Whenever possible, I like to unpack and settle in for at least five nights in one place. That reduces the time spent on logistics and, conversely, increases time for fun! We spent five nights in Fez which gave us plenty of opportunity to explore the city and also make two day trips.
To visit Chefchaouen is to step back in time.The city is located in the Rif mountains and was developed as a fortress in the late 16th century and was a refuge for Moors and Jews fleeing the Spanish inquisition (it is only about 60 miles from the Mediterranean).
The drizzly weather meant we only rarely caught glimpses of the “horns” for which Chefchaouen is named (xouen or chaouen means horns in Berber).
While there is a great deal of development on the periphery, the medina is a virtual time capsule entered via one of five entrances.
There are numerous explanations for the ubiquitous blue: it repels mosquitos, it mimics the color of water, it comes from religious traditions brought by the Jewish immigrants who came from Spain in the 16th century. Whatever the reason, it is pleasing to the eye and, as a cool color, helps in the heat of the summer.
The mosaics are a beautiful adornment as is the colorful attire sported by many of the locals.
We were very fortunate to visit on Thursday, when local Berbers bring their produce and wares to market.
In addition to enjoying the town itself, there are numerous hikes and a spectacular waterfall, so spending a night in would be ideal. We did not have that luxury, so left Fès after breakfast and were back in time for dinner.
Volubilis, Moulay Idris and Meknès
There is evidence that Volubilis was originally inhabited over 5000 years ago. Primary development occured from 3rd century BCE first by the Amazigh, then under Carthage before becoming capital of the kingdom of Mauretania. Most of what remains today was built under Roman rule, which began in the 1st century CE.
You can see the ruins of many residences with large mosaic floors such as the one below. They were preserved by a combination of neglect (Volubilis was largely abandoned in the 11th century when the capital moved to Fès) and the earthquake in the 18th century destroyed most of the site but also covered the remains. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that the site was identified and excavations began.
Visible from Volubilis, the small town of Moulay Idriss is best known today for the Mausoleum of Idris I, a sacred destination that is open only to Muslims. Moroccans It is said that six pilgrimages to this site during the equal one to Mecca. (The mausoleum is the building in the background with the green roof.)
Idris I, a great grandson of the Prophet Muhammad brought the religion of Islam to the region. He was the first Arab ruler and founder of the Idrisid dynasty. He arrived in Volubilis in 789 and established his capital on the adjacent hills, the town was subsequently named for him.
Meknès is one of the four Imperial cities of Morocco, along with Fès, Marrakesh and Rabat. Another UNESCO World Heritage site, it was founded in the 11th century CE and became a capital under Sultan Moulay Ismaïl (1672–1727), the founder of the Alawite dynasty.
The city has retained many vestiges of the 17th century blending of the Islamic and European styles typical of the Maghreb. There are nine monumental gates in the ramparts that surround the medina. Inside there are 25 mosques, ten hammams, palaces, vast granaries, and private houses, testimonies to the Almoravid, Merinid and Alaouite Periods. So much to see and so little time…
After a long day, we headed back to Fes, tired but ready for the next day’s activities!