During my weekend in Meknes, i planned to visit Volubilis. I remember it from my primary school days, as it was mentioned in one of the reading texts. Since then Volubilis was part of my bucket list. Situated a few kilometers away from Meknes, this archeological site is located in a vast valley surrounded by fertile lands and greenish scenery.
Volubilis, The Romans Were Here
Morocco is a famous destination among travelers. It is mostly known for Sahara desert, Camels, Scenic Mountains, Long Coastlines, Mint Tea, Food… But guess what Morocco also has Roman Ruins. At first this fact strikes as totally unexpected, but the Romans actually conquered these lands as what used to be Mauretania Tingitana, The Westernmost province of Rome in Africa.
The city was the capital of The Roman Province of Mauretania Tingitana, the roman influence stretched from the shores of current day Tangier and more inland reaching current day Rabat, located further south from Volubilis. The city’s location bears witness of the roman’s wide strategic knowledge, as it was surrounded by extensive fertile plains that are perfect for agriculture, and provided large amounts of crops that were sent to Rome contributing to this city’s wealth and expansion under Roman rule.
Volubilis was mostly inhabited by berber tribes, but fell into Roman rule soon after the fall of Carthage. The Punic influence was still present in the area through the administration, mainly following Carthaginian style magistrat. Under the reign of Juba II Of Numidia, Volubilis was highly romanized and saw the establishment of many ceremonial buildings, such as a basilica, a temple and a triumphal arch. Only the latter is still entirely preserved and still stands overlooking the greenish landscape.
Volubilis was a relatively wealthy city, the harvested olives and olive oil were the main source of income of its inhabitants. The major commercial activities revolved around these products. As indicated by the excavated remains, a considerable number of oil-pressing mills were spread through the city. The wealth is especially reflected in the ruins of what used to be spacious villas and mansions, decorated with elegant mosaic floors.
Volubilis After the Romans
The romans couldn’t retain control over the city, and fell into the hands of berber tribes taking advantage of the major internal turmoil and instability of the empire. It continued to be inhabited for many centuries, until the arrival of the Arabs from the middle east. The city knew its next major event when Idriss I – a refugee from Syria and descendant of the Prophet Mohammad – made the city his headquarter. He went on to found Morocco’s First Dynasty the Idrissids.
By the 14th century the city was almost deserted, and most of its population along with the tomb of Idriss I, were moved to the newly established town of Moulay Idriss Zarhoun located on a nearby hill some 3km away. Volubilis fell into ruins and was also damaged by the transport of many artifacts and columns, used by Moulay Ismail to build palaces and landmarks in Meknes. What was left standing in the city, was probably destroyed by the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, leaving the city forgotten until it was partially excavated in the 20th century.
Today, mostly inhabited by many Ciconia birds, Volubilis sits peacefully on the vast plains of Tafilalet Region, attracting glances from people taking the road in and out of the nearby Town of Moulay Idriss. My visit to the archeological site started from Meknes where i took a grand taxi headed to Moulay Idriss, from there i decided to take a walk downhill towards the ruins still visible from a distance. The 3-4 km walk was pleasant in that sunny morning, especially with the relaxing views along the way.
I walked through the ruined city for a good hour, using the remaining structures and my imagination hoping to picture it back when it was a bustling outpost harboring 20000 people. The many buildings reflected the city’s importance as the capital of the province, such buildings challenged the test of time and still bear witness to the glory of an Empire considered one of the strongest in the course of history. Volubilis is still busy today, despite the change of much of its landscape, from early morning to sunset groups of tourists and visitors from all over still come everyday to discover this unique monument in Morocco.
I was enchanted during my visit to Volubilis, and had the chance to learn much about the rich history of Morocco, dating back to ancient times. In reality, i wouldn’t have imagined this town being a part of so many civilizations, as it retained its original style just like the Romans intended it to be. I left Volubilis with a humble feeling hoping it continues to stand proudly for many years to come.
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