Have you ever heard about the holy city of Moulay Idriss Zerhoun?
Only 5 minutes drive from the Unesco heritage site of Volubilis, is located the city of Moulay Idriss Zerhoun.
Perched on a hill, with its picturesque white houses, it is the most holy Islamic city of Morocco and the second after Mecca, where thousands of Moroccan faithful come on pilgrimage (Moussem) every August to pray at the tomb of Moulay Idriss I (745-791), the first Arab king of Morocco and descendant of the prophet Muhammad.
It is said that Moroccan Muslims who can’t make their hajj to Mecca, they can instead visit Moulay Idriss five times during their lifetime.
Tourists do not spoil the city yet, so it is worth making a quick stop for a walk in its narrow streets lined by houses with white flaked plaster and timeless charm.
Once reached Moulay Idriss around 1.30 pm, we first stop at one of the many small local restaurants close to the main square to try the tasty skewers.
Chicken, veal or spicy mixed meat skewers cooked at the moment on the grill and accompanied by onions and tomatoes make our visit undoubtedly more attractive.
We are food lovers, and on every trip, we never miss the chance to taste local dishes. With a full stomach, satisfied with the tasty lunch, we reach the wide main square where immediately a local lad come up to us offering his service up to the narrow winding maze of alleys.
Here in the Moulay Idriss square, there are always locals ready to approach the few tourists to lead them around making a buck. Mohamed, our city guide, is a young local guy, resident of Moulay Idriss, always ‘’on guard’’ in the main square ready to spot the foreigners who come to visit the holy city.
Despite the fact he couldn’t continue his studies, he surprisingly speaks pretty well 4 languages, mostly learned by leading here the tourists.
Our visit is exciting, walking uphill through the narrow lanes we meet curious locals always ready to smile asking about our nationality and above all if we like Morocco.
Indeed we like it! It’s one of our favourite countries! People in Moulay Idriss are lovely and we are surprised when some of them, met along the way, offer us some bread loaves.
Mohamed tells us that is very common to meet people who carry trails with bread because it is customary to make their bread and bring it to cook in the small public ovens scattered in the neighbourhoods of the city just paying a small fee.
During our visit, the first spot that draws our attention is the Sentissi Mosque. It’s a small neighbourhood mosque, but interesting for its particular cylindrical minaret: it is the only round minaret in the country and is covered with green tiles where Quranic verses are displayed in contrast with the tiles themselves.
Going on with our walk through the narrow alleyways, after briefly visiting a public oven, we reach the so-called “Grande Terrasse” (pic nr. 1).
We are now in the highest point of Moulay Idriss enjoying a stunning view on its white houses perched on the facing hill and the huge Mausoleum of Moulay Idriss I that stands out with its high minaret and green roofs.
It was built by Moulay Ismail who moved here the body of Moulay Idriss during the late 17th century to create a pilgrimage site for the faithful.
This holy place is not visitable by non-muslim people. After taking some pics, we follow Mohamed downhill until we reach another beautiful viewpoint called “Petite Terrasse” and step by step, we get to the entrance of the religious site.
We stop for some minutes here in front of the inner barrier of the Mausoleum from where we can admire the long entrance corridor and the minaret, then, passing through the three-arched gateway surrounded by shops selling religious trinkets, we are again in the main square.
Satisfied for the exciting visit of the city, we thank Mohammed for his service, and we move towards our car passing through the Moulay Idriss local market with its many colourful stalls selling fresh fruit, vegetables and the inevitable olives, typical local product grown on the hills surrounding the city.
Need to Know
We visited Moulay Idriss and Volubilis on our way from Meknes to Chefchaouen, but you can easily visit them on a day trip from Meknes or Fes. Anyway, it’s more accessible from Meknes since both places are only 30 km away.
1) How to get there
You can get there arranging the trip with your accommodation or quickly booking it (combined with Volubilis) through the web platforms as GetYourGuide or Viator which offer many tours around the area; alternatively you can haggle the price with a taxi driver in Meknes for both visiting Moulay Idriss and Volubilis (around 250 MAD); the low-cost option (but also the longer), is to take a Grand taxi (shared) to Moulay Idriss (10 MAD) at Grand Taxi station next to the French Institute. Next to the Grand Taxi station, you’ll also find the public bus to Moulay Idriss (7 MAD).
2) Time for the visit
It takes around 45 minutes to complete the walk. If you prefer to be led by a local lad go on the main square and wait for someone approaches you. We gave the guy 50 MAD as a tip. If you want to do the walk on your own, you can start from the Mausoleum and go uphill or take the first alley on your left before entering the square as we did.