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The Ruins of Volubilis: worth the visit?

by | Africa, Destinations | 4 comments

Volubilis was one of the most surprising finds on our tour through Morocco.  Roman ruins in North Africa! Who knew? The ruins of Volubilis are really interesting though and definitely worth visiting.

View over the ruins of Volubilis with large ruined structure in background

 

What is Volubilis?

Volubilis is an important archaeological site in Morocco, a Roman city dating back to the 1st Century AD. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. The ruins are not as extensive as Pompeii or Jerash, but they are especially interesting in that they demonstrate how far the Roman Empire reached. Despite suffering a major earthquake in the 18th Century and being subject to scavenging for materials for nearby towns, the ruins are remarkably well-preserved.

View over the ruins of Volubilis

Volubilis was built on the site of what is thought to be the Mauritanian capital from the 3rd Century BC. The Roman city was established in the 1st Century AD, but by the end of the 3rd Century, Volubilis was back under the control of local tribes.

Where is Volubilis?

The ruins of Volubilis are about 20km from the city of Meknes and about 4km from the small town of Moulay Idriss. It is almost 500km from Marrakech.

Volubilis is set in a fertile, agricultural area and driving through the countryside there, is like driving through  the olive groves of southern Europe. One can understand why the Romans built this outpost in such an attractive, richly fertile area.

View over olive groves near Volubilis

Visiting Volubilis

We arrived at Volubilis and were met at the entrance by our guide. The guide was included in our Morocco tour, but we had to pay the entrance fee separately. Had we arrived without a pre-booked guide, it would have been possible to engage one at the entrance and indeed, we were approached by several as we waited for our group to assemble.

Our guide was a local person and his English was excellent. He was very knowledgeable and had a good sense of humour. He led us through the site, explaining the various archaeological features as we went. The tour proceeded at a steady pace and lasted almost two hours.

View over the ruins of Volubilis with columns in background

There is plenty to see in the ruins of Volubilis. The mosaics in what had been the more affluent homes are in remarkably good condition.

Mosaic of man riding horse

Black and white tiles in floor mosaic

We could see the shape of the buildings and imagine how they had looked in this once-thriving metropolis. Many of the intricately decorated columns are still standing and in a good state.

Columns and other ruins

The main Roman roads and thoroughfares are also very much in evidence.

Roman road with columns along side

Roman road leading to triumphal arch in the ruins of Volubilis

I think the most impressive features are the gateways and triumphal arch, but many of the structures are really eye-catching.

Large triumphal arch with people standing

Stone arches in the ruins of Volubilis

LIne of archways partly ruined

Mosaic and columns in the ruins of Volubilis

Columns and steps in Volubilis

Columns and steps in Volubilis

Ruined building with arches in Volubiis

Large building in ruins

There are very few information boards around the site, so if visiting Volubilis, I would strongly recommend engaging a guide. However, there is one ancient sign (below), which clearly indicates the use of that particular building!

Carving of phallus in a stone

On the other hand, we may have missed this without a guide to point it out!

How long does it take to visit Volubilis?

I would allow a couple of hours to explore the site properly. The site covers 42 hectares approximately and whilst it would be possible to zip around faster, if you have a guide and want to fully appreciate this historic site, you will need around two hours.

How much is the entrance fee for Volubilis?

It costs 70 dirhams to visit Volubilis (about $7.00). This does not include the cost of a guide. As we already had a guide, we did not need to hire one, but I think they charge around 100 dirhams for a small group.

Advice for visiting the ruins of Volubilis

Wear trainers or similar footwear! The ground is uneven and sandy. I arrived wearing pumps, but seeing the terrain, swapped them out for something sturdier. Fortunately, I had some trainers with me.

Final thoughts: Is it worth visiting Volubilis?

For anyone with even a remote interest in history, visiting Volubilis is a must. How could one resist visiting an ancient Roman city in Africa? There are many wonderful places to visit in Morocco: palaces, mosques, medinas, kasbahs, the Sahara desert……Volubilis is just that bit different So yes, it is definitely worth adding the ruins of Volubilis to your itinerary in Morocco.

 

Our tour of Morocco

We booked the tour with TourRadar: Imperial Cities and Sahara Discovery Tour from Marrakech

 

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4 Comments

  1. Great post and amazing photos. As an archaeologist, I’m a sucker for sites like this, but I haven’t made it to Volubilis yet. Looks like it’s time to visit Morocco. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • I love wandering around these historical sites too. Just wonderful to walk among the history!

      Reply
  2. Fascinating! I had no idea this place existed. The ruins look remarkably well-preserved as you say, and those mosaics are wonderful.

    Reply
  3. I think it’d be interesting to see the structures and ruins of Volubilis. And, how you can still see the patterns in the mosaics!

    Reply

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