Look Into Morocco’s Ancient History at Chellah

Now lying in ruins, the settlement of Chellah outside Rabat is a fascinating archeological site providing insight into the history of Morocco. Also known as Sala, or Chella, the remains of this ancient settlement overlook the fertile river plain of the Oued Bou Regreg, about two kilometers from where the river enters the Atlantic Ocean on Morocco’s coastline. Some scholars are of the opinion that the site was originally a colony established by Phoenician and Carthaginian explorers going back to the third century BC, which would make it one of the oldest human settlements in Morocco.

There is evidence that Romans occupied the site as early as 40 CE, and renowned Greek-Roman astronomer, mathematician and geographer of the second century Ptolemy, noted that Romans developed the site as a port and commercial hub, naming it “Sala Colonia”. The Romans lost the site to local Berber tribesmen in around 250AD, and in the 12th century the Almohad ruler, Abdul-Mu’min, built a huge fortress at the site as a base for attacks against Spain. The fortress walls surrounded the entire site, including the abandoned Roman ruins which became a burial ground. With Fez rising to power in the 13th century, Chellah was all but abandoned before being resettled by the Merinid Dynasty between 1300 and 1600 AD. A mosque, zawiya and other structures were later built at Chellah by a sultan of the Merinid Dynasty named Abu I-Hasan, many of which remain today.

Visitors to the ruins of Chellah will find clear evidence of Roman occupation, including the sturdy main roadway, a triumphal arch, an ornamental fountain, a forum and a range of residential, governmental and commercial buildings in various states of ruin. The subterranean structures for water supply and waste removal reveal that the Romans were an advanced civilization at the time. Marble statues and columns are scattered throughout the Roman section of Chellah, some of which are inscribed in Latin. Certainly a visit to Chellah should be on the itinerary of visitors to Rabat who are interested in the ancient history of Morocco.