Volubilis is one of the most fascinating cities of the kingdom of Morocco. Partly excavated, the city was founded in 3rd century BC and since then it has been inextricably linked with the Roman Empire. It has descended from being the Mauritanian capital to a city that now stands in its own rubbles. The ruins of significant and fine buildings scream of the opulent history that the city once enjoyed.
Its links with the Roman Empire and Idris I attracts the attention of thousands of tourists from different parts of the world. The fact that it has not been inhabited for more than a thousand years intrigues many visitors and archeologists.
The ten centuries of settlement reflect in its wealth of epigraphs, marble, mosaic, and bronze statuary. Hundreds of inscriptions can be seen throughout the site.
From the pinnacle times of the Roman era to its downfall and rise of the Islamic times, this site is not only rich in architecture and artefacts, but also bears witness to an exchange of influences.
In the year 1997, Volubilis was declared as UNESCO World Heritage site. It is around 33 km north of Meknes and together with Moulay Idriss, makes an excellent day trip.
Notable Buildings of this Ancient Roman City
Although about 40-hectares of land in the city has been excavated, a number of prominent buildings are still visible.
Basilica – This building was used for administration of justice and governing the Phoenician city. This massive structure was built and completed in the early 3rd century, during the reign of Macrinus. The basilica of Volubilis is one of the finest Roman basilicas in all of Africa. It is rumored to be modelled after the one built at Leptis Magna in Libya. The building originally had two stories, which included the office held by the magistrates.
Capitoline Temple – The temple is located just behind the basilica. The ragged floor under and around the temple today was once the arcaded courtyard. It was dedicated to three deities – Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. The building was of great importance. It was a preferred location to hold civic assemblies. The altar and temple were restored in 1955 and 1962.
Triumphal arch – Yet another monumental site of the Roman rampart, the triumphal arch is where the Romans employed the famous Hippodamian system. Constructed from local stones, the arch was originally topped by a chariot of bronze, pulled by six horses.
Apart from them, there are several buildings that have been uncovered lately, which includes the mansions of the city’s elites. Amid the excavated land stands a large tumulus. Its origin and purpose are still unidentified. There are many theories that try to explain this tumulus as a burial site, religious structure, funeral monument, or a memorial of a Roman victory. Nevertheless, these theories remain unproven hypotheses.
House of Venus – Located in the eastern side of the city, this palace is the most luxurious residence with private baths and opulent interior decorations. The fine mosaics from 2nd century AD decorate seven corridors and eight rooms of the palace. They depict animals and scenes from Greek mythology. The famous mosaic piece with Venus (after which the residence is named) is moved to Tangier.
In the same building the bronze bust of Cato the Younger was discovered, which is now exhibited in Archaeological Museum of Rabat.
Villa of Idris I – This L-shaped structure has a series of interlocking courtyard buildings, one of which has the largest contained hammam, a cold room paved with flagstones and benches. The villa is identified by coins and pottery that belong to the reign of Idris I, and has been recognized as his headquarters
There are other prominent destinations near the city of Volubilis, where you can drive away to make a fantastic day trip.
Moulay Idriss – Situated 5 km away from Volubilis, Moulay Idriss is one Morocco’s most significant pilgrimage sites. Given the lack of its popularity, you can have the whitewashed town all to yourself. The picturesque setting and rich history of this town makes it an interesting place to explore. Magnificent mosques are worth a visit. If you are visiting the town in August, you can be the part of annual spiritual festival. According to the local belief, six pilgrimages to the tomb of Moulay Idriss during the moussem equivalates to one hajj to Mecca.
Meknes – Meknes is a smaller town settled 33 km away from Volubilis, the relatively quieter corners of northern-central Morocco. Founded as military settlement in 11th century, the city was tuned into an imposing Spanish-Moorish style with a balanced blend of Islamic and European influences. Though lesser known, Meknes offers vibrant nightlife with plenty of luxurious bars. Some of the monumental tourist spots to explore in Meknes are Place El-Hedim and Bou Inania Madrasa, both located in the city’s Medina. Another place to visit in Meknes is the Imperial city district and Dar Jamai museum.
Fez – A 90-minutes’ drive away from Volubilis is the Fez, City of Saints. The imperial city is famous for its rich culture, historical significance, and wide range of tourist places to explore. From antiquated oldest university of the world to the exotic riads, the city has it all.
Driving from Volubilis to Fez will make for yet another 4-5 days trip, which will leave you with an unforgettable experience. A heaven for the intrepid adventure as well as the easy-going holidaymaker, the city has something for everyone. Its bustling souks, eclectic music festivals, and variety of delicious Moroccan food are the reason why thousands of tourists gravitate to this city every year.
Volubilis a gateway to the ancient times of Romans and Islam. The city is bound to take you exploring the fascinating relics and remains left from the settlements that once resided there. However, the place is only as exciting as your interest in its history, architecture, and artwork. Volubilis may not be the cup of tea for people who are more inclined to spend their vacations discovering modern or urbanized tourist spots.