Visiting the Unesco World Heritage Site of Volubilis
Only 30 km from from the imperial city of Meknes, reachable on a day trip or during your way to Fes, are located two attractions not to be missed: the holy city of Moulay Idriss Zerhoun and the ancient Roman ruins of Volubilis, Unesco heritage site since 1997.
The ancient city of Volubilis is one of Morocco’s best-preserved Roman ruins located between the Imperial Cities of Fez and Meknes on the fertile plain of Saiss, surrounded by wheat fields.
The city of Volubilis appears to have been inhabited during the Neolithic era and began to prosper during the Reign of Mauretania (annexed by the emperor Augustus to the Roman Empire), from the 3rd century BC up to 40 AD.
Volubilis experienced its apogee between the 2nd and 3rd century AD thanks to the trade in oil (an oil mill is still visible on the site), wheat and wild animals such as lions and elephants.
It is said that in its maximum extension, marked by a wall built around the 169AD, Volubilis occupied a total area of 42 hectares with 20.000 residents.
The magnificence of this period is evidenced by the ruins of beautiful palaces decorated with stupendous mosaics such as the mosaic of the Dolphins and the Myth of Orpheus, the one of Bacchus or the mosaic of Diana in the bathroom surprised by Actaeon.
Not to be missed are also the imposing Basilica with its two opposing exedras, the Temple of Jupiter and a Triumphal Arch commemorating the emperor Caracalla, the Capitolium and the house of the procession of Venus, all surrounded by more than 2 kilometres of walls.
After the withdrawal of the Romans in the late 3rd century from what was the kingdom of Mauretania, the city began to know its decline.
With the arrival of Idriss I in 788, Volubilis was Islamized and the churches were destroyed but despite this, it continued to be inhabited until the 11th century when the residents left the city.
During his reign, Moulay Ismail raided all the marbles of the city, as already happened in other provinces, in order to beautify the city of Meknes.
Unfortunately, in 1755, a violent earthquake completely devasted the city and only in the 1915 excavation work started to bring the spectacular remains of Volubilis back to the surface and partially restored to its current state.
Need to know
We visited Volubilis (and Moulay Idriss) on our way from Meknes to Chefchaouen, but you can easily visit it on a day trip from Meknes or Fes. Anyway, it’s easier from Meknes since the Roman site is only 30 km away.
1) How to get there
You can get there arranging the trip with your accommodation or easily booking it (combined with Moulay Idriss) through the web platforms as GetYourGuide or Viator which offer many tours around the area;
Alternatively you can haggle the price with a taxi driver in Meknes for both visiting Moulay Idriss and Volubilis (around 250 MAD); the low cost option (but also the longer), is to take a grand taxi (shared) to Moulay Idriss (10 MAD) at Grand Taxi station next to the French Institute and once got Moulay Idriss, take another taxi to Volubilis (ask the driver to wait for you as there are no taxis there). Next to the Grand taxi station, you’ll also find the public bus to Moulay Idriss.
2) Entrance fee and duration of the visit
Volubilis ticket costs 70 MAD per person. Basically, it’s a flat clockwise and it takes more than 1 hour to complete it. At the ticket office, you’ll get the map of the site to wander by yourself, but in case, if you like to know more information about the history of this ancient Unesco Heritage site, you’ll find many local guides right there (usually they ask 100-150 MAD). There are toilets and a café in the modern building at the bottom of the site.
Above all during the summer season, go early in the morning to avoid the heat of the day since there is literally no shade. We visited the site in December around 3 pm and it was almost 30 degree.