Volubilis (Arabic: وليلي, Berber: Walili) is a partly
excavated Roman city in
Morocco situated near the city of Meknes, and
commonly considered as the ancient capital of the Roman-Berber kingdom
of Mauretania. Built in a fertile agricultural area, it developed
from the 3rd century BC onward as a Berber and Phoenician-Carthaginian
settlement before being the capital of the Berber kingdom of
Mauretania. It grew rapidly under Roman rule from the 1st century AD
onward to the end of 3rd century, and expanded to cover about 42
hectares (100 acres) with a 2.6 km (1.6 mi) circuit of
walls. The city gained a number of major public buildings in the 2nd
century, including a basilica, temple and triumphal arch. Its
prosperity, which was derived principally from olive growing, prompted
the construction of many fine town-houses with large mosaic floors.
The city fell to local tribes around 285 and was never retaken by Rome
because of its remoteness and indefensibility on the south-western
border of the Roman Empire. It continued to be inhabited for at least
another 700 years, first as a Latinised Christian community, then as
an early Islamic settlement. In the late 8th century it became the
seat of Idris ibn Abdallah, the founder of the
Idrisid dynasty and the
state of Morocco. By the 11th century
Volubilis had been abandoned
after the seat of power was relocated to Fes. Much of the local
population was transferred to the new town of Moulay Idriss Zerhoun,
about 5 km (3.1 mi) from Volubilis.
The ruins remained substantially intact until they were devastated by
an earthquake in the mid-18th century and subsequently looted by
Moroccan rulers seeking stone for building Meknes. It was not until
the latter part of the 19th century that the site was definitively
identified as that of the ancient city of Volubilis. During and after
the period of French rule over Morocco, about half of the site was
excavated, revealing many fine mosaics, and some of the more prominent
public buildings and high-status houses were restored or
reconstructed. Today it is a
UNESCO World Heritage Site, listed for
being "an exceptionally well preserved example of a large Roman
colonial town on the fringes of the Empire".
1 Foundation and Roman occupation
2 After the Romans
3 Excavation, restoration and
4 City layout and infrastructure
5 Notable buildings
5.1 Public buildings
5.2 Triumphal arch
5.3 Houses and palaces
5.4 Headquarters of Idris I
6 See also
9 External links
Foundation and Roman occupation
Built on a shallow slope below the
on a ridge above the valley of Khoumane (Xuman). It overlooks a
rolling fertile plain north of the modern city of Meknes. The area
Volubilis has been inhabited at least since the Late Atlantic
Neolithic, some 5,000 years ago; archaeological excavations at the
site have found
Neolithic pottery of design comparable to pieces found
in Iberia. By the third century BC, the
Phoenicians had a presence
there, as evidenced by the remains of a temple to the Punic god Baal
and finds of pottery and stones inscribed in the Phoenician
language. The origins of its name are unknown but may be a
Latinisation of the Berber word Walilt, meaning oleander, which grows
along the sides of the valley.
The city lay within the kingdom of Mauretania, which became a Roman
client state following the fall of
Carthage in 146 BC. The
Punic influence lasted for a considerable time afterwards, as the
city's magistrates retained the Carthaginian title of suffete long
after the end of Punic rule.
Juba II of
Numidia was placed on the
Mauretanian throne by
Augustus in 25 BC and turned his attention
to building a royal capital at Volubilis. Educated in Rome and
Cleopatra Selene II, the daughter of
Mark Antony and
Cleopatra, Juba and his son Ptolemy were thoroughly Romanised kings,
although of Berber ancestry; their preference for
Roman art and
architecture was clearly reflected in the city's design.
