Volubilus, Morocco

Travelers to Morocco have the opportunity to see a beautifully-preserved piece of ancient history in the city of Volubilus.

Roman arches, paving stones, temples and forum still stand amongst Moroccan hills, a mark both of the preservation of antiquity and the passage of time.

Roman Ruins Showcase Roman History

The town of Volubilus, Morocco, was founded sometime in the 3rd century B.C. and thrived for approximately 600 years, until changing governments and times caused it to die out. Preserved by the dry Moroccan air, it offers a tantalizing glimpse into a lost way of life, a time when the Aeneid was still unwritten, the Mediterranean encompassed the known world, and Roman citizens moved in droves to settle towns and villages in conquered territories of North Africa.

Once there, visitors can choose to either hire a guide (100 Moroccan dirhams, approximately $12.50 USD) or wander the village on their own. There are signs, in Arabic, French and English, indicating various points of interest, but a guide can fill in stories. There is much to see for the traveler who wishes to explore on his own. A filled-in but still visible oven marks what was evidently a kitchen, tucked far in the back on the very edge of the village. Exploring an old house, one stumbles across a shallow pool with mosaic dolphins on the edge, flipping their tails and frolicking through the quiet centuries as the afternoon light falls across the columns.

Roman architecture is on display throughout the site, in arches, columns, and roads. Although weeds sprout between the perfectly-formed rectangles of the archaic paving stones, the straight lines of the roads are clearly visible, and the steps to the forum and the temple are intact. The triumphal arch still stands mostly intact, imposing its bulk on the landscape. Through the archway, the sun gleams invitingly on the vineyard-planted hillsides.

Four columns stand proud at the entrance to the temple; on the fourth is a large messy stork’s nest. Those who retain a smattering of Latin from their school days will have fun trying to decipher the inscriptions around the edge of the forum, as well as on columns lining the entrance to this ancient city. The temple and the forum back each other, a reminder of a time when the city centre thrummed with life and business.

One of the highlights of Volubilus is the perfectly-preserved mosaic floors. Bring extra water to splash on them; this clears the dust momentarily and displays their still-brilliant colours. The House of Columns has a magnificent floor showing the 12 Labors of Hercules. The Acrobat’s House shows a man riding his donkey backwards. While the best mosaics are set apart with ropes to prevent people walking on them, fragments are to be found everyone—here a bit of geometric edging, there a face or part of an animal.

Traveling in Morocco

Volubilus is located not far from Fes, near Meknes. It is only a two hour drive from the capital city of Rabat. Getting there is easy; the road is clearly marked, it’s accessible by auto route, and tour busses go there. The small graveled parking area boasts a concession stand, open for tourists even during Ramadan, as well as a small gift shop. While tourism is a well-developed business in Morocco, the country as a whole is still delightfully unspoiled. Items offered for sale are locally made, rather than mass-produced elsewhere.

Volubilus offers visitors a chance to spend an afternoon amongst the remnants of civilization’s distant past, listening for what echoes may come.

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