Moulay Idriss ( Arabic: مولاي إدريس ) is a town in northern Morocco. It is named after a descendant of Muhammad. Moulay is a term roughly equivalent to "Saint". Idriss founded Fez where there exists in the old medina a shrine dedicated to him where the faithful come to burn candles and pray. It is near the enormous Kairaouine Mosque entry is restricted to Muslims only. His tomb, located in Moulay Idriss, is a major pilgrimage site for Muslims. Although it is often reported that non-Muslim tourists are strongly discouraged, this is in fact not the case and the town's authorities have recently attempted to dispel this myth, we were welcomed and offered guides to take us to the higher view-points to take pictures, but, were told in no uncertain terms we could not enter the mosque, a presumption on their part that we were not indeed of their faith !!!!!
First view of Moulay Idriss, set amongst the backdrop of the Atlas Mountains, ( small blob above the fence post on the left ). The local countryside, goats and herder.
Moulay Idriss el Akhbar was a great-grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, founder of Islam: his father was Ali, his grandparents were Muhammad's daughter Fatima and Muhammad's cousin Ali. Idriss was heir to the caliphate in Damascus, but after the civil war and Umayyad victory that led to the Shia-Sunni divide, he fled to Morocco. Arriving in 787, Moulay Idriss founded Morocco's first Arab dynasty, the Idrissid Dynasty which ruled until the 11th century, also the city that bears his name.
Moulay Idriss as we get closer, the town square, the gateway up to the Minaret.
Moulay Idriss first came to power in Volubilis, the ancient Roman city that was then still the main center of the north. He built his capital city on a nearby site that was more easily defended, which was later named Moulay Idriss after him. He also began construction of the city of Fes and was seen as a great Muslim missonary, as a leader, he was recognised as an imam, indicating that he was both a religious as well as a political leader. Word of Idriss' success reached the Umayyads in the east, and in 792 they had him poisoned. If they assumed his kingdom would perish with him, they were mistaken. He had succeeded in converting Morocco's mostly pagan (but some were Christians and Jews) Berber tribes to Islam and was supported by many Arab Shiites loyal to the successors of the Prophet. After Moulay Idriss' assassination, his servant Rashid took over as regent until 807, when his son Idriss II ( born after his death ) was old enough to assume the throne of the Idrissid Dynasty.
The main sight of this hilltop city is of course the tomb of Moulay Idriss, which is barred to non-Muslims. Good exterior views of it can be had from above, however, and anyone can approach the entrance (blocked by a low wooden bar). The best views of the tomb and the city can be had from the Restaurant Trois Boules d'Or ( tel. 055 54 40 21; open daily 10-10 ) on the Terrasse Sidi Abdallah el Hajjam. The winding streets on the way are a highlight of a visit to the town of Moulay Idriss, but it is easy to get lost. You can enlist the help of a young guide from the main square below, or do it on the silent patter of a donkey.
Another interesting sight of Moulay Idriss is the Idriss Medersa, which was built from materials taken from Volubilis. It has an unusual modern minaret (1939), which is cylindrical in shape and has a chapter from the Qur'an inscribed in green mosaics. Today, the tomb of Moulay Idriss ( entrance ), which was rebuilt by Moulay Ismail (1672-1727), is still much revered. It is the object of constant pilgrimage and hosts an important summer mousseum in the second week of August.
All in all a city worth visiting en route to Volubilis unless you are a Muslim, when a whole day would be needed.