Mauretania Tingitania showing the location of Volubilis
Mauretania in 44 AD, the city grew
substantially due to its wealth and prosperity, derived from the
fertile lands of the province which produced valuable export
commodities such as grain, olive oil and wild animals for gladiatorial
spectacles. At its peak in the late 2nd century,
Volubilis had around
20,000 inhabitants – a very substantial population for a Roman
provincial town – and the surrounding region was also well
inhabited, to judge from over 50 villas discovered in the area. It
was mentioned by the 1st century AD geographer Pomponius Mela, who
described it in his work De situ orbis libri III as one of "the
wealthiest cities, albeit the wealthiest among small ones" in
Mauretania. It is also mentioned by Pliny the Elder, and the 2nd
Antonine Itinerary refers to its location and names it as
Volubilis Colonia. Its population was dominated by Romanised
The city became the administrative centre of the Roman province of
Mauretania Tingitana. It remained loyal to Rome despite a revolt in
40–44 AD led by one of Ptolemy's freedmen, Aedemon, and its
inhabitants were rewarded with grants of citizenship and a ten-year
exemption from taxes. The city was raised to the status of a
municipium and its system of governance was overhauled, with the
Punic-style suffetes replaced by annually elected duumvirs, or pairs
of magistrates. However, the city's position was always tenuous;
it was located on the south-eastern edge of the province, facing
hostile and increasingly powerful Berber tribes. A ring of five forts
located at the modern hamlets of Aïn Schkor, Bled el Gaada, Sidi
Moussa, Sidi Said and
Bled Takourart (ancient Tocolosida) were
constructed to bolster the city's defence. Sidi Said was the base
for the Cohors IV Gallorum equitata, an auxiliary cavalry unit from
Aïn Schkor housed Spanish and Belgic cohorts. Sidi Moussa
was the location of a cohort of Parthians, and Gallic and Syrian
cavalry were based at Toscolosida. Rising tensions in the region
near the end of the 2nd century led the emperor
Marcus Aurelius to
order the construction of a 2.5 km (1.6 mi) circuit of walls
with eight gates and 40 towers.
Volubilis was connected by road to
Tingis (modern Tangier) but had no eastwards connections
with the neighbouring province of
Mauretania Caesariensis, as the
territory of the Berber Baquates tribe lay in between.
Rome's control over the city ended following the chaos of the Crisis
of the Third Century, when the empire nearly disintegrated as a series
of generals seized and lost power through civil wars, palace coups and
assassinations. Around 280, Roman rule collapsed in much of Mauretania
and was never re-established.In 285, the emperor Diocletian
reorganised what was left of the province to retain only the coastal
strip between Lixus,
Tingis and Septa (modern Ceuta). Although a Roman
army was based in Tingis, it was decided that it would simply be too
expensive to mount a reconquest of a vulnerable border region.
Occupation of the city continued, however, as fine mosaics such as
that of a chariot race conducted by animals in the House of
not have been created earlier than the fourth century. The end of the
Roman city probably came in the form of an earthquake towards the end
of the century, which buried numerous bronze statues in the wreckage
of the houses.
After the Romans
Volubilis continued to be inhabited for centuries after the end of
Roman control. It was certainly reoccupied in the sixth and seventh
century, when three Christian inscriptions are dated by the provincial
year . By the time the Arabs had arrived in 708, the
city – its name was changed to Oualila or Walīlī – and
it was inhabited by the Awraba, a Berber tribe that originated in
Libya. Much of the city centre had been abandoned and was turned into
a cemetery, while the centre of habitation had moved to the southwest
of the city, where a new wall was built to contain the abridged Roman
Volubilis remained the capital of the region well into the Islamic
period. Islamic coins dating to the 8th century have been found on the
site, attesting to the arrival of Islam in this part of Morocco. .
They are concentrated outside the city walls, which suggests that Arab
settlement remained distinct from the Berber settlement inside them.
It was here that Moulay Idriss established the
Idrisid dynasty of
Morocco in 787-8. A direct descendant of the Islamic prophet,
Muhammad, he escaped to
Syria following the Battle of
Fakhkh in 787. He was proclaimed "imam" in Volubilis, occupied by the
Awraba, under Ishaq ibn Mohammad. He married Kanza, from the Awraba,
and fathered a son, Idris II, who was proclaimed imam in Volubilis.
