Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Roman Ruins in Rabat

by Caroline Lawrence (author of The Roman Mysteries)

Our train leaves Fes on time at 11.00 but like most Moroccan trains we've taken so far, it's late arriving at its destination: in this case Rabat.

We'd hoped to see the Roman ruins at Chellah and the bronzes at the Rabat Archaeological Museum. Luckily it isn't too late. We drop off our luggage at the Hotel Terminus across the street from the train station, then catch a petit taxi to Chella, where the Roman ruins are to be found.

The taxi drives us outside the town walls and we catch our first breath-taking view of Chellah. Honey-coloured ramparts look like a fairy tale castle in the late afternoon sunshine. Mustapha – a handsome guide with green eyes, bad teeth, a scarred face and a Masters degree in English – takes us round the Roman ruins and the Merinid ruins, all surrounded by the golden ramparts. This peaceful walled site also includes a sacred eel pond and a botanical garden. Ahmed knows the names of every tree and plant.

Storks have built nests on top of the disused minarets of abandoned mosques and we have never yet seen them at such close proximity. When they clack their beaks they sound like woodpeckers.

The hotel clerk and taxi driver told us the Archaeological Museum was closed but Ahmed assures us it's open until 6.00pm. It's already 5.00 so we bid him thanks and goodbye and catch a taxi to the archaeological museum which is indeed still open. Star of the museum are some bronzes from Volubilis, including a bust of the handsome Berber king Juba II. There is also a bronze dog and a bronze statue of an ephebe, or young Greek athlete. One gave the name to the House of the Dog in Volubilis and the other to the House of the Ephebe.

It's cold here in Rabat and after trying one or two of the recommended restaurants and finding them deserted, we catch a taxi to the Rabat medina and go to a restaurant overlooking the Atlantic. It's too dark to see much and this place is deserted. I have pastilla, a filo pastry pie stuffed with chicken and dusted with cinnamon and sugar. Richard has paella with prawns.

The hotel has provided a heater in the room but it doesn't do much to dispel the cold. Tomorrow it's back to Marrakech where I hope we'll find a warmer place to stay.

[This 2006 trip was to research Roman Mystery 14, The Beggar of Volubilis.]

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