chellah moroccoVisitors flock to Morocco to experience Morocco’s imperial cities, scenic mountain ranges and seemingly endless waves of sand dunes. What you might not realize is that Morocco also has ancient sites where you can meander through Roman ruins. If you are visiting Rabat, the nation’s capital, you can visit the Roman town of Sala Colonia, which is also known as Chellah, just by taking a few steps beyond Rabat’s city walls.

The Roman town is surrounded by its own set of walls, made of the red stone common for that area. The few entrances to the premises possess the form of the region’s characteristic arch, with the main entrance marked by majestic pillars near the northern end of the west wall. Once inside the walls, you see ruins of buildings built before 1100 AD, including seemingly isolated pillars and rocks with readable ancient carvings.

An old mosque and minaret tower in the center of the historic site. As you wander in their direction, you’ll pass by several decorative archways and displays of ornate tile work that are impressively intact. You’ll also find the remains of a school for religious teachings, along with the remains of its courtyard, central fountain and dormitories.

While most tourists view the ancient ruins, many are also pleasantly surprised by the unattended gardens. A network of freshwater springs hydrates the variety of flora and fauna that flourish in the relatively quiet space. The gardens and nearby structures also provide a nesting ground for a large community of storks.

Although the Romans were not the first to occupy the space—the Phoenicians and the Carthaginians are believed to have resided there earlier—they founded the town around 40 AD. Since then, the site has been occupied by other rulers. Despite the changing populations and structural damage from the Lisbon earthquake in 1755, the venue offers much to admire. A panoramic look over the premises reveals a picturesque combination of ancient architecture and lush gardens in the foreground, with a clear view over the nearby countryside in the background.

You can reach Sala Colonia (Chellah) by foot from the edge of Rabat; however, most visitors opt to take a taxi. Signage through the site is in Arabic and French. While many visitors explore the old town independently, English speakers interested in learning about the structures and their history might benefit from hiring a guide (or mentioning you’d like to visit while traveling to Morocco) prior to the visit.

Written by Shelley A. Gable, instructional designer and freelance writer.

Photo by Cocoabiscuit.