Exploring the ancient Roman City of Volubilis

How many surprises can a country like Morocco have? Many! As soon as we land in Fez, we will approach one of them, the ancient city of Volubilis , it is located 33 km from Meknes and just five from the holy city of Islam, Mulay Idriss. The archaeological site of Volubilis is one of the best preserved in North Africa and is declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The entrance costs 20 dirhams. I recommend hiring a guide to accompany you on the tour as their explanations, although there are general panels, are very useful to understand the importance of this place in the history of Morocco.

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A few strokes of History

The origin of its name comes from the Oulili term, possible deformation of the name Berber oulili, "Oleander". Capital of the kingdom of Mauritania until the year 40 d.c. At the time it was annexed to Rome after the murder of the Mauritanian king Ptolemy by Emperor Caligula. Its beginnings go back to Phoenician times when they founded Volubilis because of its important strategic location as a commercial exchange site in the Berber area. 
The penetration of Rome Volubilis became one of the most important cities of the province of Mauretania Tingitana and during the principality of Marco Aurelio was completely walled with eight monumental doors of which currently only remains of one, the Tangier Gate.

It will be in the year 789 when Idriss I, great-grandson of Muhammad, founder of the Idrissi dynasty, takes refuge in Volubilis while escaping from the Abbasids. It is then when the city recovers its old Berber name, Oulili, becoming the first city where Islam arrives in Morocco. In 808 Idriss II founds the city of Fez, which supersedes the city of Oulili, which ends up losing its prominence with the transfer of the city to the nearby Moulay Idriss due to lack of natural resources, especially water. Subsequently, the dismantling of the city by Sultan Mulay Ismail, who took advantage of the stones for the construction of Meknes, postponed this most important site to the most absolute oblivion. And finally, the terrible earthquake of 1755 (which we know from the Lisbon earthquake) was the finishing touch for the city as it ended up demolishing what little was left standing.

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And so, without knowing it, I was in the middle of the history of the country. Some stones recovered and loaded with historical landmarks. And in the background, the beautiful silhouette of a town that reminded me of the wonderful white villages of Andalusia. There was no better way to start our journey through Morocco. We were at the heart of its origin as a nation.
Although the most outstanding pieces are exhibited in the Archaeological Museum of Rabat, the visit to the site is very interesting, especially for the collection of mosaics that are preserved along a succession of patrician houses: the house of Bacchus, the house of Venus ..., and so on, we enter the secrets of this impressive city. The houses have the names of the mosaics that have been preserved.

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Exploration of the site began in 1915 and currently occupies about 20 hectares in the middle of an important agricultural region where we appreciate the rich cereal fields around that remember the importance of Volubilis as a center of natural resources for the empire.

In the highest part of the site, the remains of the Forum, the Basilica and the Temple of Jupiter, the main meeting nucleus of the inhabitants of Volubilis stand out. In addition, the site perfectly retains the trace of the two main roads that had a Roman city, the Cardus Maximus that crosses perpendicularly with the Decumanus Maximus.

Imagination fires in such places and one tries to get an idea of the incredible city that now travels in silence, where the voice of our guide resonates, telling stories and anecdotes of a vigorous and distant past. Those stories help my imagination even more and there are times when I need to sit down and breathe in the place, touch those ancient stones. Although this is one of the problems of travelling as a group, there is a schedule to meet! We continue walking after the steps of our guide who shows us old public urinals, hot springs, and suddenly another magnificent construction makes us determinate. It is the arch of Caracalla, built in marble by the emperor Caracalla in honor of his mother.

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The heat tightens, and despite the water, the sun protection (much needed by these parts), hat and glasses, I feel like the sun seems to melt every stone. I can not help but wonder how the mosaics hold up in such a good state of preservation, especially their colours, in the midst of this scorching sun.

Volubilis offers visitors the possibility of understanding the urbanism of Rome and its ability to conquer. The tour, about two hours, is touching its end and our guide now shows us the old latrines, the important hot springs of the city. More anecdotes, more brushstrokes of history.

The visit is essential to understand the history of Morocco. We could not have started for a better place. Once finished our journey by Volubilis, we approach Meknes. We were only a few hours, but we enjoyed the daily life of El Hedim square next to the monumental Bab el Mansour gate, one of the most beautiful in the country.

The afternoon falls and it is time to return to Fez, the day has been full of incredible sensations and important history lessons about Morocco, a country so close to us and at the same time, so unknown.

Some Recommendations for visiting Volubilis 

  • Hire a professional guide and perfectly identified that are at the entrance of the site. 
  • Bring water and sun protection. 
  • There is no public transport that reaches the site, so the trip must be arranged with taxis. It does not come out very expensive, about 15 DHS. 
  • Take advantage of the visit to get closer to the picturesque Mulay Idriss. - Schedule without restriction, from sunrise to sunset.
  • You will find small food and drink stalls at the entrance of the enclosure.
credit : Pixabay