Morocco’s Roman Past (Part II)

So you’ve moved on from Volubilis and still yearn to survey more Roman ruins in Morocco. Because Morocco’s Roman past is so rich, you’ll have more ruins to explore than found in any European museum. Nestled directly outside the city of Larache just south along the Atlantic coast of Asilah lays the Roman ruins of Lixus. Once occupied by sun-worshiping ancestors of prehistoric Morocco settlers, Lixus Roman ruins extends some of Morocco’s greatest treasures to visitors willing to take an hour or two to explore its ancient charisma and modern collapse.

Sitting on a hill overlooking the Loukkos River, Lixus does not encompass the enormity of Volubilis, but inevitably has a right to its own prestige. As of yet, there is no entry fee or proper guides and visitors can wander aimlessly over the fallen city at will and at ease. Though most visitors would like to see some restoration progress, other visitors like the feral, wildness of it all. A before-lunch visit ensures and Indiana Jones-esque feeling of exploratory solitude, leaving the mind to saunter over Lixus past.

Archeologists agree that the first occupants of Lixus understood some basic astronomy and mathematics. Some of the larger stones in the area suggest they attempted complex clarifications of the sun, moon and stars. Furthermore, however, historians can tell us more of the Phoenicians who occupied the area a few years earlier than 1000 BC. Here, the colony used Lixus as a trading post of sorts. Though spices and foodstuffs were traded in vast quantities, the most lustrous transactions dealt with gold and ivory. More often than not, these said riches bought slaves from sub-Saharan Africa.

As is the plight of all great colonies, the Carthaginians in the latter half of the 6th century BC overpowered the Phoenicians. Still, though, gold became the barter of choice for the new colony. The Carthaginians knew of Lixus stronghold as a gate of trade over other visitors, and it was once rumored that the colony under certain individuals monopolized and controlled the secret sources of gold arriving from West Africa.

The Carthaginian stronghold, however, fell to the Romans in 146 BC, which still formed a seal on trade routes. Later, as gold supplies became more and more controlled by outside sources, Lixus began exporting Garum, an edible fish-like paste made from anchovies stored in jars for shipping salt, and olives.

Though much of the site has been destroyed by time, by the elements, and by vandals, there is much to inspect in Lixus. You can view several columns, large rocks, and mosaics on the gravel paths criss-crossing the site. The most impressive mosaic is of the Greek Sea God, Oceanus (with his face removed). If you follow the paths up the hill, you’ll be amazed at the small ruined public baths and slightly restored amphitheatre. Moving further up, the citadel ruin can be viewed, or even touched. It was here hundreds of years ago that most public community activities took place you’ll find the main temple, sanctuaries, oratory and more dilapidated baths.

Last but not least, the Acropolis at Lixus is surrounded by three of its own walls. The western half, however, adjoins the town and Acropolis together. Several recent excavations have unveiled an atrium and old cistern from the ancient apsidal place of worship building. To the south, the Great Temple from 1 BC to 1 AD features an ancient courtyard and cella, where the God dwelt on the axis of the peristyle. Nearby, there is a larger apse with the leftovers of mosaic flooring begging restoration.

Rumor has it that Lixus will soon be a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where funding and restoration will return some of its ancient mystique. Though such measures are for the better, it may be of interests to visit the site while overgrown to best experience its timelessness. Though the surrounding views may provoke some awe from your camera, the ancient feeling of touching solidified antiquity will recapture your mind to take you back to a place significant to world history. A Morcco tour can unlock Lixus’ mystery and open up more ancient sites for you to explore.

continued from Morocco’s Roman Past (part I)

By Terry Hollowell

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