On the 18th of February, I visited the Roman ruins of Volubilis with my fellow ISA students. Volubilis is located in the North of Morocco, about an hour and a half from Meknes by bus. This city became the Roman capital of the Mauritania region in the 3rd century B.C. One of Volubilis’ greatest qualities, and the reason Rome likely selected the city for its African capital, is its fertile land.
However, in the 8th century, the Idrisid Dynasty came to power and eventually moved the capital to Fez, resulting in a gradual population migration out of Volubilis to other more prosperous cities. In 1997, Volubilis earned the title of an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Despite this honor, much of Volubilis still remains un-excavated due to a lack of funding.
While exploring the ruins, the tour guide highlighted the detailed mosaics that are still in remarkable condition. The mosaics typically depicted a myth, such as the twelve labors of Hercules.
The guide also showed us the remains of a communal bath house, while talking about the sophisticated drainage system the Romans built. Aqueducts linked to water in the nearby hills provided water for the bath houses. The aqueduct channel flowed under one of the central roads in Volubilis called the Decumanus Secundus. Today, you can drop pebbles through the cracks in the cobblestones and hear the hollow sound beneath as the pebble hits the bottom of the aqueduct tunnels. Additionally, many of the houses had pipes built into the walls for discarding waste or delivering water.
An iconic Roman product, olive oil, also made its mark on Volubilis. With plenty of arable land, olive trees thrived and pressing olives provided a good source of income.
This Arch of Caracalla stands at the end of the Decumanus Maximus, the second main road in Volubilis. The inscriptions at the top of the arch (as seen below) reads: “For the emperor Caesar, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus [Caracalla], the pious, fortunate Augustus,greatest victor in Parthia, greatest victor in Britain, greatest victor in Germany, Pontifex Maximus, holding tribunician power for the twentieth time, Emperor for the fourth time, Consul for the fourth time, Father of the Country, Proconsul, and for Julia Augusta [Julia Domna], the pious, fortunate mother of the camp and the Senate and the country, because of his exceptional and new kindness towards all, which is greater than that of the principes that came before, the Republic of the Volubilitans took care to have this arch made from the ground up, including a chariot drawn by six horses and all the ornaments, with Marcus Aurelius Sebastenus, procurator, who is most deeply devoted to the divinity of Augustus, initiating and dedicating it.”
One of the truly unique things about visiting Volubilis was the ability to really explore the ruins without ropes or designated viewing areas inhibiting our movements. While the guide offered bits of history from time to time, for the most part, we could wander where we wanted. Consequently, we all got some pretty fun photos throughout different parts of the ruins. Enjoy!