Morocco Index
Moulay - Idriss

About Morocco
Atlas Mountains
Berber Culture
Berber Wedding
Blue Men of Morocco
Food and Dining
Kasbahs and Deserts
Medieval School
Morocco Map
Travel Capsules

Blue Men of Morocco
Mistral Travel
Olive Branch Tours

ATA Flashback




Host Day Tour at the ATA Symposium in FEZ, Morocco will include a visit to Volubilis, the famed Roman archaeological site and former capital of the Mauritanian Kingdom. Photo: Karen B. Hoffman


The Roman city of Volubilis is situated about 18 miles from Meknes, 36 miles from Fez, and only a couple of miles from Moulay Idriss Zerhoun. It sits at an altitude of 400 meters on a triangular rich plain bordered on both sides by two small rivers (Oued Fertassa and Oued Khomane). Arabs call Volubilis "Oualili," "Oualila"and "Ksar Pharoun" (Pharaoh's Palace); names that have been attested to by Latin epigraphs, Arab written sources, and excavated coins from the Idrissid period and before.

Volubilis grew and prospered from the third century B.C. to B.C. 40, under the successive rule of independent Mooorish 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.

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). The next century saw further developments in the urban tissue; most importantly, the wall surrounding the city was founded by Marcus Aurelius (168-169), together with the eight major gates linking the city to the outside world. The monument-filled center (the Forum, the Basilica, the Capitol, the Triumphal Arch) came about during the Severius dynasty, between 193 and 235. Also dating back to this period are the stately homes with perislyles and pools, the great mosaics (Orpheus Mosaics, 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 f this roman outpost.

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 cacate Volubilis and the southern region in favor of the northern coastal posts of Mogador, Sale, and Loukos. 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 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. Idriss had fled from Baghdad of the Abbasids and settled in Zedrhoun, after the Ouraba Berber tribes (led by Ishak welcomed and made him their Islamic leader. For a brief time, Volubilis (or Oualili served as capital of the new Islamic kingdom.

After the assassination of Idriss, his son, Idriss II, abandoned the city in favor of 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, receiving in the year 818 settlers from Andulusia (the Rabedis). According to early Arab historian, Al Bakri, Volubilis was still a sizable agglomeration 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.

After 1915, date at which archeological digs began at Volubilis at the initiative of the French Protectorate, the world has come to discover the long history, the unique architecture, and the rich and variegated artistic legacy of a city that harbored successive and successful communities for centuries. In 1997, this legacy won the city (most deservedly) the classification "Word Heritage Site"

Photo Credits: Moorocco National Tourist Office / Karen Hoffman,