Volubilis: Vibrant and Once Vivacious
The ancient Roman settlement of Volubilis, now a recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site, lies
between Meknes and Fez. It was once Rome’s westernmost city and provided the Roman Empire with
olive oil, grain, and oleander. Soon, the small city peaked with around 20,000 inhabitants and
eventually became Rome’s administrative capital over Africa. Standing amongst the historical
rubble in Volubilis today, you can gaze out over the surrounding fertile hills and slopes to
see why this area was so appealing to the Romans.
The Romans around 40 C.E established Volubilis. They claimed control over North Africa, but they
never gained complete control over the surrounding Berber tribes, who ardently resisted Roman
occupation. Over time; however, the Berbers realized they could mutually benefit from the wealth
and knowledge of land cultivation that the Romans possessed. Relations between the two were never
fluid, and it wasn’t until the Arab Conquest in the seventh century that the Romans eventually
abandoned Volubilis altogether.
Walili, as Volubilis is referred to by Moroccans (known by the Berbers as Oualili, which means
Oleander), houses some impressive sites including the House of Euphebus, whose columns can be
seen next to the big arch, the House of Orpheus, and the House of Dionysis.
Amid the temples, public baths, mosaics, and oil-press complexes, Volubilis’ past survives in
the still-standing, ancient structures and area gardens that reflect the richness of this once
prosperous Roman state adding a new dimension to Morocco’s vast, ever-evolving history.
Getting to Volubilis is another story. If you are not renting a car, you’ll have to wait at a
grand taxi station in Meknes for a cab to fill up its six spots before it will leave. If not,
you can always pay for the remaining spots yourself and have the driver wait for you to take you
back. The small expense is well worth the spectacle, best seen at sundown, where the pillars still
stand high and the mosaics come to life.
Parking will cost you five dirhams and you’ll have to pay a 20-dirham (US$2.50, EU$2) entrance fee
per person. Official guides are always available and can give you an hour tour, in almost any language,
for a reasonable price. If you have some time to spare, you can visit the village of Moulay Idriss,
resembling a sitting camel perched on the eastern hilly horizon. It is one of the only villages in
Morocco where non-Muslims are not allowed after sunset. Moulay Idriss also founded Fez, a significant
Imperial City, admired and visited my millions of tourists and backpackers alike each year.