Volubilis and Meknes

Mist and a light drizzle interspersed with breaks of sun followed us we exited Casablanca bound for Fez via the UNESCO heritage sites – the Roman ruins of Volubilis and the old Médina of Meknes.

North western Casablanca is an agricultural bread basket – orderly fields ready for planting surrounded the winding highway that followed the coast north.

Olive trees, lentil and chick pea fields, plus mosaics of market garden type enterprises were common, interrupted with occasional herds of sheep, goats and cattle. Chickens followed the animals in many cases. Working dogs are interestingly enough absent.

A steady ascent from the fields led us to Volubilis a Roman town which flourished from the 1st to the 3rd centuries. Garrisons left the town in the 3rd century – recalled to Rome to battle the ever increasing pressure of the so called pagan tribes who eventually over ran Rome. Despite the resulting societal upheavals and looting of the site by leaders from Meknes for building material, some residents stayed and other locals moved in. People were still  present in the town in the 1700’s when the great earthquake that devastated the area completed its destruction. 

Excavation began in the 1950’s, with much work to be done. Infrared photography has shown the extent of the town and as Roman towns were all built on the same plan archaeologists know where to look for public buildings as well as homes. G Travel continues to impress me with the quality of their local guides and this gentleman did not disappoint. Beautiful mosaic tile floors have been excavated

and we explored the ruins of several homes, as well as a dining area complete with ornamental fish pond and vomitorium (area where wealthy Romans went to vomit so they could eat more at their feasts.) In my mind, one of the earliest documented cases of bulimia.  For you “Gladiator” movie fans can you recognize the set of one of the pivotal scenes in the movie???

The patrician Roman class had terrible teeth, one reason being the continuous assault by stomach acid on enamel caused by their activity at the vomitorium. Water pipes lined with lead, together with a lack of antibiotics to counteract sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis resulted often in lifespans that typify the phrase “short and happy”. I suspect that the Plebeians (working class) and slaves had lives that were also short but not so happy. Another example of a situation discussed in length by Jared Diamond in his book Collapse – the wide gap between haves and have nots contributing to the downfall of a society. Echoes surround us today.

G travel does one of the best jobs I know of supporting the communities that they travel through through their Planterra foundation. Today’s lunch was a Mhaya Village community lunch prepared by the women who staff a foundation that benefits rural women and children.

Literacy is still at around 32% in their country, affecting mainly older women. The foundation fund provides vocational training for rural women allowing them to find employment that supports them and their families. We met some amazing women and enjoyed an incredible meal of local chicken cooked in an amazing sauce of apricots, spices and olives. The olive oil here is amazing 🙂

The fortress city of Meknes a UNESCO heritage site is considered to be at the agricultural centre of Morocco, reaching its zenith under ruler Moulay Ismail in  the late 17th century. Stories and legends swirl around this man including a harem with hundreds of wives, hundreds of children etc. Busy man. The old Médina is easily accessed through a number of gates and did not disappoint.

Ismail had succeeded in creating a goodly number of enemies and set out to build a fortress that would withstand years of warfare and siege. The remains of the huge granaries and stables provided some outstanding photo ops as our excellent local guide – another Berber – opened doors for us into a distant past.

We entered the city of Fez following a long, wonderful day. 

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