square – the limit of where your taxi can take you. More difficult (I’d say impossible) is to find the way to the vantage point where you can view the mausoleum.
My taxi driver had obviously asked a local guide to follow me and “take charge”, so he showed me the way through the labyrinth of narrow alleys and stairways. He didn’t give me any choice really, but for once I was happy to be hustled. In fact it was such a worthwhile experience that I gave him 100 MAD for his trouble. For a minute I thought he was going to kiss me or offer me a daughter, but he regained control soon enough. Not sure what the going rate is – probably 10 MAD.
The trip through the town is fun in itself – a real insight into rural, small town life in Morocco. A warning – if you can’t stand the smell of donkey dung, stay at home. It’s everywhere.
Another big reason to go is that the town is in a beautiful hilltop setting.
You can also see the only cylindrical minaret in Morocco – all the others are square. Not sure why – got lost in the translation! It's nothing to do with the mausoleum - I know that!
I paid 350MAD for the sole use of the grand taxi for the whole morning. The hotel organised it. Again great value – like almost all the locals I met, the driver was super fun and would have talked the hind legs off a donkey.
I'm not one for "must see" lists. However, I loved my morning here and at Volubilis and would hate to think anyone might miss out on this. It only takes 3-4 hours (1 hour for the trip there and back).
As well as seeing some fascinating stuff, I had a lot of fun with my driver and my guide.