Not as large as Leptis Magna in Tunisia, Volubilis has another claim to fame. After the departure of the Romans the site, still in good order, was occupied by local Berbers. They remained there, perhaps doing much as the Romans had done, until the disastrous Lisbon earthquake of 1755, which was felt even further south in Mauretania. The site became uninhabitable and they moved uphill to the village still in use today.
The name Volubilis relates to the convolvulus plant, perhaps a sign of its persistence. It is now a place where plants and wildlife abound. Nonetheless the roads built by the Romans remain and beneath some of them are the water courses that enabled life to continue with many comforts.
There are also substantial remains of buildings, including a triumphal arch facing across the agricultural landscape that contributed its wealth to Volubilis, and continues to do so in the region that has Meknes on one side and Fes on the other. Both are former capitals of Morocco, with their own monumental gate ways. Rabat, today’s capital, is not very far away.
We were en route from Rabat to Fes, having begun the day in Casablanca, so had only an hour for our visit to Volubilis. It would have repaid much more. A few images may help to show its attractions. There are several buildings, roofless but with sturdy walls. One even has an incised sundial, today with a grass stem as gnomon. Mosaics are in good repair, either on their original floors or on walls. The grandest remains of all are of the colonnaded temple, having been used also as church and mosque in turn. Through its columns the Berber village is clearly seen. Guides to the site come daily and provide interesting tours.
A small museum displays some of the excavation finds. There are laboratories for further research from current excavations, which continue each spring.
To see the whole site requires a good deal of energy and some striding over stones and steps along the roads and into buildings. Perhaps not for those of limited mobility but well worth the effort for those who can manage. The museum offers compensation for any who find the terrain a problem.