Volubilis History

Volubilis is the site of the largest and best-preserved Roman ruins in Morocco. It dates largely from the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, although excavations have revealed that the site was originally settled by Carthaginian traders even earlier.

The visitor who makes his way to Volubilis sees the ruins of this old Roman town from afar. While it is true that the most visible monuments date from the first to third centuries a.d., when the Romans occupied Volubilis (then called Oualili, later transformed into Volubilis), a Mauretanian Berber village of roughly-built houses had already existed there for several centuries.

It is also almost certain that the site was also occupied in Neolithic times. Before the arrival of the Romans in Morocco, the Berbal tribal leaders had come under the influence of the Phoenicians and Carthaginians who had started frequenting the coast in the seventh century b.c. Towns such as Oualili began to copy the Punic urban and social model. However, in the first century b.c., the Berbers supported the loser in the power-struggle among the Roman generals, were defeated, and a young Berber prince (aged five) was taken captive to Rome. Brought up in the household of the Emperor Augustus, where he was educated in the manner of a young Roman aristocrat, this Berber prince was sent back to Africa by the Romans in 25 b.c. as king of Mauretania. Taking the name of Juba II, he established his capital at Caesarea (Cherchel) in Algeria and his "secondary" capital in Volubilis. His reign lasted almost 50 years, and brought prosperity and cultural prestige to Morocco.

Juba II was responsible for the town's first important monuments. Cultivated and scholarly, he brought in architects who embellished it with public buildings and private houses. But in spite of his efforts, it was only after the annexation of his kingdom by Rome in about 42 a.d. that Volubilis became endowed with buildings whose ruins are admired today.

Roman power in the kingdom was represented by a governor, whose seat was in Volubilis. The Roman town was protected by 3 km of ramparts, with towers at regular intervals and 11 gateways—the northeast one is the most visible today. Its cosmopolitan population is estimated to have reached 20,000. The majority of the townspeople were natives of Morocco, while others were Roman government officials, soldiers of many national­ities, and Greek, Syrian, and Carthaginian merchants. The town prospered from its trade in olive oil (many houses had their own presses), wheat, and trade in wild animals for the Roman games. As in most Roman North African towns, the first monuments were built at the beginning of the third century a.d., especially under the Emperors Septimus Severus and Caracalla. But as their empire shrank, the Roman administration was obliged to leave the southern part of the Moroccan protectorate. Volubilis, the provincial capital, was evacuated around 285 a.d.. However, the depar­ture of the merchants and the Roman army did not mean the end of all activity in the town. The local population continued to live and trade there, altering the urban layout by building their small houses in the mid­dle of the roads and burying their dead in the abandoned villas. Some inscriptions and tombs show that a community of Christianized Berbers continued to occupy the town until the eighth century. When, in 789, Idriss I was proclaimed imam {religious leader), Volubilis reverted to its old name of Oualili. The later founding of Fès started its definite decline, and the 1755 Lisbon earthquake finished it off.

Excavations in the town were begun at the end of the 19th century.  Many monuments were revealed and restored by French archaeologists, and their work is continued today by teams of Moroccan archaeologists and students. Many of the mosaics are still in place, but the superb bronze and marble statues and numerous small finds have gone to the Archaeological Museum in Rabat. A few mosaics and statues decorate the garden by the ticket office, but precious items are no longer on display, some having been stolen in the past since security is difficult to assure in this out-of-the-way place

The structures in Volubilis are comparable to other Roman ruins found throughout the Mediterranean area, and the mosaic floors are among the finest in existence. 

Moulay Idriss, a beautiful hilltop town founded in the 8th century, is a holy city for pilgrims. 

Volubilis Morocco History