Literally carved from the mountain, Moulay Idriss would be our third stop in the North Moroccan adventure. It is one of the country’s most important pilgrimage sites. While the utmost goal of a Muslim should be to go to Mecca, poorer people have other options closer to home. Moulay Idriss is one of those places. The town was closed to non-muslims until 1912, and only from 2005 non-muslims were allowed to stay overnight.
The name of the town comes from the grandson of Prophet Mohammed, Morocco’s first Islamic leader, founder of the first Moroccan dynasty.
I am not a religious person, but I did feel there was something special about this place. I guess part of it is related to the lack of influence from the outside world, having in mind the town has been so isolated until very recently. And that is a real experience, when I get to feel more like a traveller and less like a tourist.
Stepping in Moulay Idriss I felt I was entering someone’s home. Free from ostentation, or tourist traps, in this place you have the opportunity to get in touch with a very real and genuine culture and community. It is so peaceful that I wouldn’t dare speaking loud but still so warm. You could find children playing in the streets at dusk, and when it gets too dark to see they seem to find leisure in these little public spaces with computers and playstations where every kid seems to be entertained – it was almost as if the modern life, the life I know, had had a small permission to intrude in a place which stopped in time.
Exploring the little alleys was definitely a treat. We did it at dusk which contributed to a whimsical almost magical atmosphere, making me feel I was definitely stepping into a special place.
I kept thinking people do live here, in what seemed like a forsaken town, and yet there seem so happy, so relaxed, at ease. They know these streets as well as the palms of their hands, probably live here their entire lives. And this is it. How liberating that felt to me. And yet I wouldn’t have stand it.
We stayed at a guesthouse which made the experience even more real. Delicious mint tea and a homemade traditional dinner were served by an attentive Mohamed . We knew the meals were cooked by his wife, but once again we never saw her. He on the other hand was always present to share a dad joke, teasing us but making sure we were enjoying our meal and our stay.
The donkeys are used by the locals as a mean of transportation and carry goods, or our backpacks. That was a bit hard for me to watch. I couldn’t stop feeling sad for these cute little animals, looking so frail and strong at the same time.