Archaeological Site of Roman Volubilis

Archaeological Site of Roman Volubilis

The site of Volubilis conforms with several of the criteria for inscription on the World Heritage List. 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 of the Islamic period. Volubilis has produced a substantial amount of artistic material, including mosaics, marble and bronze statuary, and hundreds of inscriptions in situ .This documentation, and that which remains to be discovered, is representative of the creative spirit of the human beings who lived there over the ages. Many of the existing monuments-columns, capitals arcades, ets – have been restores and demonstrate tangibly the monumental and architectural importance of the city.

Is a page in Morocco’s human and architectural history. In the light of its extent. and its wealth. Volubilis can be ranked alongside sites such as Timged or Djemila, which are already on the World Heritage List.


The name of Volubilis is known both from ancient texts and from the abundant epigraphic material from the site itself. Its origin is unknown but may be a Latinized version of the Berber name for the oleander, OUALILI, which grows in profusion on the banks of the wadi khoumane that runs round part of the site.

The Roman geographer Pomponius Mela. Writing in the 1st century AD, described Volubilis as modestly sized, though he had never visited it. References by Pliny the Elder and in the 2nd century AD Antonine Itinerary, while describing its location, makes no comments on its size.

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 (especially olives),attracted settlers to the site of Volubilis at least as early as the 3rd century BC, as shown by Punic inscription found in the town. By the time of the Mauritanian kingdom; whose capital was here from the 3rd century BC until AD 40, Volubilis already had a defensive wall, enclosing about a dozen hectares. The town appears to have been laid out on a regular plan on the Punic-Hellenistic model.

Morocco volubilis ruins

The town developed along Roman lines during the reigns of Juba II and Ptolemy (25 BC to AD 40), when it may have been the capital. The Roman annexation of the Mauritanian Kingdom in AD 40 led to the creation of two provinces, Mauritania Caesarensis in the east and Mauretania Tingitana in the west; Volubilis  was given the status of a municipium in the latter. 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 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.

During the reign of Marcus Aurelius a town wall, with eight monumental gates, was constructed in 1689, and the Severan emperors provided the town with a new monumental centre, including a capitol and basilica. This was made possible by Caracalla’s remission of taxes, an event commemorated by the construction of a triumphal arch dedicated to him.


At the beginning of the reign of Diocletian, in 285, the Romans abruptly abandoned southern Tingitana, for reasons that remain obscure, and Volubilis entered its “dark age”. This was to last until the accession of Idris I. The aqueduct that brought water to the town having been broken, the inhabitants of Volubilis, who were by now probably for the most part members of the Berber Baquates tribe, moved to the west of the Triumphal arch, where they built a new residential area near the Wadi khoumane. This was separated from the upper part of the town by a new defensive wall, which came down to the river bank.

The area of the triumphal arch became the cemetery of this community. Four inscriptions dated to between 599 and 655 reveal that this was a Christian community with civic institutions still in place.

It is not certain what influence the raids of Oqba ben Nfie (681) or Moussa ben Nossair (710) had on Volubilis. However, documents and coins show that it had converted to Islam before the arrival of Idris. A descendant of the Caliph Ali, Idris was driven during the struggles between the abbassids and the Shiites to seek refuge in Morocco, where he was well received by the chief of the Aouraba tribe living around Volubilis. He established himself in “Walila”. From where he quickly took over the reins of power, creating a new city at Fez. His son Idriss II (803-29) favouired Fezover Volubilib,but the latter was not completely abandoned, although there must have been a substantial movement of its inhabitants to the new town of Mouay Idriss nearby, founded after the assassination of the founder of the Idrissid dynasty in 791.It was still occupied when EL Bekri wrote about it in 1068.However, it is probably that the Almoravid riads later in the 11th century spelt the end of many centuries of continuous occupation.


The ruins of Volubilis; which consist of no more than half of the original town, are located on a commanding site at the foot of the Jbel Zerhoun, defined by the two wadis, Khoumane and Ferdassa. The ancient town is well defined by the remains of its walls, stretching for 2.35Km and visible over most that length. Averaging 1.6m in thickness, they had nearly forty interval towers and were entered through eight gates. Part of eastern wall has been reconstructed to a height of 1.5m, as the boundary of the archaeological zone.

The buildings of Volubilis are for the most part constructed using the grey-blue limestone quarried nearby on the Zerhoun massif. They are notable for the large number of mosaic floors still in situ. Although they do not attain the artistic level of other North African mosaics, they are lively and varied in from and subject-matter.

The triumphal arch of Caracalla, which spans the decumanus maximus (Main Street), is the point of articulation between the Punic-Hellenistic town and the extension in the Roman period to the north-east. It is known to have been decorated with figures of the four seasons and trophies, and to have been crowned by the figure of the emperor in a gilded chariot drawn by six horses.

Morocco Volubilis Tours

The public buildings are mostly situated in the older part of the town. The paved forum is relatively modest in size, and is surrounded by structures of various kinds, one of which has been identified as the macellum (market). It is flanked on the east by the basilica (law c ourt), a large structure divided by four rows of columns into five aisles, the central (and largest) terminating in an apse at each end.

The capitolium abuts upon the south end of the basilica; it was built by the emperor Macrinus in 217 on the site of an earlier forum. Its cella (sanctuary) is reached by means of a wide flight of steps. Adjoining the capitoluim are the contemporary forms baths, which show evidence of having been reconstructed more than once.

There is another set of baths nearby, known as the baths of Gallienus from an inscription found during excavation. The only large private house in this part of the town, known as the House of Orpheus after one of its mosaic subjects, is noteworthy for its well preserved olive presses and mills. There are others in several of the smaller houses in this quarter.


To the west of the triumphal arch is the House of the Ephebe, named after the statue of a young man discovered there. This is an exceptional example of the Roman peristyle house (the Rhodian type of Vitruvius), with some fine mosaics. The desscumanus maximum is lined with luxurious town-houses, some of the most important known in the Roman towns of North Africa. The so-called “Palace of Gordian”(which takes its name from the name of the emperor mentioned in an inscription found there) is a very large establishment that is believed to have been the residence of the Imperial procurator at one stage. The most splendid of all the private houses in Volubilis is the House of the Train of Venus, situated one block away from the decumanus maximus, in which eight rooms and seven corridors are decorated with floor mosaics on mythical subjects.

Close to this house there is a burial mound dating from the 3rd /2nd century BC. It lies just outside the line of the pre-Roman defensive walls, which has been traced for much of its length. Not far away, on the opposite slope of the wadi  Ferdassa valley, there are the ruins of the so-called Temple of Saturn, in which were found on excavation more than six hundred funeral stelae and fragments of carved and painted objects relating to the pre-Roman period. This is thought to be the site of a pre-Roman cult that was later absorbed into the Roman cult of Saturn, in a characteristic act of syncretism.

Volubilis ruins



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