Wednesday – March 18, 1998   –  Volubilis and Fès

This is the day we visit the Roman ruins at Volubilis. It is the largest and finest archeological site in Morocco. The city extends over 100 acres and dates back to the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. Juba II was the first Roman official to make Volubilis his western capital. Juba was of royal North African blood and educated in the household of the Emperor Augustus. His wife was Cleopatra Silene – the child of Mark Anthony and Cleopatra. The city was continually inhabited until the 18th century, when its marble was plundered for use in building the palaces in Meknès. The Triumphal Arch was built in 217 AD to honor the Emperor Caracalla and his mother, Julia Domna. Today it strikes a lovely, lonely figure in its setting against the treeless plain. The ruins of the Capitol are still adorned by many ancient, towering columns. I particularly admired the colorful mosaics that depict the mythological deities. All the mosaics are well preserved and remain in their original locations, except for a very few which have been removed to museums. Our local guide, Abdelhay, pointed out features of the various rooms that explained their probable function. He also demonstrated the sunbathing techniques of the Roman inhabitants by sitting inside a carved out niche in a large stone circle. I noted there was not a lot of legroom. We walked to the end of the main road to see the Tangier Gate. There are still many areas here under excavation and new discoveries are made daily. We were told that a formal request has been submitted to UNESCO to declare Volubilis a World Heritage Site.

Leaving Volubilis, we continue on to Fès and stop for lunch at the L’Anmbra restaurant. The food is delicious and the atmosphere seems more like a museum than an eating establishment. All manner of Moroccan artifacts hang on the walls: pottery, daggers, rifles, locks, keys, copper pots, brass containers, musical instruments and beautiful carpets everywhere. After lunch, Larbi asks if we would like to visit a pottery factory. Of course, we would! There are many young apprentices working here and some of us wondered why they were not in school. When asked, Larbi said this, in fact, is their “school”, a work-study classroom! We kept our distance from the large wood-burning kilns where the pottery was fired. Walking through the various rooms, we witnessed the process of turning plain clay into beautiful objects of art. Many of the pieces here are produced as special orders and destined for all parts of the world. I saw one beautiful mosaic tabletop awaiting shipment to New York.

When we arrived at the Hotel les Merinides, in Fès, we were welcomed with a glass of mint tea as we checked in. This hotel is situated on a hill above Fès and has a wonderful panoramic view of the entire city. From our balcony, we could easily distinguish the old-town medina from the newer sections built much later. We identified the rooftops of a few of the 320 mosques by their minarets, and off in the distance we could see the black smoke from the furnaces at the pottery factory we had just visited. I was tired and stayed in the room to rest while Martha, Claire and Lucille went swimming in the hotel pool. I joined them later on the patio and the four of us had tea as we talked and watched the sunset.

Dinner tonight is a sit-down, waiter-served affair. The chairs are very large, low to the floor, and a little uncomfortable for eating, but would have been great for taking a nap afterward! The food, of course, is delicious and nicely presented. A trio of musicians played wonderful music during the meal. However, the most entertaining part of the evening came when first Martha, and then Marian, got up and danced with the belly dancer!

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