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Tuesday was a very long and very interesting day. We met our guide, Mustapha, and driver, Adil, at Le Doge and started out for Fes shortly after 9:00. We arrived at Riad Fes shortly after 8:00. Along the way we made many stops and saw many interesting sites. We will be with Mustapha and Adil for the next week and it was good to find out quickly that we will probably work well together.
Before we left Casablanca, we went to the Hassan II mosque. It is built right on the Atlantic Ocean and is the 3rd largest mosque in Islam and the largest outside Saudi Arabia. It can hold 25,000 people inside and another 80,000 outside. It is seriously large and impressive. While we were there and taking pictures, Mustapha told me to be careful, unless he told me otherwise, not to take pictures that included soldiers or policemen.
It is at this point in writing the post that I realized that between us, Patricia and I took about 400 pictures on Tuesday. That should give you some idea of how busy we were and how much we saw.
On the way out of Casablanca we drove by the nightclub/restaurant known as Rick’s after Humphrey Bogart’s gin joint in the movie Casablanca. We had thought we would go there for dinner when we return to the city, but now I am not so sure. It looks even seedier than the one in the movie.
We drove up to Rabat and stopped at several places, none of which was on our itinerary. Mustapha wanted us to see as much as possible even if it wasn’t in the plan. We stopped at the Royal Palace (one of several in the country) and looked at the administrative areas; one is not allowed into the actual palace area.
Then we wound our way through the city and stopped at the famous Mausoleum of Mohammed V (father of Moroccan independence). This is a beautiful building and there were lots of visitors. It is built on the site of a Kasbah (which seems to mean castle or fortified position when applied ot old things and markets when applied to new things) from the 9th century.
We continued on past the old city walls and on to Oudaya (or Oudaia) Kasbah which was built in the 1670s by Moulay Ismail (more of him later). It is a walled fortification with lots of small curved streets and houses painted blue and white. The houses reminded us of those we saw on Mikonos. Inside the walls is a nice Andalusian garden. By this time, we were also convinced that Mustapha knew pretty much everyone in Morocco—at least the ones associated with tourism—because he greeted, and was greeted, everyone by name. After a lunch of fresh-caught fish (Patricia’s mixed grill had about 8 kinds of seafood) we headed out of Rabat for Volubilis and Fes with a stop in Meknes.
Before we got to Volubilis we stopped in a small town called Salima for a coffee and juice. The little bakery where we stopped was largely open on all sides and the baked goods were nearly hidden from us by clouds of flies. [local color, I suppose] I didn’t have any but Patricia had some freshly squeezed orange juice that was good. They grow the oranges in the immediate area. They also grow sugar cane around there, which surprised me. They have to do a lot of irrigation for that.
More local color: mentioned that I thought Casablanca was dirty. That was nothing compared to how dirty and covered with litter the fields we passed by were. There were millions (no exaggeration) of plastic bags and trash everywhere. Many of the small towns we passed through were decaying with closed shops and buildings and quite a few of the buildings were crumpling.
We drove along rural roads—the kind where a tractor or donkey cart or a donkey ridden by a worker could hold up traffic for a while—through the foothills of the Middle Atlas. The territory reminded us of Eastern Washington state with fields going up and down the rolling hills. Volubilis is out in the middle of nowhere (now) and has a commanding view of the fertile fields below. We had a local guide there who had been doing his routine for 56 years and hed had all his lines down pat. 25 hectares excavated, 15 not; one hectare 2 acres (which he pronounced ack-res) Mister, best picture right here! Not there, look this way: best picture where I tell you. Cyprus house there-start; over there house of Orpheus-end. You come, I show. At each stop he would say “Now, Ladies and gentlemen,” even though there were only the two of us. But he knew a lot about the site and was eager to tell us. I am confident that was one of the best 1.25 hours we will spend on the trip.
There was a Roman city at Volubilis in the 3rd century BC. It became a “free town” in the first century. That meant it was important in the region and could govern itself. It declined in power when the Romn left in the 3rd century AD (big surprise). The bigger buildings and homes that we saw were built whan the city was at its peak of power. The estimated population then was about 20,000. Free people, mister, slaves not counted, I was told by the guide. I will try to post a bunch of pictures because the mosaics that were uncovered were in terrific shape. Some of the ruins have been reconstructed, but much is as it was when it was uncovered. To be fair, I have to say that the site was not as dirty as many other places—not counting the dust. However, I do not recommend the W.C.s. I suspect they were last cleaned, and had adequate running water, about the time the Romans left.
Volubilis is about 30 km north of Meknes, which is where we went next. Meknes is an ”imperial city.” That means that has a royal palace. It didn’t until the Moulay Ismail decided to build it up to compete with Fes. So he had new walls built, added a “new city” and generally improved the place.
One of the features of the walls of Meknes was the magnificent gates. We visited one of those massive, decorated gates: Bab-Mansour—reputed to be the finest gate in Morocco. Across the road from the gate is a large public square (place, in French) used for all sorts of events. While we were there, about 5,000 people were watching a publicity campaign for, of all things, Red Bull energy drink. We didn’t visit the medina (old, walled part of a city) but we did visit the stables of Moulay Ismail (who fancied himself as a ruler on the scale of Louis XIV, whom he tried to emulate). Stables? Stables!? Actually, we aren’t talking horse boxes here. These stables are covered with 30-foot vaulted ceilings and they cover a huge amount of space. He had as many as 12,000 horses, and wanted to showcase how he treated them, which was better than how he treated the population. I tried several pictures in the stables, but they are huge spaces and were hard to capture.
It took about 45 minutes to drive from Meknes to Fes. Once we arrived near the hotel, we got out and walked. And walked. And walked. We negotiated a labyrinth of narrow passages to find the Riad Fes and it is a good thing Mustapha was with us or we would have never found it. We received a warm welcome, complete with mint tea (the drink for any social occasion) and visits from the hotel manager and others. We were happy to get to our room, which is very nice if not particularly well-lit.