The Roman Ruins of Volubilis were named for the ipomoea volubilis (morning glory) flower that is native to the area around Meknes, Morocco where the ancient Roman ruins are located. The area is first known to have been inhabited around the third or fourth century BC, when it was occupied by Berbers and Phoenicians. Around the first century, under Roman rule, the city saw rapid expansion, covering approximately 100 acres. The city was at the edge of the Roman empire, eventually falling to local tribes. It was Christian before the arrival of Islam. It became a seat of government for Idris Ibn Abdallah, founder of Morocco. The map below shows the Roman empire at the time Volubilis was being expanded under Roman rule. The ruins are located in the extreme southwest of the Roman empire, making it difficult to defend. If you look at the map closely, you can see Volubilis on the map.
Volubilis was abandoned by the eleventh century, but remained largely intact. An earthquake in the eighteenth century destroyed much of the city, leaving the rubble to be scavenged to build the nearby city of Meknes. The massive area has only been partially excavated for visitors. Portions of the ruins have been reconstructed to provide visitors with a reference regarding the original look of the ruins. While the earthquake left the city far less intact than the Roman ruins at Bet She'an, the basic layout of the town is still intact enough to visualize.
There are plenty of natural areas in the low lying areas around the city, which was largely built on a high vantage point. The ruins are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While that designation offers opportunities for historic treasures like Volubilis to access resources to remain well preserved for future generations, I was surprised that many of the mosaics are completely unprotected from the sun and weather. It would seem that someone would attempt to reconstruct the buildings where the mosaics are located, or at the least, build some form of protective shelter over these ancient treasures. The mosaics are amazingly well preserved, although some have been reconstructed for visitors.
The ruins have a host of buildings and structures that have been partially rebuilt, rebuilt or otherwise preserved. The preservation and reconstruction are largely designed to give visitors some insight into the layout of the city as well as the cultural aspects of the Roman era. The mosaics depict a variety of scenes that provide insight into their games as well as their religious observances. The ruins include a press that has been rebuilt, a pool, aqueduct and other unique features. It is easier to show the ruins to share the experience than to explicitly write about them.
Before following the path to the ruins, or upon your return, there are several exhibits near the entrance/exit. Many are columns and capitals that were recovered from the ruins. There is also a small museum that has small models of the olive press located in the ruins as well as small lanterns and other small sculptures. It is worth popping in to the museum, which does not have a lot of exhibits. You can be in and out rather quickly, but I found the exhibits to be informative and interesting.
Entrance into the ruins is through a gate that dates to the second century. Admission is ridiculously cheap at 20 dirham, which is about two dollars in US currency. The site is open from 9:00 am through noon and again from 2:30 pm until 6:00 pm. If you are a history buff, like I am, then a trip to Volubilis is a must. It is off the beaten path. If you are headed from Rabat toward Fez, the site is located nearly midway, but is a fairly decent drive off the route you would otherwise take. Is it worth driving two hours out of the way for? Absolutely. This is one of Morocco's treasures.
All photos are my own. They may be reproduced with prior permission.