He, too, lived outside the walls of the city, along the banks of the
Wadi Khoumane, where a complex has recently been excavated that may be
identified with his headquarters . Idriss I conquered most of
Morocco during the three years of his reign, founding the
city of Fes. He was assassinated in
Volubilis in 791 on the orders of
the caliph of Baghdad, Harun al-Rashid. On his majority Idriss
II removed to
Fes which served as his new capital, depriving Volubilis
of its last vestiges of political significance.
Panoramic view of Volubilis, looking west. The old Phoenician core of
the city is on the left, the
Basilica and Capitoline Temple are
visible in the centre, while the Arch of
Caracalla can be seen on the
right behind the Roman extension to the city.
A Muslim group known as the Rabedis, who had revolted in Córdoba in
Andalusia in modern Spain), resettled at
818. Although people continued to live in
Volubilis for several
more centuries, it was probably almost deserted by the 14th century.
Leo Africanus describes its walls and gates, as well as the tomb of
Idris, guarded only by two or three castles. His body was
subsequently removed to Moulay Idriss Zerhoun, 3 km
(1.9 mi), where a great mausoleum was built for it. The name of
the city was forgotten and it was termed Ksar Faraoun, or the
"Pharaoh's Castle", by the local people, alluding to a legend that the
ancient Egyptians had built it. Nonetheless some of its buildings
remained standing, albeit ruined, until as late as the 17th century
Moulay Ismail ransacked the site to provide building material for
his new imperial capital at Meknes. The
1755 Lisbon earthquake
1755 Lisbon earthquake caused
further severe destruction. However, fortunately for posterity,
John Windus sketched the site in 1722. In his
1725 book A Journey to Mequinez, Windus described the scene:
One building seems to be part of a triumphal arch, there being several
broken stones that bear inscriptions, lying in the rubbish underneath,
which were fixed higher than any part now standing. It is 56 feet long
and 15 thick, both sides exactly alike, built with very hard stones,
about a yard in length and half a yard thick. The arch is 20 feet wide
and about 26 high. The inscriptions are upon large flat stones, which,
when entire, were about five feet long, and three broad, and the
letters on them above 6 inches long. A bust lay a little way off, very
much defaced, and was the only thing to be found that represented
life, except the shape of a foot seen under the lower part of a
garment, in the niche on the other side of the arch. About 100 yards
from the arch stands a good part of the front of a large square
building, which is 140 feet long and about 60 high; part of the four
corners are yet standing, but very little remains, except these of the
front. Round the hill may be seen the foundation of a wall about two
miles in circumference, which inclosed these buildings; on the inside
of which lie scattered, all over, a great many stones of the same size
the arch is built with, but hardly one stone left upon another. The
arch, which stood about half a mile from the other buildings, seemed
to have been a gateway, and was just high enough to admit a man to
pass through on horseback.
Visiting 95 years later in 1820, after the
Lisbon earthquake had
flattened the few buildings left standing, James Gray Jackson wrote:
Half an hour's journey after leaving the sanctuary of Muley Dris
Zerone, and at the foot of Atlas, I perceived to the left of the road,
magnificent and massive ruins. The country, for miles round, is
covered with broken columns of white marble. There were still standing
two porticoes about 30 feet high and 12 wide, the top composed of one
entire stone. I attempted to take a view of these immense ruins, which
have furnished marble for the imperial palaces at Mequinas and
Tafilelt; but I was obliged to desist, seeing some persons of the
sanctuary following the cavalcade. Pots and kettles of gold and silver
coins are continually dug up from these ruins. The country, however,
abounds with serpents, and we saw many scorpions under the stones that
my conductor turned up. These ruins are said by the Africans to have
been built by one of the Pharaohs: they are called Kasser Farawan.
Volubilis before its excavation and restoration
The ruins of the triumphal arch, photographed in 1887 by Henri Poisson
de La Martinière
Remnants of the basilica as seen in 1887 before its later restoration
Walter Burton Harris, a writer for The Times, visited
his travels in
Morocco between 1887–89, after the site had been
identified by French archaeologists but before any serious excavations
or restorations had begun. He wrote:
There is not very much remains standing of the ruins; two archways,
each of great size, and in moderately good preservation, alone tell of
the grandeur of the old city, while acres and acres of land are strewn
with monuments and broken sculpture. A few isolated pillars also
remain, and an immense drain or aqueduct, not unlike the Cloaca Maxima
at Rome, opens on to the little river below.
