This weekend I journeyed through Morocco on a whirlwind tour of Volubilis, Meknes, and Fez and learned about different periods in Morocco’s history.
Volubilis (called “Wallili” here) is a city of Roman ruins, dating from ~200 BCE to ~300 CE, and a UNESCO world heritage site. Most fascinating to see there are the well-preserved ornate mosaic floors, with themes ranging from water nymphs and Roman gods to animals, everyday life, and even an acrobat riding backwards on a donkey.
Meknes is known as the “City of a Hundred Minarets,” and indeed on a rooftop there, one can spot multiple minarets in different directions, all decorated with green tiles. Most impressive to see there was a beautiful, medeival-era madrassa, like the Islamic version of a monastery for monks. Other important sites are the mausoleum of Moulay Ismail, his palace, and gardens (now a golf course). Meknes had actually been the capital of Morocco (1672-1727) under the reign of Moulay Ismail, and he sought to model his contemporary Louis XIV of France in beautifying his city with elaborate monuments, earning Meknes the name, “Versailles of Morocco.” Moulay Ismail was known for marrying/ taking as concubines about 80 Berber women from all the surrounding tribes in order to solidify alliances with his Arab-Islamic monarchy and the Berbers, and was said to have fathered some 1,000 children. He is also said to have murdered tens of thousands of people during his sometimes harsh reign, though he is very much still revered. In Meknes, we also travelled to a silver workshop, where we were told the craft has long roots in Morocco, originating from gold and silver craftmanship brought by the Jews. We ended the trip to Meknes with an evening in Lahdim Square, to experience the ever-busy, present day city-center.
Finally, it was off to Fez. First, we passed by the 17th century Royal Palace and nearby Jewish Quarter. It was interesting to see the structure of the houses in the Jewish Quarter with craft stores on the ground floor and open air balconies on the top floor. Our guide told us that the open balconies differed from Muslim ones, because Muslim households had to have closed balconies so their women could not be seen from the outside, whereas this did not apply to Jewish women. Next, we saw al-Karaouine, the world’s oldest university (and still functioning!), dating from the 9th century. Then we toured the Medina of Fez, which is thought to be the largest urban area in the world without cars. Many “streets” of the Medina are barely wide enough to allow more than one person at a time to pass through, so obviously one could not use motorized vehicles there, though I did see a few horses. I’m glad we had a tour guide, otherwise I definitely would have gotten lost in the Medin’as labyrinth. In the Medina, we visited various craft shops/ factories, including the leather tannery, the potters, mosaic-makers, weavers, and beauty-products/perfumes/ cooking spice mixers. (Please see previous post for pics of people working in these crafts). Overall, a wonderful trip.