Less than a two-hour drive from Fes, you can find two of Morocco’s most important historical locations, Volubilis and Moulay Idriss. Volubilis was a Roman city that was eventually abandoned due to its remoteness and pressure from the local tribes inhabiting the area. Now, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the best-preserved Roman colonial cities. Nearby, the town of Moulay Idriss is considered the holiest city in Morocco since it is where Islam was first introduced. We hired a grand taxi and spent a sunny day touring these two beautiful and interesting sites.
Volubilis has been an inhabited location for thousands of years, starting with the Phonecians in the third century BC. The city eventually came under Roman rule and entered a period of growth where numerous buildings were constructed, including temples and a basilica. Eventually the city was abandoned because of its remoteness and vulnerability to attack from the local tribes, but the area continued to be inhabited by different groups for hundreds of years. In the late 700s AD, the Idriss dynasty inhabited the area, before rising to power in Morocco.
Walking the ruins, you can see lots of interesting architectural remains, including pillars, engraved writings, and intricate tile work. The location of the city seems fairly random at first glance, but apparently it is within a very fertile agricultural area. Also, the surrounding landscape is quite beautiful, and it has a vague Italian feel. You could imagine a Roman feeling at home here.
In the year 789 AD, Moulay Idriss I (note: a Moulay is an Arabic prince) came to Morocco and founded the town of Moulay Idriss near the Volubilis ruins. Moulay Idriss is billed as Morocco’s holiest city because it was there that Idriss I first introduced Islam into Morocco. The Idriss dynasty was also instrumental in establishing Morocco in its current form, including the founding and development of Fes.
Our cab driver said if a Muslim person were to visit Moulay Idriss five times, it would be similar to visiting Mecca. He had driven people there dozens of times, so he joked that he was very holy. It was really impressive to see the city built into the hillside, and the views looking down into the countryside were perfect.