Marvelous Morocco - Rabat, Meknes, Volubilis, Fez

Trip Start Oct 12, 2010
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Trip End Mar 24, 2011


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Where I stayed
Royal Mirage Hotel, Fes, Morocco

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Sunday, November 7, 2010

What an amazing day – the sunrise over the ocean in Casablanca was beautiful. We had an early breakfast (6:30) and then stopped at the Hassan II Mosque on our way out of town for some photos.  The morning light on the mosque and the square was incredible and there was no one around but our group, which was great for photos and just drinking in the view.

Today was a day of imperial cities.  We saw three of the four imperial cities of Morocco in one day – Rabat, Meknes and Fez.  As we left Casablanca for the capital city of Rabat, we passed lush farmland – wheat, vegetables and grapes are grown in this area.  Rabat is the administrative centre of the country and we stopped to see the King's palace and the mausoleum of King Hassan II which were both quite opulent.  My favourite stop in Rabat though was the Chellah gardens and Roman ruins.  We had a chance to walk through the gardens which contained so many beautiful trees and plants – including banana and orange trees and 'angel trumpet’ flowers – so fragrant and beautiful.  The ruins were amazing and included both Roman structures and a Muslim mosque.  Large storks have made their nests on the top of the mosque’s minaret as well as on many of the pillars and walls.  Their clacking sounds could be heard everywhere in the gardens and I’m sure the cats that were roaming around were nervous!

After Chellah, we drove for 3 hours to Meknes, an imperial city that has amazing and stunningly decorated city gates.  The governor of the city, Moulay Ismail, was very keen on developing both Meknes as a city and Morocco as a country and during his long reign, he built 50 castles in Meknes.  He was influenced by French architecture and palaces and wanted to fashion one of his grand palaces after Versailles and we were taken on a tour of the large granaries and lake that were built as part of this estate.  He also wanted to marry Louis XIV’s daughter in order to create an alliance with France, but Louis sent him 4 grandfather clocks instead of his daughter, which although timely, did not create the alliance that the governor was hoping for!

We were fortunate to be able to enter and tour the Mosque in Meknes (non-Muslims are not usually able to enter Mosques) and the interior decoration was bright and ornate.  The mosaics in the interior of the mosque are designed to incorporate a rose and star patterns. The patterns around the walls also include inverted minarets and Arabic writing – very beautiful.

After Meknes, we drove through both rolling hills and valleys as well as dry mountainous areas to get to the Roman ruins of Volubilis – this was once a large settlement and although it was razed to the ground in an earthquake in 1755, some structures have been reconstructed and archealogical digs have unearthed incredible mosaics from the houses that stood on these grounds. 

It was dusk as we left Volubilis for Fez but even in the gloaming, we could see how wonderful the landscape was around us.  We drove down switchbacks in the hills and went past both shantytowns and farmland.  The areas we drove through today include expansive olive orchards and this is the time of year that the olives are harvested so there was lots of activity in the fields.

We checked into our hotel in Fez around suppertime and ate as a group at a local restaurant featuring enticing tagine meals.  Tomorrow we spend the day exploring Fez and it’s incredible Old Medina. 
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