Southwesternmost post of the Roman Empire
One last and quick stopover in this very busy trip so far for visiting the impressive Roman ruins of Volubilis, few kilometres north of the city of Meknes. This fascinating ancient city, the capital of the Kingdom of Mauritania back in the days and on the very western edge of the Roman Empire was the perfect way to finish this trip around this region of Morocco where we’ve visited Casablanca, Rabat, Fez and Meknes; and should you have the chance if you are visiting nearby Fez and Meknes, do not hesitate in including Volubilis in your plans, you will nor regret.
The archaeological park is been listed an UNESCO World Heritage Site for its importance and level of preservation of many of its fine constructions, specially the mosaics of the wealthy villas. In the other hand, do not expect grand constructions as theatres, coliseum and the likes. The city was abandoned for many centuries, and devastated by an earthquake in the 18th century, while right afterwards, many of its fallen structures were used as quarry to build the Imperial City of Meknes.
Nevertheless, what you currently have there to see is already fascinating, even though it is just a portion of what still remains covered awaiting for future excavations. And since it is a short drive from Meknes, makes it perfect to combine both cities on a day. Visiting this site generally takes 2.5 hours considering the drive there both ways, and around 1.5 hours on the site. It is physically impossible to spend more time as there is nothing else. Once you walk through all that’s it.
For more information about Volubilis check the Wikipedia site. Morocco’s currency is the Dirham. Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
How to get there
The nearest large city is Meknes at 30 kilometres, while the nearest city to the archaeological park itself is Moulay Idriss Zerhoun at just 4 kilometres, which is in turn, a very pretty little town you could also visit, specially famous for its mosque.
While you can get to Volubilis form other “nearby” cities such as Fez, I will only describe here the part relating our experience from Meknes.
In the city of Meknes you can find Grand Taxis at Place el Hadim in the Medina, by the CTM bus station (on Avenue de Fes) or Rue Omar el Moutahida, both east of the Ville Nouvelle. Those depart often towards Moulay Idriss, and cost 10 Dirhams but negotiate the price first. Once in Moulay Idriss, you will need to negotiate a driver that will wait for you in Volubilis and bring you back to Moulay Idriss at the cost of around 50 to 60 Dirhams per person, depending your juggling skills.
However, the fastest and most comfortable way, yet the “most” expensive, is to negotiate a driver from Meknes all the way and back. Expect quotations of up to 600 Dirhams! That was a very silly try from one of the drivers. Do not worry, the normal asking price is 250, and this is what we got on the second attempt. This way not only will save you loads of time, but having to juggle around asking few drivers and being bombarded with their will for all of them taking you there screaming out loud their prices and how wonderful they are and how “good deal” they are offering you.
The site opens from 9.00am until 18.00pm. It costs 10 Dirhams for both the site and museum within.
What to see and do in Volubilis
Like any of the ancient Roman cities, it is straightforward how to visit those. The urban grid follows the rule of two main streets meeting in the middle in what used to be the Roman Forum or at a monumental arch. Those are the Decumanus and the Cardo. In the case of Volubilis, you will be walking all straight along the Cardo near the entrance, then turn 90 degrees and continue by the Decumanus Maximus, right where the Triumphal Arch meet. The sights are at both sides of the roads.
- Cardo This is the main road running south to north, from near the entrance to the complex.
- House of Orpheus Located behind the Baths of Gallienus at the southern end of Volubilis. It has great mosaics depicting Orpheus.
- Baths of Gallienus One of the three baths that once the city had.
- Capitoline Temple The next building north of the Baths, with 13 steps leading up to the Corinthian columned temple. It is one of the landmarks in Volubilis.
- Basilica The next building along the Cardo by the Forum, one of the most important constructions in the site although not much remains. Used for the administration of justice and the governance of the city was completed during the reign of Macrinus in the early 3rd century and is one of the finest in Roman Africa.
- Forum Not much remains with buildings that it is not yet known their use.
- The House of the Acrobat Known by this name for the mosaic depicting an acrobat sitting backwards on a donkey with a cup on one of its hands.
- Triumphal Arch or Arch of Caracalla. Marks the intersection of both the Cardo and Decumanus, and it is the largest of the monumental gates inside the city, built in 217.
- Decumanus Maximus The most important road in every Roman city, and the most beautiful back then, embellished with columns and arches in its entire length, runs perpendicular to the Cardo on west-east direction from the Triumphal Arch to the Tingis Gate.
- Wealthy Houses Volubilis is famous for the amount of wealthy houses found along this section of the city, behind the rows of shops on the Decumanus. Many of which are having perfectly preserved mosaics now visible.
- Tingis Gate At the very east end of the Decumanus Maximus, was constructed in 169 AD.