Since coming to Morocco a year ago, I’ve wanted to visit the ancient Roman ruins of Volubulis. Each time I’ve planned to go, something has kept me from it, until now.
It turns out that Hanane had also never gone there. As a young girl, she was supposed to go there on a school trip, but had been unable to. So, because we had the time and the desire, we vacated the loveliness of Dar Zerhoune to trek to this amazing historical site.
First, I should give you a bit of historical background via wikipedia:
Volubilis (Arabic: ?????? Walili) is an archaeological site in Morocco situated near Meknes between Fez and Rabat along the N13 road. The nearest town is Moulay Idriss. Volubilis features the best preserved ruins in this part of northern Africa. In 1997 the site was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
In antiquity, Volubilis was an important Roman town situated near the westernmost border of Roman conquests. It was built on the site of a previous Carthaginian settlement from (at the latest) the third century BC, but that settlement overlies an earlier neolithic habitation.
Volubilis was the administrative center of the province in Roman Africa called Mauretania Tingitana. The fertile lands of the province produced many commodities such as grain and olive oil, which were exported to Rome, contributing to the province’s wealth and prosperity. Archaeology has documented the presence of a Jewish community in the Roman period.
The Romans evacuated most of Morocco at the end of the 3rd century AD but, unlike some other Roman cities, Volubilis was not abandoned. However, it appears to have been destroyed by an earthquake in the late fourth century AD. It was reoccupied in the sixth century, when a small group of tombstones written in Latin shows the existence of a community that still dated its foundation by the year of the Roman province. Coins show that it was occupied under the Abbasids: a number of these simply bear the name Walila.
The texts referring to the arrival of Idris I in 788 show that the town was at that point in the control of the Awraba tribe, who welcomed the descendant of Ali, and declared him imam shortly thereafter. Within three years he had consolidated his hold on much of the area, founded the first settlement at Fez , and started minting coins. He died in 791, leaving a pregnant Awraba wife, Kenza, and his faithful slave, Rashid, who acted as regent until the majority of Idris II. At this point the court departed for Fez, leaving the Awraba in control of the town.
Volubilis’ structures were damaged by the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, while in the 18th century part of the marble was taken for constructions in nearby Meknes.
In 1915, archaeological excavation was begun there by the French and it continued through into the 1920s. Extensive remains of the Roman town have been uncovered. From 2000 excavations carried out by University College London and the Moroccan Institut National des Sciences de l’Archéologie et du Patrimoine under the direction of Elizabeth Fentress, Gaetano Palumbo and Hassan Limane revealed what should probably be interpreted as the headquarters of Idris I just below the walls of the Roman town to the west. Excavations within the walls also revealed a section of the early medieval town. Today, a high percentage of artifacts found at Volubilis are on display in the Rabat Archaeological Museum.
Our trek took us along a rural mountain road where we encountered fascinating rock structures, caves, and numerous sheep and shepherds.
Coming down from the mountain, we were pleased to find that because the day was advanced to about 3 pm, there were not many tourists there. Though there was a bus full of Chinese tourists. Whenever Hanane hears Chinese language she goes into a fit of giggles but I don’t think they knew it was the reason.
The ruins themselves are remarkable. Amazing that after 2000 years they should still be so well preserved. The excavated mosaics floors looked like they were no more than 20 years old. As you can see from the photos, numerous columns, arches, and walls are still standing.
As we wandered amongst the ruins we tried to imagine what life had been like for those who had lived there.
There was no security other than the occasional rope blocking access to those who wished to walk on the mosaic floors which didn’t deter those who wanted to in the least. It’s amazing to me that such an important site should be so laxly guarded. If we had wanted to we could have pulled up an entire mosaic and left with it. I wonder how many times that has happened. Outside the ancient city, local vendors sell artifacts to those who wish to buy them. Again, we didn’t partake. I’m sure some of them are real and equally sure that many of them are fakes.
We wandered through the ruins until dark, the entrance fee was only 10 dirhams each. As the light of the sunset bathed the ruins, we both had an eerie sense that we were somehow transported back to those ancient times. But then we realized that we had a long walk back since any taxis that had been there, had long since vanished.
In Part 3 I will write about our trip to the Ancient Moroccan Imperial City of Meknes and the wonders we found there.