Travel to Volubilis – Morocco’s Ancient Roman City
Three kilometres to the west of Moulay Idriss Zerhoun, one of the best-known spiritual centres of Morocco, on the edge of a vast plain that slopes down from the Zerhoun hills, lie the ruins of the town of Volubilis. The site is a triangular plateau between the valleys of the Oueds Fertassa and Khoumane.
Volubilis is an ancient Roman city that features the best preserved ruins in this part of northern Africa. The town boasts structures from a relatively short period (about 240 years), a reflection of being on the extreme borders of the Roman Empire. The main structures are the Forum flanked by a basilica and the Capitol. Strangely, the 3rd century Triumphal Arch of Caracalla stands in the centre of town, and not in the outskirts, which was common for Roman cities. Volubilis is noted for its many fine mosaics still in situ.
The name of Volubilis is known both from the ancient texts and from the epigraphy of the town. It is believed to derive from the Berber word ‘Oualili’, the name of the Oleander plant, a flower that grows in abundance near the Oued Khoumane. In Arab sources and on the early Arab coinage of the site the name is transformed into ‘Walila’. From the 19th century onwards the ruins were known as ‘Ksar Faraoun’, the castle of the Pharaohs.
Volubilis was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997.
It is assumed that a town was founded or conquered by the Carthaginians in the1st millennium BC in the same site as Volubilis . Under King Juba II of Mauretania, it became one of the most important towns in the region. In 44 CE, the Romans began building the city of Volubilis in order to keep control of this north African region which was successively occupied by the Greeks, Berbers, Jews and Carthaginian merchants.
In the 2nd and 3rd centuries, the region began to develop more rapidly when the Romans began cultivating grain. Volubilis appears to have been destroyed by an earthquake in the late 4th century AD. It was reoccupied in the 6th century, when a small group of tombstones written in Latin shows the existence of a Christian community that still dated its foundation by the year of the Roman province. Coins show that it was occupied under the Abbasids.
The structures of the town were damaged by the Lisbon earthquake in 1755, while in the 18th century part of the marble was taken for constructions in nearby Meknes. Archaeological excavations began in 1915 and continue to this day. They have exposed a large part of the town (more than 20 ha.), but much remains to be excavated, particularly in the area occupied in the post-Roman period.
- See one of the oldest Roman sites in North Africa.
- Admire the beauty of Roman architecture.
- Witness the transition of multiple dynasties and cultures.