Excavation, restoration and
Edge of the excavated area at Volubilis. A stretch of
used to carry spoil away is still visible.
Volubilis was excavated by the French during their rule over
Morocco between 1912 and 1956, but the excavations at the site
began decades earlier. From 1830, when the French conquest of Algeria
began the process of extending French rule over much of northern,
western and central Africa, archaeology was closely associated with
French colonialism. The French army undertook scientific explorations
as early as the 1830s and by the 1850s it was fashionable for French
army officers to investigate Roman remains during their leave and
spare time. By the late 19th century French archaeologists were
undertaking an intensive effort to uncover north-west Africa's
pre-Islamic past through excavations and restorations of
archaeological sites. The French had a very different conception
of historic preservation to that of the Moroccan Muslims. As the
Gwendolyn Wright puts it, "the Islamic sense of history and
architecture found the concept of setting off monuments entirely
foreign", which "gave the French proof of the conviction that only
they could fully appreciate the Moroccan past and its beauty." Emile
Pauty of the Institut des Hautes Etudes Marocaines criticised the
Muslims for taking the view that "the passage of time is nothing" and
charged them with "let[ting] their monuments fall into ruin with as
much indifference as they once showed ardour in building them."
The French programme of excavation at
Volubilis and other sites in
French-controlled North Africa (in
Algeria and Tunisia) had a strong
ideological component. Archaeology at Roman sites was used as an
instrument of colonialist policy, to make a connection between the
ancient Roman past and the new "Latin" societies that the French were
building in North Africa. The programme involved clearing modern
structures built on ancient sites, excavating Roman towns and villas
and reconstructing major civic structures such as triumphal arches.
Ruined cities, such as
Timgad in Algeria, were excavated and cleared
on a massive scale. The remains were intended to serve, as one writer
has put it, as "the witness to an impulse towards Romanization".
This theme resonated with other visitors to the site. The American
Edith Wharton visited in 1920 and highlighted what she saw as
the contrast between "two dominations look[ing] at each other across
the valley", the ruins of
Volubilis and "the conical white town of
Moulay Idriss, the Sacred City of Morocco". She saw the dead city as
representing "a system, an order, a social conception that still runs
through all our modern ways." In contrast, she saw the still very much
alive town of Moulay Idriss as "more dead and sucked back into an
unintelligible past than any broken architrave of Greece or Rome."
As Sarah Bird Wright of the
University of Richmond
University of Richmond puts it, Wharton
Volubilis as a symbol of civilisation and Moulay Idriss as one of
barbarism; the subtext is that "in ransacking the Roman outpost, Islam
destroyed its only chance to build a civilised society".
Fortunately for Morocco, "the political stability which France is
helping them to acquire will at last give their higher qualities time
for fruition"—very much the theme that the French colonial
authorities wanted to get across. Hilaire Belloc, too, spoke of
his impression being "rather one of history and of contrast. Here you
see how completely the new religion of Islam flooded and drowned the
classical and Christian tradition."
The first excavations at
Volubilis were carried out by the French
archaeologist Henri de la Martinière between 1887 and 1892. In
1915 Hubert Lyautey, the military governor of French Morocco,
commissioned the French archaeologists Marcel and Jane Dieulafoy to
carry out excavations in Volubilis. Although Jane's ill-health meant
that they were unable to carry out the programme of work that they
drew up for Lyautey, the work went ahead anyway under Louis
Chatelain. The French archaeologists were assisted by thousands of
German prisoners of war who had been captured during First World War
and loaned to the excavators by Lyautey. The excavations continued
on and off until 1941, when the
Second World War
Second World War forced a halt.
Following the war, excavations resumed under the French and Moroccan
authorities (following Morocco's independence in 1956) and a programme
of restoration and reconstruction began. The Arch of
already been restored in 1930–34. It was followed by the Capitoline
Temple in 1962, the basilica in 1965–67 and the
Tingis Gate in 1967.
