Romans in Morocco at Volubilis

There may be nowhere more beautiful than a Roman ruin on a spring day and Volubilis, one of Morocco’s best known archaeological sites, was perfect for us.

On the main street, the Decumanus Maximus
On the main street, the Decumanus Maximus
That keystone looks loose!
That keystone looks loose!

Volubilis was abandoned by the Romans in AD 285, but not by the local community, who lived there for another 700 years. The site has little new construction since AD 1000, part of the reason it was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO.

The architecture is extensive and an interested visitor could spend all day exploring the arches and stairways, admiring the mosaics. Lyra did her best and saw more than the rest of us.

Volubilis is justly famed for its mosaics. There could be a guidebook just to show the locations of the different mosaic floors.

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Though a large section of the site was cleared by French workers during the era of the French Protectorate (1912-1956), little to none was supervised by archaeologists. The French archaeologists Marcel and Jane Dieulafoy were commissioned to carry out a project at the site, but Marcel had duties for the French government in Morocco and Jane fell ill from dysentery, from which she died in 1916. The Volubilis initiative seems to have been an effort to lay a scholarly stamp on a mostly political project. The clearing of Roman Volubilis was a blatant effort to demonstrate the “classical” and European connections to the area as justification of the French colonial intervention.

Contemporary excavations have taken place irregularly since 2000.                     I found no information on research carried out between 1956 and 2000.

Edith Wharton visited Morocco in 1918 as a guest of French authorities and visited Volubilis briefly. She was very much a Francophile and believed the French were imposing (Western) order on (Eastern) chaos. She saw Moulay Idriss on a nearby hill, bright white in the afternoon light, but her visit did not change her view:

“…the two dominations look at each other across the valley: one, the lifeless Roman ruin, representing a system, an order, a social conception that still run through all our modern ways; the other, the untouched Moslem city, more dead and sucked back into an unintelligible past than any broken architrave of Greece or Rome.”

Today is different. We enjoyed our visit to Volubilis. We even found a shaded spot for our picnic lunch. However, we were also happy to stop in Moulay Idriss, find a cafe and sip coffee among the living, before heading back to Fez.

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Published by winifredcreamer

I am a retired archaeologist and I like to travel, especially to places where you can walk along the shore or watch birds. My husband Jonathan and I travel for more than half the year every year, seeing all the places that we haven't gotten to yet.

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