By following me through Morocco, you will learn about riding the trains in Morocco. When I first thought about riding the rails is Morocco, it seemed kind of overwhelming to me. I did not know what to expect, where to get tickets, or where I could go. Therefore, I wrote this book to make it easier for those travelers that would like to see Morocco by train, but do not know how to do so.
On my first trip to Morocco, I flew round trip from Marrakech to Casablanca for a day trip. Getting to and from Casablanca by airplane took more time than I got to spend visiting the city. For my next visit I did not want to spend all my time airports. I wanted to see the Country, have time to enjoy the sites and experience Morocco.
When I started planning a second trip to Morocco, I had no idea what to expect, where to start, or where to go. So I began to research for my trip. My friends Larry and Patty, who had previously visited Morocco, shared their experiences, places to visit and most of all influenced me to be adventurous and plan my own unique tour of Morocco. While Larry and Patty traveled on a guided, I noticed that I could travel to many of the places they visited using the Moroccan National Railways Office, Office National des Chemins de Fer du Maroc (ONCF). I did not use a guide either.
I started my research anew after considering the things I learned from Larry and Patty. For train schedules and prices, I used the ONCF website (http://www.oncf.ma). It is written in French, but it is pretty easy to find things. After studying schedules, making hotel reservations, and airline reservations, I was ready to go.
My rail trip, described in this book, was a real adventure. It was a safe and easy trip, made more enjoyable by interacting with the friendly Moroccan people along the way.
My hope is this book will inspire the reader to plan his or her own unique trip by rail through Morocco.
Fez to Meknes was to be the second of my 5 train rides in Morocco, but I got an opportunity to go between these two cities in a limousine which provided the opportunity to see the Roman ruins at Volubilis and the holy city of Moulay Idriss du Zerhoun.
Fez to Meknes by train is normally 45 minutes, but trip by limo was about 5 hours. Taking the limo also provided me with a chance to pass through the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. The driver was arranged for me by Abdul who I met on the train. from Tangier to Fes. The train Fez to Meknes was about $5, and the limo ride with a stop a Volubilis and a pass through Moulay Idriss du Zerhoun was about $50. I thought it was a pretty good deal.
The two maps below show my travels from Fez to Meknes. The first map with the area circled in red was to be the second of my five train rides. The second map shows the alternate routing allowing me to pass by and visit the Roman ruins at Volubilis and drive through the holy city of Moulay Idriss du Zerhoun.
The Roman ruins at Volubilis are on the other side of the small mountain range to the west of Fez. The limo driver picked me up at the Perla Hotel at 10 AM in Fez, and we headed off towards Volubilis. As you leave Fez you go through mile after mile of olive orchards. This is quite amazing to me still because prior to visiting northern Morocco I had the picture of everything being desert. After being here I realized that being near the Mediterranean the climate is very much like Southern California. In fact, if I did not see all the Arabic writing, and all the women in Muslim garb, I cold have easily guessed I was in Southern California. Leaving Fez towards Volubilis, one slowly climbs up the hill past a lake, and after crossing the top of the hill, you head south towards Volubilis and the holy city of Moulay Idriss du Zerhoun. Below are some pictures on the road from Fez to Volubilis.
You pass by many mosques as you drive through Morocco. In fact is seems that a mosque is always in your view.
One passes by Lake Nzala el Oudaia when traveling from Fez to Volubilis. This is not a natural lake, and is used to irrigation. Most of the rivers in Morocco are dammed so that the water supply can be carefully managed. Rain has been lower in Morocco the last few years so that many of the lakes have a very low water level.
We continued up and across the hill, and turned south shortly after crossing the hills. After turning south one starts down into a large plain. Shortly, we could see the Roman ruin of Volubilis as we approached. Below are some photos showing the approach.
Volubilis was first developed about the 3 century BC by the Phoenicians / Carthaginians for agricultural purposes. The development proceeded a lot faster after the Romans took over beginning about the 1st century AD. At its height there would about 15,000 residents. The main product of the region was olive oil. The Romans maintained control until the late 2nd century AD when local tribes recaptured the area. The current ruins occupy about 40 hectares (about 100 acres). Only about 1/3 of the area has been studied and excavated by archeologists. After loosing control, the Romans did not try to recapture the region primary because the area was hard to defend against the many invaders. A good history of Volubilis can be found at (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volubilis).
Much of the construction was still standing until an earthquake occurred in the 17 century AD. The remaining structures after the Romans departed became a source of marble and building materials for homes and building in both Fez and Meknes.
If I remember correctly, the cost to visit the Roman ruins at Volubilis was 10 Dirhams. Just is just a little more that $1.00 US. Once inside, there are locals that offer their services as a guide. I obtained a guide to show me around at a cost of $120 Dirhams. This was about $15.00. The guide stayed with me for the 90 minutes it took to walk the grounds, and he spoke very good English. Below are some of the pictures I took while visiting the Roman ruins at Volubilis.
Volubilis was an agricultural community, and not a large city. Being a smaller community, there are not large temples, or sporting arenas to be seen. Most of the ruins are the homes of the residents. The larger building are the town administrative area, a temple, and a small central area. Many of the old aqueducts that took water through the city still exist, along with tiled floors in many of the remaining homes.
The holy city of Moulay Idriss du Zerhoun sits in a mountain valley overlooking Volubilis. This city is very important to Moroccan’s because this is where the Muslim religion was first introduced into the country. The city is looks very beautiful when looking up the mountain from Volubilis. We drove up to, and through Moulay Idriss du Zerhoun after visiting the ruins on the way to Meknes. The link here provides a background on the city, and the introduction of the Muslim religion to Morocco: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moulay_Idriss_Zerhoun.
Below are some of the pictures I got after leaving Volubilis, and driving through the holy city of Moulay Idriss du Zerhoun on the way to Meknes.
There are lots of mosques, places to eat, and hotels to stay in Moulay Idriss du Zerhoun. I wish that I had more time to visit this place, but the day was starting to get short, and I had to get to my hotel in Meknes.
I am not sorry that I took a limousine from Fez to Meknes instead of taking the train. I got to see more of Morocco that I would not have otherwise seen.
I will say that if you ever visit Morocco, you should definitely include the Roman ruins at Volubilis on your list of things to see, and if you have time, visit the holy city of Moulay Idriss du Zerhoun.
Following is a link to the gallery of photos of my trip to Meknes from Fez with a stop at the Roman ruins of Volubilis and a drive through Moulay Idriss du Zerhoun: