Beez Neez
Skipper and First Mate Millard (Big Bear and Pepe)
Tue 21 Oct 2008 18:41


Volubilis - no chance with this one - pronounced Wa-lili. ( Arabic: وليلي‎ ) is an archaeological site at 400 meters altitude, in Morocco situated 18 miles from Meknes between Fez and Rabat. The nearest town is the Holy City - Moulay Idriss. Volubilis features the best preserved ruins in this part of northern Africa. In 1997 the site was listed as UNESCO World Heritage.




Our first view from the road could not have prepared us for the wonder in store.


Roman period
Volubilis was an important Roman settlement near the westernmost border of Roman conquests, constructed on what was probably a Carthaginian city, dating from 3rd century BC. Volubilis was the central administrative city for this part of Roman Africa, responsible for the olive trees, grain growth, olive oil production and exports to Rome from this fertile region. Volubilis was also in contact with the Berber tribes which the Romans never managed to suppress, but who only came as far as to cooperate with the Romans for mutual benefits. Volubilis was the centre of the province called Mauretania Tingitana. Volubilis grew and prospered from the third century B.C. to B.C. 40, under the successive rule of independent Moorish Kings (Bocchus the Elder, Bogud I, Bogud II. From this period several monuments have been uncovered and identified; namely, temples in the Mauretanean - punic tradition and a mysterious tumulus. After the assassination of King Ptolemy in B.C. 40 by Caligula and the crushing of a revolt by Ademon in ancient Mauretania, Emperor Claudius annexed the region, dividing it into two parts: one to the West with Tingi (Tangier) as its capital, the other to the East with Caesara (in Algeria) as capital. Volubilis was then elevated to the rank of a municipality.
House with the big pilasters, so named for the big pilasters ornamenting its main entrance. The south wall is attached to the city's surrounding wall. At the centre of its 1235 square meters, stands a peristyle, complimented by a pool. The house is in two parts: the house proper and an independent apartment to the south. 

 In 168-169, under the emperor Marcus Aurelius ( in the Millard family tree ) city walls were constructed, including eight monumental gates flanked by towers. Further additions came under the Severans, when a new monumental center was created, including the capitoline temple, built by the emperor Macrinus in 218, the civil basilica and the reorganized Forum. The Arch of Triumph dates to the emperor Caracalla, of the same dynasty. From 40 to 285, Volubilis expanded spectacularly. During the first century came the major urban structures, such as the spacious roads (Decumani and Cardines), and the public monuments ( temples, thermal baths ).




Bear and Beds in the fitted baths, I can just picture them being tended to by maidens offering wine, grapes........................ Bear in an original doorway.

The next century saw further developments in the urban tissue; most importantly, the wall surrounding the city was founded by together with the eight major gates linking the city to the outside world. Also dating back to this period are the stately homes with perislyles and pools, the great mosaics (Orpheus, the Works of Hercules, Diana's Bath, Neriedes are some of the well-preserved, much visited in-situ mosaics), numerous bakeries, and about one hundred oil presses attesting to the thriving economy of this Roman outpost. 




The amazing mosaics, still holding beauty after so many years. Completely unprotected from the elements, we know a fair few modern bathrooms looking shabby after two years let alone two thousand years plus.

The texts referring to the arrival of Idriss I in 788 show that the town was at that point in the control of the Awraba tribe, who welcomed the descendant of Ali, and declared him imam shortly thereafter. Within three years he had consolidated his hold on much of the area, founded the first settlement at Fez, and started minting coins. He was assassinated in 792, leaving a pregnant Awraba wife, Kenza, and his faithful slave, Rashid, who acted as regent until the majority of Idriss II, who favoured Fez which he founded and made the first Arabo-Musli, capital of the first ruling dynasty of Morocco. Meantime, Volubilis continued as an urban center, welcoming refugees and settlers from Andulusia, known as the Rabedis, who had revolted in a neighbourhood in Cordoba.




