It was here that Moulay Idriss I arrived in 789, bringing with him the religion of Islam, and starting a new dynasty. In addition to founding the town named after him, he also initiated construction of Fez, continued later by his son, Moulay Idriss II.
The town is compact, and its narrow streets will feel familiar to anyone who has spent time in the medinas of other Moroccan cities. Just off the main square is the Mausoleum of Idriss I, a sacred destination that is open only to Muslims. It is said in Morocco that six pilgrimages to Moulay Idriss during the annual festival honoring the saint is equivalent to one Haj to Mecca. Also of note is the round minaret at another mosque in town, the only one in Morocco. The ruins of the Phoenician and Roman city of Volubilis are located 5 km away. Moulay Idriss I took many materials from here in order to build his town.
The remaining distance from Moulay Idriss to Volubilis can be covered by foot (2-3 km) or taxi (40 dirham). If coming in by bus or grand taxi, get off at the roundabout along the "highway", when the vehicle turns towards the Moulay Idriss.
Local bus 15 from Meknes is a convenient option (7 dirham). You can catch it at the Gare Routiere or as it goes around the Meknes Medina, or near the Grand Taxi Stand—check the Meknes City bus website for all the stops.
By grand taxi
Can be found in the large taxi rank opposite the French Institute (Institut Francais) in Meknes. A single seat in the grand taxi costs 10 dirham (Dec 2015) and the drive takes around 30 min.
By private taxi
They should be around 300-350 dirham with the driver waiting while you peruse the site.
Everything is actually walkable, but you might opt for a taxi or hitch for the 3 km between Moulay Idriss and Volubilis.
Entrance fee: 70 dirham (Note, at the north end, there is no ticket stand.)
Volubilis is one of the main tourist sites to visit in Morocco. It's a partly excavated Roman city with UNESCO World Heritage status, listed for being "an exceptionally well preserved example of a large Roman colonial town on the fringes of the Empire".
The houses found at Volubilis range from richly decorated mansions to simple two-room mud-brick structures used by the city's poorer inhabitants. The city's considerable wealth is attested by the elaborate design of the houses of the wealthy, some of which have large mosaics still in situ. They have been named by archaeologists after their principal mosaics (or other finds):
- 1 The House of Orpheus. Located in the southern part of the city this house takes its name from the large mosaic depicting Orpheus playing his harp to an audience of trees, animals and birds. The mosaic is situated in the triclinium, the dining room, where the diners would have reclined on couches set against the walls and admired the central mosaic. Other mosaics can be seen in the atrium, which has a depiction of Amphitrite in a chariot pulled by a seahorse and accompanied by other sea creatures, and in the bathing rooms. One room off the main courtyard has a mosaic of a dolphin, considered by the Romans to be a lucky animal.
- The House of the Athlete or Desultor. Located near the forum, contains a humorous mosaic of an athlete or acrobat riding a donkey back to front while holding a cup in his outstretched hand. It may possibly represent Silenus. The most prestigious houses in the city were situated adjoining the Decumanus Maximus, behind rows of shops that lined the street under an arcade. They were entered from side streets between the shops.
- The House of the Ephebe. Named after a bronze statue found there. It has a prominent interior courtyard leading to a number of public rooms decorated with mosaics, including a depiction of Bacchus in a chariot being drawn by leopards.
- The House of the Knight. Next door from the house of Ephebe, this house also has a mosaic of Bacchus, this time showing coming across the sleeping Ariadne, who later bore him six children. The house takes its name from a bronze statue of a rider found here in 1918 that is now on display in the archaeological museum in Rabat.
- Gordian palace. A building dubbed the Gordian Palace is located further up the Decumanus Maximus. It was the largest building in the city and was probably the residence of the governor, rather than the emperor Gordian III; it was rebuilt during Gordian's reign in the mid-3rd century. It combined two separate houses to create a complex of 74 rooms with courtyards and private bathhouses serving both domestic and official functions. It also incorporated a colonnaded front with a dozen shops behind the colonnade, and an oil factory consisting of three oil presses and an oil store in the north-east corner of the complex. The decoration of the Gordian Palace is today quite plain with only a few scanty mosaics remaining.
- House of Venus. The House of Venus, towards the eastern side of the city under a prominent cypress tree, was one of the most luxurious residences in the city. It had a set of private baths and a richly decorated interior, with fine mosaics dating from the 2nd century CE showing animal and mythological scenes. There were mosaics in seven corridors and eight rooms. The central courtyard has a fanciful mosaic depicting racing chariots in a hippodrome, drawn by teams of peacocks, geese and ducks. The mosaic of Venus for which the house is named has been removed to Tangier, but in the next-door room is a still-extant mosaic showing Diana and a companion nymph being surprised by Actaeon while bathing. Actaeon is depicted with horns beginning to sprout from his head as he is transformed by the angry goddess into a stag, before being chased down and killed by his own hunting dogs. The house appears to have been destroyed some time after the city's fall around 280; a mosaic depicting Cupids feeding birds with grain has been charred by what appears to have been a fire burning directly on top of it, perhaps resulting from the building being taken over by squatters who used the mosaic as the site of a hearth.
- A large archeological museum houses the finds.
The hills around Moulay offer numerous opportunities for hiking and photography. The fertile plain of the Saiss Valley spreads out beneath the town, and olive groves dot the countryside.
Walk up to the "grand" terrace. This is a spot which gives you a great view over the town, fantastic spot to watch the sunset if you are staying overnight. To get there walk almost into Mausoleum and then in the tunnel part take a left and wiggle up the hill, to begin with you can follow signs for Scorpion House. If you get lost there are plenty of locals and children especially who you show you the way for a small price.
There is a small selection of hotels, but most travelers do this as a day trip from Meknes.
There is hardly any shade so bring a hat and water since it can get very hot.