A number of mosaics and houses underwent conservation and restoration
in 1952–55. In recent years, one of the oil production workshops in
the southern end of the city has been restored and furnished with a
replica Roman oil press. These restorations have not been without
controversy; a review carried out for
UNESCO in 1997 reported that
"some of the reconstructions, such as those on the triumphal arch, the
capitolium, and the oil-pressing workshop, are radical and at the
limit of currently accepted practice."
From 2000 excavations carried out by
University College London
University College London and the
Moroccan Institut National des Sciences de l'Archéologie et du
Patrimoine under the direction of Elizabeth Fentress, Gaetano Palumbo
and Hassan Limane revealed what should probably be interpreted as the
Idris I just below the walls of the Roman town to the
west of the ancient city centre. Excavations within the walls also
revealed a section of the early medieval town. Today, many
artefacts found at
Volubilis can be seen on display in the Rabat
Volubilis as a
World Heritage Site
World Heritage Site in 1997. In the
International Council on Monuments and Sites
International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS)
organised three conferences to assess possible nominations to the
World Heritage List for sites in North Africa. It was unanimously
Volubilis was a good candidate for the list and in 1997
ICOMOS recommended that it be inscribed as "an exceptionally well
preserved example of a large Roman colonial town on the fringes of the
City layout and infrastructure
Prior to the Roman occupation,
Volubilis covered an area of about 12
hectares (30 acres), built on a V-shaped ridge between the Fertassa
and Khoumane wadis on a roughly north-south axis. It was developed on
a fairly regular pattern typical of Phoenician/Carthaginian
settlements and was enclosed by a set of walls. Under the Romans,
the city was expanded considerably on a northeast-southwest axis,
increasing in size to about 42 hectares (100 acres). Most of the
city's public buildings were constructed in the older part of the
city. The grand houses for which
Volubilis is famous are in the newer
part, behind the
Decumanus Maximus (main street), which bisected the
Roman-era part of the city. The decumanus was paved, with footways
on either side, and was lined with arcaded porticoes on either sides,
behind which were dozens of shops. The Arch of
Caracalla marks the
point at which the old and new cities merge. After the aqueduct fell
into disrepair with the end of the Roman occupation, a new residential
area was constructed to the west near the Wadi Khoumane.
The city was supplied with water by an aqueduct that ran from a spring
in the hills behind the city. The aqueduct may have been
constructed around 60–80 AD and was subsequently reconstructed
on several occasions. An elaborate network of channels fed houses
and the public baths from the municipal supply and a series of drains
carried sewage and waste away to the river to be flushed. The
aqueduct ran under the Decumanus Secundus, a street that ran parallel
with the Decumanus Maximus, and terminated at a large fountain in the
city centre near the Arch of Caracalla.
Infrastructure in Volubilis
The Decumanus Maximus, looking north-east
Tingis Gate, looking back down the Decumanus Maximus
Interior of the North Baths, fed by the aqueduct
Most of the original pre-Roman city wall was built over or destroyed,
but a 77-metre (250 ft) stretch of the original wall, which was
made of mud bricks on a stone foundation, can still be seen near the
tumulus. The Roman city walls stretch for 2.6 km
(1.6 mi) and average 1.6 m (5.2 ft) thick. Built of
rubble masonry and ashlar, they are mostly still extant. The
full circuit of walls had 34 towers, spaced at intervals of about one
every 50 metres (160 ft), and six main gates that were flanked by
towers. A part of the eastern wall has been reconstructed to a
height of 1.5 metres (4.9 ft). The
Tingis Gate, also
reconstructed, marks the northern-eastern entrance to Volubilis.
It was constructed in 168/169 AD – the date is known due
to the discovery of a coin of that year that was deliberately embedded
in the gate's stonework by its builders.
An early medieval wall stands to the west of the Arch of Caracalla; it
was built after the end of the Roman occupation, apparently some time
in the 5th or 6th centuries, to protect the eastern side of the city's
new residential area. It was oriented in a north-south direction and
was constructed using stone looted from ruined buildings elsewhere in
the abandoned areas of the city.
