“You travel alone? You are strong English woman…like Margaret Thatcher!”
Probably one of the most surprising comparisons I’ve encountered, in one of the most surprising parts of Morocco I’ve visited. On the way to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Volubilis, the archaeological site of a Roman-Berber city, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Y’see, Morocco isn’t majorly known for its Roman history. But turns out, there’s a fair bit of it.
Time for a quick history lesson. Volubilis was founded in the 3rd century BC, by the Berbers. When the Romans decided to spread themselves all over everywhere, it fell under their rule from 1st century AD. During this time, the city prospered and grew, with grand buildings popping up and olive oil production being its key export.
Around 285 AD, the Romans left and local tribes took over the city, first Christian, then Muslim. Around the 11th century, its inhabitants began to leave for the nearby town of Moulay Idriss, leaving the city behind. It pretty much stayed intact until the mid-18th century, when the city’s buildings fell victim to an earthquake – but during the 19th and 20th century, excavation and renovation began to take place. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.
My guide in Volubilis (shown demonstrating how to correctly use a solarium), despite his penchant for the Iron Lady, was an absolute superstar. Such a superstar, I have, in fact, forgotten his name. I suck. However, what I haven’t forgotten is how much he knew about the site, how passionate his interest in the city’s history is, and how much it showed through as we walked amongst the preserved columns and mosaics.
(I also haven’t forgotten him showing me the special receptacle in the toilet room, where Romans who’d had a little too much wine could go and vomit, before…consuming more wine. Top lads.)
And, speaking of mosaics – ever wondered how some of them seem to keep their colour so well against the elements? Rather than the tiles being painted, the colour comes from natural materials, which means it doesn’t fade over time.
What I really liked about Volubilis is how intact the foundations of the buildings are. The walls may be long gone in most places, but it’s almost like seeing a blueprint of how the houses once were. It’s not a long stretch to imagine the two-story stone houses fully built, streets buzzing with local citizens, working through their days and then relaxing in their private and public baths. Some of the building work has been recreated through renovation, however plenty of original features remain.
The name ‘Volubilis’ comes from the blue flower of the same name, which you might just spot growing amongst the ruins. Wildlife is pretty much limited to lizards, but they’re pretty common – one rustling in the bushes gave me quite the fright when I got a little too near…
At the far side of Volubilis, I discovered the road that would have been used for trade. It would have been lined with shops, leading up to the Tangier Gate – one of the city’s main entrances. It’s worth walking up to this spot, as it gives a great view of the whole site.
Volubilis Opening Times and Entrance Fees
The site of Volubilis is open daily from 8.30am until an hour before dusk (which is roughly between 4.45pm and 7.30pm, depending on the season).
It costs 10MAD (basically less than a quid) to get in, and you can also hire a guide to show you around for around 120MAD (about a tenner) – which I’d totally recommend, as you’ll find out loads of little info nuggets you wouldn’t have on your own.
How to Get to Volubilis
Getting there isn’t too hard if you don’t have a car. It’s easiest to head to nearby Meknes, which you can access by train, petit taxi to Idris Moulay, and then on to Volubilis. Meknes is a pretty cool place, so it works perfectly within a trip there, either for a day or overnight. Alternatively, you could opt for an organised private or small group tour (like this one).
*I visited Volubilis as part of a solo press trip with Air Arabia