Moulay Idriss or Moulay Idriss Zerhoun is a small town in northern Morocco. Settled atop two hills, it is a sacred place and a respected pilgrimage among the Moroccans. It is named after its founder and sixth-generation descendant of Prophet Mohammed – Moulay Idriss I.
It was in Moulay Idriss that Moulay Idriss el Akbar arrived in 789. He left from the holy city of Mecca and brought with him religious teachings of Shiism and laid the foundation of a new dynasty. Not only this but the holy saint is also known for starting the construction of Fes, which was later continued by his son, Moulay Idriss II.
The town was not open for non-Muslims until 2005. Its small streets and uncrowded areas make a peaceful day trip. However, if you wish to stroll the town’s holy ground till late in the evening and stay back for the night, you can. There used to be a time when non-Muslims or foreigners were not supposed to be seen in the town after 3 pm, but with time, the people and place have become liberal.
If you visit Moulay Idriss in August, you will witness the town’s frenetic moussem where saints and pilgrims from all over the world come to take part. There is dance and music. Moulay Idriss is believed to be a second Mecca. It’s believed locally that five pilgrimages to the Moulay Idriss during the moussem equivalates to one hajj to Mecca.
Taking A Walk Through the Town
Surrounded by olive groves and cacti, this Spiritual Capital of Morocco is also known for its peace and quiet. Despite its history, spiritual significance, and strategic location near Volubilis and Fes, the town does not see many visitors. This means that if you are planning to visit the sacred town, you can roam around easily.
Its remote location and a good distance from the major tourist hubs let visitors see the authentic Moroccan life, undistorted from foreign and urban influences.
Mausoleum of Moulay Idriss
This mausoleum of Moulay Idriss is the holiest site and the major attraction in the town. The fact the Moulay Idriss was the sixth-generation descendant of Prophet Mohammed has fascinated many tourists and drawn Muslims from all-over the world. It is the most important pilgrimage site in the country. Each year the mausoleum is venerated by hundreds of pilgrims who arrive at the moussem in August.
You will see its entrance at the top of town’s main square. The way to the mausoleum is led through three-arch gateway surrounded with shops selling religious trinkets. While, non-Muslims cannot go in further after the inner barrier, it’s worth a peek inside the grand entrance.
Vantage Points of Grande and Petite Terrasses
These viewpoints in the medina of Moulay Idriss offer a panoramic view of the town. If you look closely, you will be able to recognize the green-roofed mausoleum as well. If you are an enthusiast photographer, then this is the place for you to capture some of the most internet-worthy photos.
The terraces can be difficult to find on your own. Just keep heading uphill and frequently ask the locals for the right direction. The natives of Moulay Idriss are easy to approach and talk to. There is a map of the town at Dar Zerhoune.
Moulay Idriss Madrasa and Its Cylindrical Minaret
Constructed in 14th century by Sultan Abou el Hassan, this educational institution in the town is famous for its elaborate interiors that are festooned with colorful tiles and grand chandeliers. The intricate design on the walls of this madrasa are typical of Morocco and add great beauty to the archaic building.
The madrasa is usually identified by the tall minaret that tops its design. Its distinct cylindrical design has been called as the “miracle of architecture” by many. The minaret was a later addition to the madrasa and was built in 1939. It is decorated with green-color tiles and can be spotted in the old medina from afar. Its green tiles are inscribed with 114 chapters from the holy Quran.
The madrasa and minaret stand as a legacy of Turkish and Arab influences in the town.
Go to Grillade Albanna for the Town’s Favorite Kebabs
The sacred town also has a restaurant selling delicious kebabs to satiate the gourmet in you. Due to this place alone, the town has grown popularity as the one with the best keftas. Located just off the town’s main square, this simple grill house offers a comfortable place to sit and watch people while enjoying the freshly made kefta served with grilled tomatoes, fresh bread and ground chilies.
Places Near Moulay Idriss
Moulay Idriss shares space with some famous tourist destinations in Morocco. You can take day-trips from the town to these places or extend your itinerary for a memorable Moroccan experience.
The Roman Ruins of Volubilis
Located just 2.5 miles away from Moulay Idriss is the historic site of Volubilis. Once the Phoenician capital, the city is known for its past opulence, Roman connection, and intricated decorated mosaic tiles.
Fes, Moroccan City of Saints
Just 65 km away from the town is the city of Fes. The city was once a hot spot for scholars and philosophers, mathematicians and lawyers, astronomers and theologians. Its cultural and spiritual lineage still draw tourists from around the world.
Meknes, City of Hundred Minarets
Tucked in the silent quarters of the country, Meknes is just 30.8 km away from Moulay Idriss. It is an easy-going, hassle-free city that sees fewer visitors and thus offer a more laid-back stay. Its winding arrow medina and grand building make a great sight-seeing itinerary.
Chefchaouen, Blue Pearl of Morocco
Located 168.8 km, Chefchaouen is connected with Moulay Idriss via N13, thus making it an easy-to-cover 3 hours distance. Chefchaouen is probably the most beautiful city of Morocco. Perched beneath the Rif, the city is washed in the blue hue. If you want to experience the hammams of Morocco, then Chefchaouen is where you head.
Wedged between several other tourist attractions, Moulay Idriss is the perfect stop post in your itineraries. Nothing like the rest of Morocco, this sacred town is worth the visit.