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.
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 pull 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.
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.
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.
Volubilis refers to the pretty morning glory flowers that grow between the Roman ruins at this fascinating site. Well worth the visit, I did not expect to find this while holidaying in this North African country. I highly recommend getting to Volubilis early to avoid the busses of day visitors coming through as well as being prepared for walking and being in the sun for at least 2 hours. Wear comfortable shoes, a hat and pack water and possibly a sun umbrella. Unless you have a good guide book I recommend hiring a local guide from the entrance- most speak a variety of languages and cost maybe 200 Dirhams. There are sign boards with detail in I think three languages, but I enjoyed hearing the embellished stories from the guide and would have had no clue what I was looking at otherwise. I was amazed how industrious and intelligent this old civilization was- they had proper sewers, intricately designed columns and the most gorgeous mosaiced floors depicting a variety of scenes. Look out for storks nesting on atop some of the columns, visit the recently finished museum and quietly wet some mosaics to really bring up their stunning colors.
Thank you for the informative article Said
Check out our recent post on visiting the nearby city of Meknes as well.