Located near Meknès between the cities of Fez and Rabat lies an impressive UNESCO-listed site – the Roman city of Volubilis. The city was the capital of the Roman province of Mauritania and founded in the 3rd century B.C.E.
Volubilis is an exceptionally well-preserved example of a large Roman colonial town on the fringes of the empire. The archaeological remains of several civilizations are to be found there, representing all the phases of its ten centuries of occupation, from prehistory continuously through to the Islamic period. Volubilis has produced a substantial amount of artistic material including mosaics, marble and bronze statuary, and hundreds of inscriptions in situ.
The name of Volubilis is known both from ancient texts and from the abundant epigraphic material from the site itself. Its easily defensible location at the foot of the Jbel Zerhoun and the good soils of the plain, suitable for agriculture and the cultivation of fruit trees [olives in particular], attracted settlers to the site of Volubilis at least as early as the 3rd century B.C.E., as shown by a Punic inscription found in the town. By the time of the Mauritanian kingdom, whose capital was here from the 3rd century B.C.E until 40 C.E., Volubilis already had a defensive wall.
The town developed along Roman lines during the reigns of Juba II and Ptolemy, when it may have been the capital. The Roman annexation of the Mauritanian kingdom in 40 C.E. led to the creation of two provinces; Volubilis was given the status of a municipium in one of these. It rapidly expanded to its maximum extent, with the construction of many public and private buildings, the latter associated with craft and industrial installations, most notably for the production of olive oil, the main product of the region. Epigraphic evidence points to the fact that the inhabitants of Volubilis during the Roman period were ethnically mixed, with Jews, Syrians and Spaniards living alongside the indigenous African population.
The ruins of Volubilis, which consist of no more than half of the original town, are located on a site at the foot of the Jbel Zerhoun, bordered by the two wadis, Khoumane and Ferdassa. The ancient town is well defined by the remains of its walls. They had about 40 interval towers and were entered through eight gates. The buildings of Volubilis are for the most part constructed using the grey-blue limestone quarried nearby on the Zerhoun massif.
When visiting, plan to spend at least an hour at the site and pay particular attention to the many beautiful floor murals depicting such varied subjects as Medusa, Venus and African wild animals.