Stepping back in time: Volubilis

Volubilis, the breathtaking roman ruins at the foot of the Atlas mountains, is one of the best-preserved archeological sites in Morocco. This UNESCO world heritage site is located between the imperial cities of Meknes and Fez, making it a perfect pit stop for Fez-bound travelers!

A brief history of Volubilis:

Volubilis has a rich long history. It was founded in the 3rd century B.C. by Carthaginians. Romans arrived here in 1st century BC and transformed the modest Carthaginian settlement into a flourishing town. Due to its favorable location in a fertile agricultural area (still visible today with plenty of olive and almond trees in the surroundings), the city continued to grow in the 2nd and 3rd century A.D. A Berber prince, Juba II, appointed by Roman king Augustus started to rule this region. His successor had differences with then king Caligula, and it officially became the Roman administrative center of Mauritania province. At its peak, this 42-hectare walled city was home to more than 20,000 residents. However, throughout this period, Romans and local Berber people were always at loggerheads. Being one of the most remote cities within the Roman empire, they had difficulties in keeping things under control. After 300 years of dispute, as the Roman Empire started to crumble, they finally decided to leave Morocco. Though the city lost its importance following the departure of the Romans, local Syrian, Greek, Jew, and Berbers lived here in harmony. In the 8th century, the city again came into prominence. Moulay Idris established the Idris Dynasty at Volubilis and thus started the Islamic period of Morocco. Later as the capital of the Islamic dynasty moved to Fez, Volubilis lost its eminence and went into oblivion. People lived here until the 4th century, after which it was deserted. Lisbon earthquake in 18th severely damaged most of the city. French started excavating this site in the early 19th century. Only half of it is excavated today and open to the visitors.

Highlights of Volubilis:

The significance of Volubilis is displayed in the beauty of its buildings and Mosaics. Take a leisurely stroll on the ragged slabs of Decumanus Maximus (east-west oriented road in ancient Roman cities), and you will time-travel to the once burgeoning community of this ancient metropolis. At one end of the paved avenue lies Tingis gate. In striking contrast, the other end of Decumanus Maximus stands the Triumphal Arch or the arch of Caracalla, the most distinctive structure at Volubilis. It was erected in 217 by the city's governor, Marcus Aurelius. The dedicatory inscription on the arch states that “it was built in honor of Roman Emperor Antoninus and his mother, Julia Domna, and topped with a bronze chariot pulled by six horses.” At the center of the city lies the Basilica and the Capitoline Temple. Built in the 3rd century, the Basilica was the administrative center. Just behind the Basilica stands the Capitoline Temple. 13 steps lead into the inner chamber of the temple, where Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva were once worshiped. From rags to riches, everyone had their share of spaces at Volubilis. Residences for the elites can be easily recognized by well-maintained intricate mosaic works illustrating greek and roman mythology. The House of Orpheus is the most elegant among them. It contains some beautiful mosaics such as the portrayal of Orpheus charming animals by playing the lute. These mosaics also illustrate the erotic nature of society. A prime example- “Diana bathing” in the House of Venus. It depicts Diana, goddess of the hunt, being surprised by the hunter Actaeon while taking a bath. The virgin goddess turned Acteon into a stag as punishment. Acteon is depicted in the mosaic with sprouting horns, about to be hunted by his own pack of hounds.

Guide or no guide?

At the entrance of Volubilis, guides are available. They provide an excellent primer. Our guide was theatric, and sometimes his stories were a bit over the top. They are usually in a hurry. Try to spend some time on your own after the end of the tour.

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