The house west of Godian's Palace. One of the large houses situated north of the north-eastern quarter, much of the mosaic floor intact. A peristyle surrounding a pool which Bear tried out for style, dominates the house. A small apartment with small thermal baths is located north of the peristyle. The two facades are taken up by several shops.


Occupation seems to have lasted until the Almoravid period, in the eleventh century. According to early Arab historian, Al Bakri, Volubilis was still a sizable town as late as 1086. Thereafter, most probably due the successive raids of the Almoravids (the next ruling dynasty) the city's resistance came to an end. After this date, Arab historians referred to Volubilis only as an abandoned city in ruin. At this point the court departed for Fez, leaving the Awraba in control of the town. The Romans evacuated most of Morocco at the end of the 3rd century AD but, unlike some other Roman cities, Volubilis was not abandoned. However, it appears to have been destroyed by an earthquake in the late fourth century AD. It was reoccupied in the sixth century, when a small group of tombstones written in Latin shows the existence of a community that still dated its foundation by the year of the Roman province. Coins show that it was occupied under the Abbasids: a number of these simply bear the name Walila.




The Capitol was built facing the basilica, in 217, within the grounds grew olives trees. Capitol seen from the cafe. The heron's nest became the central point of the photos to show scale.



Toward the end of the third century, an era of decline nearly officially began with the order of Emperor Diocletes to the Roman administration and the army to vacate Volubilis and the southern region in favor of the northern coastal posts of Mogador, Loukos and Sale to the west. From then on, what remained of the population shifted to the west of Caracala's Arch, proceeded to raise a protective wall toward the sixth century and even continued to erect public structures. Some Latin inscriptions found in the city's necropolis from the period 599-655 indicate some Christianization of the population. Arab sources, and in particular some found pre-Idrisside coins, point to an Islamic presence in Volubilis had to wait as early as the beginning of the eight century. However, a centralized Islamic authority in Volubilis had to wait for the arrival of Idriss I, founder with his son of the first Arabo-Islamic dynasty in Morocco. Volubilis' structures were damaged by the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, while in the 18th century part of the marble was taken for constructions in nearby Meknes. In 1915, archaeological excavation was begun there by the French. Extensive remains of the Roman town have been uncovered. From 2000 excavations carried out by University College, London and the Moroccan Institut National des Sciences de l’Archéologie et du Patrimoine under the direction of Elizabeth Fentress, Gaetano Palumbo and Hassan Limane revealed what should probably be interpreted as the headquarters of Idriss I just below the walls of the Roman town to the west. Excavations within the walls also revealed a section of the early medieval town.



The Aquaduct. The supply of water to the city passed through the aquaduct, rebuilt and restored throughout history. The houses, public baths and fountains were supplied through secondary canals branching off from the aquaduct. Decumanus Maximus, the main street with Bear looking downwards and with me upwards.




The big pool. The Basilica. The mosaic to mark the house of the acrobat. The Forum, triangle shaped, this public place which covers an area of 1300 square meters. It was the centre of political, administrative and economic life of the city. The Arc of Triumph, was built by Volubilis town council in honour of the Emperor Caracalla and his mother Julia Domna in 217 AD. It was meant to thank them for having bestowed upon its inhabitants Roman citizenship and tax exceptions. 

Next to the Arch is the house of Euphebus which is worth stopping at, as are the houses of Orpheus and Dionysus. There is also an olive press. The walls and columns of the Basilica are still standing, giving you a good frame around which to imagine how impressive the original building must have been. Most of the important finds from the site are now at the archaeological museum in Rabat, although there are about 30 good mosaics still in situ. After a really good wander round the site, we ate lunch in the cafe, which could have cost much more than 40 Dirham's ( £3.00 ) for chicken tagine, when you think about the price charged in some of the museum cafe's in London.



All in all an amazing trip to experience what a clever lot the Romans were, amazingly intact for an entry fee of 80p each.