Archaeological Site of Volubilis
Volubilis is a well preserved ancient ruin from the Roman Empire near Meknes which once stretched out over 40 hectares. It began its establishment around 40A.D. as a measure for the Roman’s to keep control over the North African region after successive occupation by Greeks, Berbers, Jews and Carthaginians. It served as the capital and central administrative city of the Roman province of Mauritania Tingitana. It began to truly thrive in the second and third centuries when the Romans successfully cultivated grain. It was not abandoned of all inhabitants until the 18th century even after the capital was moved to Tangier in the third century and Fes was established by the eighth century.
Volubilis is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, and one of the largest ruins in Africa. The site now rests on a plain at an altitude of 1300 feet. On both of its sides, it is bordered by two different rivers: Fertassa and Oued Khomane. Visitors will find fertile land and beautiful gardens, a stark contrast to some of Morocco’s barren desert landscapes in the south.
Demolition of the city began when marble from the buildings and monuments were taken to provide materials for the construction of the royal palaces of Moulay Ismail in Meknes.
Though grand columns and other remnants of structures and buildings remain, the true attraction of Volubilis is the exquisite tile mosaics covering the floors. Many previous visitors suggest keeping your eyes on the ground to discover the true beauty of the place. Images of Bacchus on his chariot and a depiction of the myth of Orpheus and Amphitriteùs chariot are nearly perfectly intact and still in the original places, as are Diana’s Bath, Works of Hercules, and Neriedes. In all, there are about 30 mosaics on the site, some fenced in for preservation and protection from wear and tear by visitors.
In addition to the stunning works of mosaic art on the ground, some buildings and monuments make for awe inspiring, picture worthy sites as well. The Victory Arch, built in 217 to honor the Roman Emperor Caracalla, faces the main route. Though still missing its original bronze chariot, the arch underwent restoration in 1962. Volubilis, like many Roman
towns, included a forum with impressive grand columns that are still standing today. The town once had many stately homes, dozens of bakeries and over 100 oil presses. Had the
demolition for materials not occurred, Morocco could boast of having one of the best preserved Roman ruin anywhere in the world.
Though no longer an imposing city, and the ruin having been reduced to a 2500 x 1900 foot area it is still worth a day trip to view the extraordinary sites left behind. Visiting from the
nearby cities of Fes (36 miles), Meknes (18 miles) or Moulay Idriss (less than 5 miles) make it any easy trip. While you may spend quite a bit of time inspecting the mosaics up close and comparing yourself in size to the columns, do take a moment to step away and view the ruins from a distance in the field. It will create quite an unforgettable image in your memories of Morocco. Some visitors note that the best time to visit is near sunset, not only for the calm light and long shadows that make everything look even more magnificent, but the rest of the tourists will have left by then as well. A visit to Volubilis carries a mere 20 DH entrance fee.
If after a visit to Volubilis, you find yourself looking for more, you’ll find some of the best excavations of the site have been unearthed and put on display at the Archaeological
Museum in Rabat located at 23 rue Brihi.
Archaeological Site of Volubilis
Roman Town Volubilis
Tile Mosaics Volubilis