For travelers who decide to make the trek to the ruins of Volubilis, the main appeal is the fact that they offer excellent views of Roman art and architecture against the backdrop of the Moroccan countryside. Built upon the remains of an older Carthaginian city, the Roman settlement dates back to the third century BC. It was also very likely an administrative center in Roman Africa to oversee the exportation of grain back to Rome.
Even after the empire collapsed, Volubilis remained a functioning city. In fact, it was not uncommon for many of the widespread Roman settlements to carry on long after the empire that gave them birth fragmented. In Volubilis, the Latin language and some form of Roman culture persisted for a three centuries until the Arabs conquered North Africa in the latter part of the seventh century.
Volubilis remained inhabited for more than a millennium until it was abandoned in the eighteenth century AD. Much of the city’s marble architecture was scavenged then used to create the palaces of the Moulay Ismail in the nearby town of Meknes.
Visitors to the site of the ruins may be surprised to note that the main area of interest to most visitors is situated on little more than an 800 x 600 meter area enclosed by walls. It contains a selection of 30 beautifully preserved mosaics that remain in their original locations. While there have been excavations on the site for decades, in recent years, much of this activity has been refocused to the museum around the royal palace in Rabat.
There are other attractions that you should take the time to look at up close when you visit the ruins. Lying on the edge of the ruins is the triumphal arch, a military and ceremonial structure of no little import to the Romans. It has remained remarkably well-preserved and offers a stark point of contrast between the rubble of Volubilis and the open fields of grass.
Volubilis’ forum is of typical dimensions for a Roman town of that size and population (it had approximately 20,000 residents). Still, the great columns are an impressive display. You can also wander through the remains of Volubilis’ basilica. There’s little left beyond the walls and some columns, yet those 10-meter high walls are in superb shape despite being more than 2,000 years old.
Another stop is the garden at Volubilis, which is hard to miss. You must pass through it to enter the main ruins. The garden offers a great place to stop and rest a few minutes amidst sheltering trees and gentle brooks.
You might note that the best time to visit Volubilis is during the spring months of April and May or during September or October in the fall. If you’re anxious to take photos you’ll get the best results either in the early morning or during the late afternoon. The ruins are open from sunrise to sunset every day. You’ll have to pay a low admission fee (around 20 dh) to enter the ruins.
Written by Shaun Kilgore.
Photo by _Pixelmaniac_.