Moulay Idriss is named after the great-grandson of the Prophet Mohammed and he is also considered the country's most revered saint. He came to Morocco from Mecca in the late 8th century AD where he was being persecuted by the Abbasid Caliphate who was based in Baghdad. He settled at Volubilis and converted the locals to Islam. He became their leader and also established Morocco's first imperial dynasty.
Moulay Idriss is considered the holiest town in Morocco with the shrine of this saint causing it to be the location of the largest pilgrimage in the country as the town fills with Moroccans of all walks of life for the annual moussem in late August. The town has been open to non-Muslims for over 70 years although they cannot enter the shrine. In 2005 the Moroccan government decided to allow locals to convert their homes to guesthouses and begin to allow non-muslims to sleep overnight in the town which up until then had been forbidden.
The town is famous for its' nougat candy which is sold at stands all around the square and near the mosque. It also has the only cylindrical minaret in all of Morocco. It is located only 4.5 km from the Roman ruins of Volubilis or a 30 minute grand taxi ride to the imperial city of Meknes. From Meknes it is an easy train ride of less than an hour to Fes or on a Tuesday one might even consider hiring a grand taxi to drive them to Khemmiset which is 46 km from Meknes. Each Tuesday Khemmiset hosts one of the largest souks in the country featuring a large open building full of women who bring their handmade rugs in from the country. You will rarely see a tourist here but rather the rug merchants buying to stock their shops in the cities. It can be a bit intimidating to go without a local as most of the women do not speak French but the money you can save on rugs is well worth the price of the driver and paying your host to go with you for a half day. Keep in mind that the prices are already quite low so do not expect to bargain down as much as you might in the city merchant's shops. The ride is quite picturesque through the rural countryside. Moulay Idriss also has a regular Saturday market with people coming in from the countryside but on a much smaller scale.
If you are driving to Moulay Idriss keep in mind that while automobiles can drop you at the taxi stand or the gates of the kasbah and can drive to the edge of the town square, they cannot enter the neighborhoods as the streets are so narrow with many steps through the town. Large deliveries must be made by donkey as well as garbage pickup and people must walk to their homes through the narrow alleyways. While other cities on the tourist route might have their own excitement, a few days in this charming town really allows the traveler to kick back and get into the rhythm of local life yet offers many good options for day trips.
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