Highlights of Volubilis

Volubilis, Roman ruins in MoroccoVolubilis is not a town in Morocco, but rather a set of Roman ruins situated near Moulay Idriss and outside of Meknes. The spot was probably chosen for its rich soil that would reap abundant crops, especially olives.

Volubilis is one of the best preserved archaeological sites in Morocco and has been a Unesco World Heritage Site since 1997.  The most interesting artifacts of Volubilis are the mosaics which have survived time.

When traveling around Meknes, a jaunt to Volubilis makes the perfect day trip. While en route, stop by the small, yet lively town of Moulay Idriss.  

During an archaeological excavation of the site, it was determined the settlement was the remnants of Carthaginian traders dating to the 3rd century BC. It is still considered one of the Roman Empire’s most remote outposts. Volubilis was annexed in 40AD.  It is thought that the Romans had strict control on what could or could not be produced in this North African region. The production was often based on what the empire decided they needed; part of this control contributed to the vast deforestation of the region due to the planting of wheat.

A column at sunset in Volubilis, MoroccoResearch has given us the impression that the now extinct city once was home to nearly 20,000 people. Part of the site includes a triumphal arch, capitol, baths, and basilica. The Romans may have continued to live in the area, although Berber uprisings were common. These skirmishes led to an eventual annexation by the Romans in 280AD. The cities populations at the time included many Berber, Greeks, Jews, and Syrians. Each of these populations spoke Latin for several centuries after the Romans left. This lasted until Islam reached the region.

Volubilis was inhabited until the 18th century. There were a few earthquakes and the disuse of the buildings finally led to their demise. It was the 1755 earthquake in Lisbon that really demolished any fully standing structures.

Today the site is about 20 hectares, half of its original size. Excavation teams are working to uncover the other half. Much of what is excavated at the site is sent to Rabat to be placed in the archaeological museum there. For those who want to know more about the site once you have visited it you will want to travel from Meknes to Rabat for a look at the items they have on display.

Volubilis can be a difficult site to find due to lack of road signs.  It is recommended that you take a Morocco tour operator to the site. Not only can you get information about the site from them, but you can also have a guided tour to keep you from missing it. It is best to travel to Volubilis at off peak times.  During the summer the sun is very hot. Any time you visit you should have plenty of water packed.

Volubilis Ruins near Moulay Idriss, MoroccoThe sites at Volubilis include some of the most well known monuments in the northern section of Africa. You will need to head to Oued Fertessa first. You can then take a path from there to the residential quarter of one of the buildings. The team found olive presses buried in this area, which you can see on your tour.  Next to the presses are the remains of a female skeleton. She is thought to be Muslim because she was buried facing Mecca.  She is entombed in the wall and covered with an iron sheet to make sure she will remain in peace.

From this area it is possible to reach Galen’s Baths, which are next to the house of Orpheus. The baths are just ruins now, but it is fun to imagine what the baths used to look like centuries ago. It especially shows the under floor heating system that was used in Roman times. The Capitol and Basilica will just about end your tour.  The capitol is indicated by the Triad of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva. This dates back to 218. The last thing to see is the Mosaics at the house of Acrobat.

by Sam Mitchell

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