Monday, January 18, 2016

[MEKNES] Gaga Ooh La La, Want Your Bad Romans

Volubilis is highly recommended not just by Wikitravel but also by other travelers who have already been to the place. It has been on top of my priority list since I started planning this Moroccan adventure. True enough it has served as my first stop for sightseeing when I got here. From Fez, you can take any train passing through Meknes. Although there are tours from Fez and Rabat, I really suggest that you just go there on your own for it will be way more affordable that way. How cheap is it, you ask?

The train from Fez to Meknes costs a little over MAD 20 (~PHP 100) and won’t take more than an hour. Once there you have the option to take a petit taxi to Volubilis. The driver will wait for you and will give you two hours to explore the place. This option is okay if you have MAD 300 (PHP 1500) to spare. If not, then tell the taxi driver to bring you to Institut Français. The ride will be less than 10 minutes and set you back around MAD 7 (~PHP 35). Get off at the institute then cross the street.

You will see what Moroccans refer to as a Grand Taxi which is simply an old Mercedes, their local version of an FX or L300 shuttle that has fixed routes. The driver will not leave until he gets two passengers in front and four at the back. This is not the most comfortable way but definitely the cheapest. The one-hour trip to Moulay Idriss costs a mere MAD 10 (~PHP 50), which is a far cry from the special petit taxi trip that you would otherwise be taking. Yes, to confirm, Moulay Idriss is the name of the nearest town to Volubilis.

After an hour or so of driving, you will reach a roundabout where the grand taxi will make a right turn up the hill. That’s Moulay Idriss. You have the option of getting off at the roundabout and walking all the way to Volubilis or going all the way up to the town to buy supplies or take a short break. The petit taxis in town also offer roundtrip fares to the tune of MAD 50 (~PHP 250), which is not that bad if you’re not a big fan of walking. If you decide to just walk and save some hundred dirham bills, read on.

Follow the road, which isn't hard to do because the road signs clearly say Volubilis and one other destination. Once you reach the first fork on the road, turn left. This is the confusing part because the road signage will tell you that the way to Volubilis is straight ahead. That path is for those with vehicles. If you are walking to the ruins, TURN LEFT. The road you will be following now leads to Ain Jemaa as the sign would suggest, but the ruins are on the way anyway so you need not panic.

The walk took me almost half an hour. I walk quite fast. A leisurely pace will take around 15 minutes more, perhaps. The ruins will be within sight after the first ten minutes of walking or so, and the feeling of accomplishment as you get closer adds to the thrill somehow. And how much have you spent so far, MAD 40 (~PHP 200)? That’s really cheap, I’m telling you. My DIY roundtrip from Fez cost me just a third of what I would have spent for a package tour.

The entrance fee is MAD 10 (~PHP 50) so you might want to bring some small change with you. The lady at the counter didn’t have any so I had to pay after I was done exploring. I think some people get away with just taking the longer route to the back entrance and paying nothing, but come on now. It’s just MAD 10! I think the government could also use the funds for the preservation of the place, you know. So now you are here, what is there to see?

This is my first Roman ruins excursion. I’ve seen ancient ruins before in Asia but this particular trip felt a bit more personal because I did it the day after my Latin exam. What are the odds, right? It just felt like a good culmination activity for a not so hectic semester. My only qualm is that my level of Latin is not that high yet to make sense of the legit inscriptions that I saw, and by legit, I mean really legit. Those are genuine artifacts straight from the Roman period! Okay, geeky verbal diarrhea much. Pardon me.

The main attraction are the columns, remains of what was once a religious site. This would look familiar if you have Googled Volubilis before your trip, as it seems to be the favorite Volubilis photo you can find everywhere online. After paying the admission fee, go down a series of steps leading to a venue housing some of the tablets with Latin inscriptions on them. This is where locals aspiring to be your tour guide hang out waiting for their next guest.

MAD 100 (~PHP 500) should be more than enough if you want some tidbits of history and trivia to accompany your tour. Otherwise, just go there yourself and indulge on Wikipedia later which is exactly what I did. The good thing about Volubilis is that it’s just so huge but you can always find a spot to call your own because the tourists are not that many. Even if they were, the vast real estate guarantees a good photo op for everyone. If anything, it’s the sun that is the main villain here.

What you encounter first are the houses, most of them ordinary, and one belonging to a guy named Orpheus. What you’ll see is just the outline of what used to be his mansion which is considered to be really huge during those days. You go, Orpheus! Your house is so big, Orpheus! We are so talking about egos now. I think I even saw what was once a hammam as well as two big floor areas with intricately designed mosaics. Suffice it to say that if you lived during those times, you’d want Orpheus to be your friend.

Again, the main attraction are the columns along with what looks like the remains of an aqueduct. This is where most tourists take selfies, which is just logical because they are really aesthetically pleasing to look at especially if the sun is on your side. Its location close to the entrance also count as a valid excuse. It’s probably not weird to think that some tourists just go as far as this area to snap a selfie and then leave. Don’t do that for there is more to see!

The arc of triumph is also hard to miss but often overlooked no thanks to its more popular neighbors. It’s quite huge and is said to face Rabat. This is one of your few options for shade when the sun gets really hot. A good photo of it is hard to come by if you go after lunch but I suppose you can get an awesome picture if you opt to go right before sunset. The view of endless fields is cathartic somehow, like staring at a Windows wallpaper or something. Ruins and fields are such a good combination!

You will also find plenty of mosaics, which I first thought of as fake because they are just so awesome and artsy. I mean, these are Roman era art, right? They should be like in bad form right now but lo and behold, they are still a marvel to look at. More information regarding the mosaics are available in French and Arabic on signboards just next to each house’s entrance. Some of those houses are actually named after the primary subject of their mosaics. Good job in preserving art, Moroccan government!

As I already mentioned, Latinists might find one day to be too short for a visit, depending on their level of interest. There are many areas of Latin history and culture that can be tackled here, from art to architectural styles! This is why I think this wouldn’t be my last time here in Volubilis. It would be a great source of inspiration once thesis time comes for sure! I find those mosaics really interesting, by the way, so there’s an idea right there!

After your half day excursion, it’s time to go back to Moulay Idriss. There is a scarcity of petit taxis going back so the best way to do it is to hope that one is waiting at the gate once you are done with your tour. Remember that most tourists here come courtesy of a group tour, which means they will be having their own tour buses. Walking back to Moulay Idriss shouldn't be complicated. Just make sure that you bring a bottle of water with you so you don’t get dehydrated as well as a sweater to battle the cold.

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