Volubulis stands out among the many world sites of Roman ruins not just for the intricate mosaics that still exist in remarkably good condition, but for the breadth of evidence that suggests what life was like for its residents during this time. Best known as a remote outpost of the Roman Empire, the roots of Volubulis go back much further. Temples and other archeological evidence suggest that the Mauritanian kings had settled the area in the 3rd century BC. By the time the Romans annexed Mauritania and established their presence, the town was already in existence. The Romans renamed the town, Volubulis, which means “morning glory,” after the ubiquitous plant that grew plentifully in the area.
The Romans renamed the town, Volubulis, which means “morning glory…”
Not only are the remains of municipal buildings like the Capitol and the Basilica still intact, but also those of public baths, an oil press, brothels and private homes. Many of these structures lack integral architectural features like roofs and walls, as the marble that once supplied them was looted by Moulay Ismail in the 18th century to decorate his new imperial city of Meknes, just a few miles away. He did spare one of the city’s greatest treasures, its Roman mosaics, many of which are still intact with amazing visual clarity. These mosaics depict mythological scenes of Athena and Bacchus, the Four Seasons and a desultor, a chariot jumping race.
Volubulis or Waliya, its Arabic name was continuously inhabited until the Great Lisbon Earthquake in the early 17th century. Damage from the quake and its aftershocks rendered this ancient city uninhabitable. Today, Volubulis is a city of ruins, an open archaeological site. This outdoor museum is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Passing underneath the Triumphal Arch that greets visitors in the central part of the ruins, it‘s not difficult to imagine what everyday life for Roman citizens here was like. Even today, walking the ancient streets of Volubulis is almost like time travel, providing visitors with a glimpse into the ancient past.