After spending days in the World Heritage Site of the greatly preserved medieval city of Fez and touring the blue city of Chefchaouen for a day, we were on our way to exciting Marrakesh with a stop in Casablanca. Volubilis and Meknes can both be visited along the way from Fez to Casablanca so we suddenly decided to spend an entire day in these two magnificent places. We rented a car and hired a driver during our entire stay in Morocco so even last minute decisions like this could be easily accommodated.
About one and half hour drive from Fez is the spectacular, partly excavated Berber and Roman city of Volubilis. The archaeological site overlooks a rolling fertile plain and the surrounding verdant greens can make one say he is in Italy instead of Morocco.
There is a ticket booth at the entrance and upon entering the sprawling 42-hectare complex there is a newly constructed structure that houses the restrooms and some prototypes of architectural columns during different eras. One should make sure to use the restrooms first and bring plenty of water or any liquid as it will be a long and arduous walk especially during noontime under the searing heat of the Moroccan sun.
As we walked up the hilly path into the main site, we initially caught a glimpse of some of the ruins.
The two public buildings readily visible at the center of the city are what remains of the basilica and the Capitoline Temple.
Now with only one side largely intact this is considered one of the finest basilicas in Africa.
The basilica was used for the administration of justice and the governance of the city.
The outer wall of the basilica, which is faced with columns, overlooks the forum where markets were held.
The forum fronting the basilica used to have statues of emperors and local dignitaries but now all that remains is the pedestal.
Exterior of the basilica.
Interior of the basilica at Volubilis.
Just behind the basilica is the Capitoline Temple.
The layout of the temple seems unusual and it has been said that it was built on top of an existing shrine. Nobody and nothing could confirm that.
The temple was dedicated o the trinity of Roman gods: Juno, Jupiter and Minerva.
Onward, we found the Arch of Caracalla, one of Volubilis’ most distinctive landmarks.
It was built in 217 A.D. by the town council in honour of Emperor Carcalla (an African) and his mother Julia Domna as a way of thanking them for bestowing upon citizens of Roman provinces the Roman citizenship and eventually tax exemption. Sadly, by the time the arch was finished, Caracalla and Julia had been murdered.
The triumphal arch marks the end of the city’s main street on one side and beyond that leads to fertile rolling green plains.
Next along, the House of Columns is so named because of the columns arranged in a circle around the interior court – note their differing styles, which include spirals.
More columns. We were actually a bit exhausted at this point and we stopped every now and then where there was some sort of a shade from the fierce sun and sipped the refreshing water and sugar-laden coke (blame my wife!) that we brought with us.
Next are the fine town houses with impressive mosaic floors that were built during the first and second century AD as the city grew and prospered. The city’s wealth was derived mainly from olive growing business that until now is widespread in most parts of Morocco.
Although much of the city’s structures were destroyed by previous earthquakes, especially the one in the 18th century and then looted by Moroccan rulers seeking for stones to be used in building nearby Meknes, the mosaics remained intact.
From the Arch of Caracalla, the city’s main street, Decumanus Maximus, stretches up the slope to the northeast.
Going to the other end of the city’s main street would lead to the small Tingis gate at the far end of the decumanus.
Pillars lining up one side of the city’s main street lead to small Tingis gate.
This part of the city was the last part of the ruins of Volubilis that we checked.
In 1997, the Archaeological Site of Volubilis was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in recognition of its outstanding universal value as a property of the humankind. It is indeed Morocco’s best-preserved archaeological site!