Photo Post: Moulay Idriss, Morocco’s Spiritual Birthplace

Moulay Idriss Zerhoun, Morocco
One of the two hills

As I explored Spain’s neighbor to the south, Morocco, during Semana Santa last year (Easter break), one of the spots on my hitlist was the ruined Roman city of Volubilis. I thought it was such a fascinating place not only because of the cool monuments and half-standing houses, but also because Roman ruins seemed so out of place outside of Europe—and yet, there they were, a silent reminder of the reach of the Roman Empire. Although Volubilis has long since drifted into oblivion, its community continues to this day a hop, skip, and a jump away in the town of Moulay Idriss Zerhoun, situated atop two hills.

Moulay Idriss Zerhoun, Morocco
Circular minaret

Trivia buffs might like to learn that Moulay Idriss is home to Morocco’s only circular minaret, a stout tower decorated in green and white mosaics that spell out pixelated Arabic script. But the real reason this town’s on the map goes back to the year 788 CE, when a man fleeing Arabia with a bounty on his head named Idriss (who also happened to be a great-grandson of Muhammad) came to Volubilis and set up camp.

Moulay Idriss Zerhoun, Morocco
Mausoleum of Moulay Idriss

He soon became the local Muslim imam and political leader—an act that is traditionally considered the “founding” of Morocco, as the Idrissid dynasty was the first line of Moroccan kings. Idriss made plans to establish a new capital at Fez, but he was assassinated before he could see them through. Fez was ultimately built under the reign of his son, Idriss II, and Volubilis slowly declined as Fez and nearby Moulay Idriss Zerhoun drew prestige and people away. By the year 1000, Volubilis was deserted, and Moulay Idriss Zerhoun was the only town in the area.

Idriss the king was buried here in town, and his mausoleum is a grand, sprawling complex with attractive, green tiled roofs. Non-Muslims are barred from entering, but perhaps this is because Moroccans believe that making five pilgrimages to Idriss’s mausoleum is equal to going on one hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca and one of the Five Pillars of Islam.

Moulay Idriss Zerhoun, Morocco
Stray cat

If you’re not a Muslim, the best way to appreciate the town’s beautiful mausoleum is by hiking up one of the two hills it lies between. You might feel like you’re getting lost (you probably are), but just keep moving up and you’ll eventually emerge from a steep, narrow street at a petite terrasse or even a grande terrasse. Take a moment to rest at these lookout point terraces and bask in the afternoon sun, snapping photos and slurping on water bottles. Just watch out for the stray cats!

Moulay Idriss Zerhoun, Morocco
Green Moroccan countryside

What was your favorite photo from this post? Did you have any idea that Morocco’s history stretched so far back? Comment below!

Moulay Idriss, March 26th, 2013

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