Volubilis, an ancient Roman ruins near Meknes, Morocco, is one of the few such sites in the country, along with Lixus and Sala Colonia. It is rumored that it was the capital of the Kingdom of Mauritania during the reign of King Juba II, it is believed to be around the 1st century BC to the 1st century AD.
A notable archaeological site with a flower name. The Roman ruins in the middle of the plain stood the test of time and are the most important in Morocco. Here the spirit of the young king Juba II, King of Mauretania, lurks. A Moroccan Ephesus that evokes images from earlier times: the capitol, the triumphal arch of Caracalla, the thermal baths, the basilica, and the main street which on both sides is richly decorated with mosaics. This should not be missed. Two magical moments: sunrise and sunset.
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Just 28 km from Meknes lies the largest Roman ruin, which also makes a deep impression on non-archeologists. Volubilis is located on a plateau from where you can see a vast plain up to the Zerhoun Massif area. With the many cacti and agaves, which are not very numerous in Morocco, the landscape is very similar to Solunto, Sicily, or some southern parts of Italy.
This landscape character, the availability of sufficient water, and the good defense post may have contributed to the fact that the Romans settled here and built a city.
How long the place was previously inhabited and whether Volubilis was already the residence of the Numidia and Mauretania king Juba II (25 BC until 24 AD) remains unclear.
In 40 AD Volubilis became the residence of the Roman province director of Mauretania Tingitana. In the second and third centuries, this city has rapidly developed into a beautiful metropolis in the region. For example, Emperor Commodus let built several buildings, Macrinus the Capitol, and Gordian the palace of the procurators, the Decumanus Maximus. From the end of the third century, the city became less and less important but was able to preserve its Roman character until well into the sixth century.
After the invasion of Arabs, Volubilis (taken by the new rulers and named Oulili or Oualila) quickly depopulated, especially after Moulay Idris I declared Fez to be the new capital.
The first excavations took place in 1873. Since then, a considerable part of the city, covering a surface of around 10 hectares, has been uncovered.
The buildings in the northeast of the city date from the 1st century, and buildings around the Forum date from the 2nd century. When the Romans pulled back from Mauretania in the 3rd century, Volubilis fell into disrepair. It was inhabited by Christians but was already Islamized when Idriss I arrived in 788.
Roman architecture is characterized by the beauty of memorial monuments such as the Arch of Volubilis, which was partly restored in 1931. The arch was erected in 217 on a rectangular square at the crossroads of the city district (the work executed by Emperor Marcus Aurelius). The Capitol was built in 217 AD on behalf of emperor Macrinus. The temple covered a surface of 38 by 33 meters. The Basilica of the Tribunal is impressive and reminiscent of the Basilica of Serverius of Leptis Magna in Libya. The construction dates from the beginning of the 2nd century. The rectangular basilica is 42.20 m long and 22.30 m wide.
Timeline of Volubilis – Roman Ruins in Morocco
Around 1st Century BCE: Picture Volubilis coming to life as a bustling Roman settlement near what is now Meknes in Morocco. It’s a vibrant hub of trade, culture, and administration, thanks to its prime location along ancient trade routes.
25 BCE – 44 CE: During this time, Volubilis is at its peak, flourishing under Roman rule. Its streets are busy with merchants, its buildings adorned with intricate mosaics, and its citizens enjoying the luxuries of Roman life.
3rd Century CE: However, like any city, Volubilis faces challenges. Internal strife and external threats weaken its defenses, leaving it vulnerable to raids by Berber tribes and struggles within the Roman Empire.
8th Century CE: With the arrival of Arab conquerors, Volubilis sees significant changes. Its population declines as people move away, and its once-thriving streets start to fade into memory.
11th – 12th Century CE: Despite its decline, Volubilis experienced a brief resurgence under the Almoravid dynasty, who recognized its historical importance and made efforts to preserve it.
Late 12th Century CE: But as time marches on, Volubilis is gradually abandoned, its stones repurposed for other buildings, and its once-grand structures slowly crumble.
17th Century CE: Fast forward to the 17th century, and European travelers begin to rediscover Volubilis, marveling at its ancient ruins and documenting its fading glory.
1915: The French colonial authorities step in to protect Volubilis, realizing its significance as a historical site worth preserving for future generations.
20th Century: Archaeologists begin to uncover Volubilis’s secrets, piecing together its past through excavations and studies, shedding light on its Roman heritage.
1997: Volubilis gains international recognition when it’s designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, ensuring its preservation for years to come.
Today: As you stand amidst the ruins of Volubilis, you can’t help but feel a sense of awe at the history that surrounds you. Its ancient streets whisper tales of empires past, its crumbling walls a testament to the passage of time. Yet, despite its faded grandeur, Volubilis remains a captivating destination, inviting travelers to step back in time and explore the wonders of Morocco’s rich cultural heritage.
You need at least two hours to walk through this unique open-air museum. Not only the ruins but also the landscape make a big impression. At the entrance, there is a small museum in which a number of finds can be viewed up close. On the site itself, there are also some mosaics to admire.
Exploring the Archaeological Site of Volubilis
The archaeological site of Volubilis is located near Meknes. Here are the best ways to get to Volubilis:
By Car: Renting a car in Meknes unlocks the freedom to explore at your own pace. A quick 28 km drive southwest leads you to Volubilis. Imagine yourself navigating Moroccan landscapes, anticipation building as you approach the ancient marvels waiting to be discovered.
By Taxi: Step into a taxi from the Grands Taxis station, just a stone’s throw from the Meknes Zitoune post office. Settle in and unwind as you embark on a hassle-free journey from Meknes to Volubilis.
Guided Tours: Dive into a guided tour for a storytelling adventure. An expert guide will guide you through Volubilis’ history and mysteries. Discover fascinating facts and unravel the tales of civilizations that once thrived in this area as you journey along.
No matter how you choose to travel, the road to Volubilis is paved with anticipation and discovery.
There are two other beautiful Roman ruins in Morocco which are nestled within the picturesque landscapes. Among these historical treasures are Lixus and Sala Colonia (Shalla) stand out as captivating destinations where travelers can immerse themselves in the ambiance of ancient Italy.
Desert Morocco Adventure organizes a 1-day trip from Fes to Volubilis and Meknes which offers a great opportunity to discover these beautiful Roman ruins.
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