Fez, Meknes and the ruins of Volubilis

Getting there

Today was a moving day - after our exploration of the blue-toned streets and alleys of Chefchaouen, we climbed back into the minibus for the five hour trip to Fez.

Black soil country south of Chechaouen .....

.... gives way to red soils and bare white hills

Retracing our winding route through the olive covered Rif foothills to the town of Ouazzate, we turned south to cross a rolling landscape of low hills, a patchwork of fields, some creamy-yellow with dried stubble, others baring recently ploughed black soil.

Bare hills and olive groves near Ouazzate

Barren landscape around Sidi Chahed Reservoir

Waters of Sidi Chahed Dam

The coloured hills west of Fez

A turn to the east saw us enter a drier landscape, with treeless hills verging on white, broken up by the blue waters of the Sidi Chahed Dam - a source of irrigation waters for the surrounding agriculture. Once again, olive groves dominated the landscape until we finally entered the urban areas of Fez, ancient capital of Morocco. Here we checked into our old courtyard hotel near the Fez medina. It was time for a swim in the pool and a beer before dinner - the travel was over and, tomorrow, we would explore the sights of the city.


The first part of our brief visit to Fez was by minibus, heading to the gates of the Royal Palace, where the king resides when visiting this former capital of Morocco, followed by a visit to a hilltop fortress, from where we could enjoy a panoramic view over the tan-coloured buildings of the medina. Started in the 9th century, the World Heritage listed Fez medina is the oldest in the country, a jumble of buildings with over 200 mosques, koranic schools, the world's oldest university, 120,000 inhabitants and only carts and mules for transport within its hole-pitted walls.

Gate to the Royal Palace

Walls of the old fort

World Heritage listed Fez medina

Before entering it, we made a quick visit to a local pottery to see the process of manufacturing the vibrant patterned plates, as well as the beautiful mosaic tables and wall features. It was hard to disappoint the owners and not buy anything. In fact, as we subsequently were led through the alleyways and narrow shopping streets of the medina by our local guide, Hassan, we also disappointed the owners of a cloth-weaving establishment and a tannery by not buying anything there either, despite a certain high pitch in sales spiel.

Potters hard at work

The architecture of olf Fez

Covered soukh in the medina


Courtyard of the Koranic school

Wandering down a narrow medina alley

Entry to the

The walls of the medina

Leather tannery in the medina

The narrow shaded alleyways and lanes of the medina, lined with small shops, even narrower side-alleys and doorways were fascinating - this was not a place to get lost. Hassan also gave us a potted history of Fez as we meandered through the medina, which helped place things in perspective (1100 years is a bit too long for any detail).

Exploration over, we headed back to the hotel for a late-afternoon nap - not buying anything can be tiring in Morocco. Again the photos tell the story better than words.

The extent of the Fez medina, home to 120,000 people


From 9th century Fez, we retraced our route back past the Sidi Chahed Dam, before turning east and climbing up in to the hills high above the black- and straw-striped croplands. On the edge of a broad and fertile valley on the other side lay our destination, the World Heritage listed ruins of the ancient Roman city of Volubilis, southernmost city of the Roman empire. Originally started by the Berbers, the city reached its hey-day between the 1st and 3rd centuries under Roman rule before being abandoned in 285AD, following an earthquake.

Initial impression of the ruins

The via prinicipal in Volubilis

View over the plains

Remnant pillars in a residential area

Triumphal Arch

Christian basilica and Roman temple side by side

A selection of beautifully restored Roman mosaics

A local guide led us along the cobbled streets of the excavated part of the city to view the remains of palatial homes, housing several almost intact mosaic floors, through the juxtaposed ruins of a temple to Jupiter and a Christian basilica, past a restored triumphal arch and olive oil press - all overlooking the broad expanse of agriculture and olive groves that made Volubilis a wealthy city. What a rich history this region has.

The hill town of Moulay Idriss Zerhouan

Olive Grove near Volubilis

After our visit, we drove up through the olive groves to the spectacular hill-top town of Moulay Idriss Zerhoun, itself famous as a holy town founded in 789AD and built partly with stones from the ruins of Volubilis.


A short drive from Moulay Idriss brought us to Meknes, the other big city in this region, in time for a late afternoon tour. Skimming the old medina, the tour concentrated on the casbah (fortress) and former royal palace with its double row of crenulated fortified walls and ornate city gates.

As we hd come to expect though, the tour included a visit to a craft shop, where we saw how Damascene silverware is produced and the end product of the embroidery craftswomen. Of course, it was all for sale and this time we did not escape - still the tear-drop shaped damascene ear-rings do look very nice on the fair Nello.

Minaret of one of the many mosques

Skyline of the Meknes Casbah

The ornately gilded gate to the Royal Palace

Gateway in the Casbah

Fortress walls

Crenulated city gate

Market place in Meknes