If you’re travelling between Rabat and Fes, Meknes and Volubilis are great pit-stops on your journey. Meknes is one of Morocco’s Imperial Cities, surrounded by 40km of defensive walls and grand gateways, and makes for an interesting detour. Keep in mind that aside from the portion of the trip inside the granary itself, there is relatively little shade or shelter at these monuments, so be prepared for the extreme heat and take along some refreshments.
Meknes is home to the Royal Stables, built by the bloodthirsty Moulay Ismail to house 12000 royal horses, that were probably tended to better than anyone else in the land at the time, aside from the sultan himself. Attached to a granary with thick walls to maintain a cool environment, they are both engineering marvels that are worth visiting.
The ornate mausoleum of Moulay Ismail is also located here and is worth a visit just to check out the intricate architecture and detailing, but ladies should be sure to take a headscarf along. The Bab-al-Mansour Gateway is the grandest of them all, and still has its original zellige tilework. It is also a stunning photo-op that shouldn’t be missed. The medina isn’t as grand or fascinating as those in Marrakesh or Fez, but if you have some time to kill, there are worse places to do it!
Nearby Volubilis has a rich and colourful history and is situated about 45 minutes away from Meknes. Founded around the third century BC as a Berber community, it later became the capital of the ancient Mauretanian Kingdom. It then came under Roman rule, before becoming a Muslim settlement and the seat of the Idrisid Dynasty in the eighth century AD. It was abandoned in the eleventh century when power shifted to Fes, and is currently only partially excavated. There are stunning examples of mosaics that are extremely well preserved, and though much of the buildings are no longer standing, it is easy to picture what life was like here hundreds of years ago. There are baths and a basilica, city walls and olive presses, a temple and its distinctive arch, built by Marcus Aurelius in 217.
Volubilis is best experienced with a local guide, many of whom are generally waiting around the gates, who can fully explain the significance of the site and make the past come to life. There isn’t much information to be learnt while walking around independently, so if you’d rather not use a guide, make sure to do your research or bring along a good guide-book.