I never guessed I’d visit Roman ruins during my trip to Morocco. Naturally, I’ve seen the Forum and Colosseum in Rome and other archeological sites in Italy, Croatia, Jordan, Greece, and England’s farthest east- Hadrian’s Wall. But Morocco?
My small group was headed there, however, we arrived in a rainstorm. Fortunately, it slowed to a light drizzle during a tour that took us back in time to a picturesque place.
What is Volubilis?
Volubilis, a settlement founded by Romans in the 3rd-century BC, acted as an outpost approximately a thousand miles from Rome. It gained UNESCO World Heritage status in 1997 for offering an exceptionally well-preserved example of a colonial town from the Roman empire.
During its heyday two thousand years ago, workers constructed a town wall, eight monumental gates, and a grand central plaza with a capitol, basilica, and baths. At the beginning of the reign of Diocletian in 285, the Romans abruptly abandoned the region for unknown reasons.
What Do You See at Volubilis?
As you drive through the countryside, you pass through a stunning fertile valley similar to Italy’s Tuscan hills. The agricultural region, known for its olive orchards and grain fields, continues to be a major producer of olive oil, as it has since Roman times. My site tour included an ancient olive press and an olive oil-producing house.
You see the remains of a prosperous city, including wealthy homes with intact mosaic floors and columns. Our guide pointed out how the residents enjoyed a system of irrigation, indoor fountains, and heated baths.
The remnants of the public plaza include the basilica that housed the local tribunal and served for business and political gatherings. It was a rectangular building divided into three naves with apses at the two short sides. Today, storks like to make their nests on top of the columns.
The site remained largely intact until the Lisbon earthquake hit in 1755, causing significant damage. Sadly, many fallen materials were removed for other building projects afterward.
In 1930, the site was marked for preservation, and some columns and arches were partially reconstructed. Different colored stone denotes the original and newer components.
The Triumphal Arch of Caracalla again looks impressive, built in 217 AD by the city’s governor Marcus Aurelius Sebastenus in honor of Emperor Caracalla and his mother. The reconstructed arch and columned approach were used in the movie Patton to depict the General driving up to an ancient city implied to be Carthage.
How long do you stay?
I suggest a tour with a guide who leads you around the site in about an hour. While you can explore independently, my group visited at closing time. We did not get to roam around or go into the small museum.
How do you get there?
Volubilis is remote and off the main routes, 50 miles from Fez or 22 miles from Meknes.. You need a car, taxi or group tour to get there. I cannot imagine the arduous task of traveling to Volubilis two thousand years ago.
How Much Does it Cost?
The ruins at Volubilis are open every day from sunrise to sunset. You’ll need to pay a small admission fee of 70 dirhams, and official guides are available for hire at the entrance to the complex for 120 dirhams (as of March 2022).
For more information
Visit the UNESCO website at: https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/836/