Wednesday 15 November


Mèknes souk


Mèknes souk

Despite a mattress with all the consistency of a pile of soggy newspapers, I sleep soundly. We spend the morning in Mèknes around the medina (old quarter) exploring the markets. The dull and drizzly weather has followed us from the coast, turning the dirt underfoot into an unpleasant slime that threatens to come over the sole of my sandals. In the market, olives, figs, oranges, etc are stacked in lattice-perfect piles. Hanging carcasses line the narrow gangways of the meat market, while live poultry await their fate in wire-mesh boxes. The true extent of the market is hard to establish — wide streets and narrow alleys filled with ceramics, carpets, cloths, wood crafts, metal work and hardware, and the aroma of spices and fruit mixed with fresh and not-so-fresh meat. Disappointingly we find no snake-charmers.

Volubilis, meaning Morning Glory, is a Roman town not far from Mèknes. It was the Roman capital of Morocco, although previously had been the site of a Berber settlement. Restoration was carried out in 1915 to repair some of the extensive damage done by the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. We arrive shortly after the rain has stopped and black clouds are still rolling across the sky. Many of the mosaics have survived the years almost perfectly intact, and the rainwater serves to bring out the rich colours.


Volubilis

Nearby is the holy city of Moulay Idriss, nestling in between two hills under the threatening black sky. It was founded in 787 and is one of the most important Muslim sites in Morocco. Unfortunately, there is little there that is open to non-Muslims and so we must be content to view it from a distance.

As we continue to Fèz, the landscape is somewhat more scrubby and brown, contrasting with the fertile green through which we passed yesterday. We decide to take the rainbow seen from the bus as an omen of a change for the better in the weather.

At Fèz, we check into the Hotel Nouzha close to the centre of the Ville Nouvelle. When the French colonised Morocco, they took the unusual and far-sighted move of building their modern city-centres alongside the existing towns, preserving their original flavour, rather than clearing the old to make way for the new. The wide tree-lined boulevards and Parisian-style pavement cafés contrast strangely with the labyrinthine alleys and crowded souks of the medina next door. The foyer of our hotel is richly decorated with mosaics and intricately carved plaster in the Moroccan style. It is raining heavily as Clare and I set off on foot to explore the nearby streets, and we soon return.

Our evening meal is quite uninspiring. The choice is lamb couscous, lamb tagine, or brochette. I opt for the couscous having already sampled a tagine and a brochette yesterday. It arrives, fatty and with a large bone. At least the caramelised onion is tasty. For dessert, tangerines.