A reconstructed Roman olive press in Volubilis
During Roman times,
Volubilis was a major producer of olive oil. The
remains of buildings dedicated to olive pressing are still readily
visible, as are the remains of the original presses and olive mills.
One such building has been reconstructed with a full-size replica of a
Roman olive press.
Olive oil was central to the life of the city,
as it was not just a foodstuff but was also used for lamps, bathing
and medicines, while the pressed olives were fed to animals or dried
out and used as fuel for the bathhouses. For this reason, even some of
the grandest mansions had their own olive presses. Fifty-eight
oil-pressing complexes have so far been discovered in Volubilis. They
housed a standard set of elements: a mill, used to crush the olives, a
decantation basin to catch the oil from pressed olives, and a press
that comprised a counterweight, a prelum or cross-bar and the wooden
supports within which the prelum was fixed. The olives were first
crushed into a paste, then put into woven baskets that were subjected
to pressing. The olive oil ran out into the decantation basin, to
which water was periodically added to make the lighter oil float to
the surface. This was then scooped out of the basin and poured into
amphorae. There is also substantial evidence of the city being a
lively commercial centre. No fewer than 121 shops have been identified
so far, many of them bakeries, and judging from the number of
bronzes found at the site it may also have been a centre for the
production or distribution of bronze artworks.
Plan of Volubilis, indicating some of the most notable buildings
Although only about half of
Volubilis has been excavated, a number of
prominent public buildings are still visible and some, notably a
basilica and a triumphal arch, have been reconstructed. Many private
buildings, including the mansions of the city's elite, have also been
uncovered. They are especially notable for the fine mosaics that have
been discovered in a number of buildings and which are still in situ
in the houses where they were laid. The buildings were mostly made
from locally quarried grey-blue limestone. Very little remains of
the original Punic settlement, as it lies under the later Roman
A large tumulus of uncertain origin and purpose stands approximately
in the middle of the excavated area, between the old and new parts of
the city. Various theories have been advanced to explain it, such as
that it was a burial site, a religious structure of some kind, a
funerary monument or a monument to a Roman victory. However, these
remain unproven hypotheses.
Two major public buildings are readily visible at the centre of the
city – the basilica and the Capitoline Temple. The basilica was
used for the administration of justice and the governance of the city.
Completed during the reign of
Macrinus in the early 3rd century, it is
one of the finest Roman basilicas in Africa and is probably
modelled on the one at
Leptis Magna in Libya. The building is
42.2 m (138 ft) long by 22.3 m (73 ft) wide and
originally had two storeys. Its interior is dominated by two rows
of columns framing the apses at each end of the building where the
magistrates sat. The outer wall of the basilica, which is faced with
columns, overlooks the forum where markets were held. Small temples
and public offices also lined the 1,300 m2
(14,000 sq ft) forum, which would have been full of
statues of emperors and local dignitaries, of which only the pedestals
now remain. Not much is known about the public buildings which
Volubilis prior to the start of the 3rd century, as the
buildings currently visible were built on the foundations of earlier
The Capitoline Temple stands behind the basilica within what would
originally have been an arcaded courtyard. An altar stands in the
courtyard in front of 13 steps leading up to the Corinthian-columned
temple, which had a single cella. The building was of great
importance to civic life as it was dedicated to the three chief
divinities of the Roman state, Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. Civic
assemblies were held in front of the temple to beseech the aid of the
gods or to thank them for successes in major civic undertakings such
as fighting wars. The layout of the temple, facing the back wall
of the basilica, is somewhat unusual and it has been suggested that it
may have been built on top of an existing shrine. An inscription
found in 1924 records that it was reconstructed in 218. It was partly
restored in 1955 and given a more substantial restoration in 1962,
reconstructing 10 of the 13 steps, the walls of the cella and the
columns. There were four more small shrines within the temple
precinct, one of which was dedicated to Venus.
There were five other temples in the city, of which the most notable
is the so-called "Temple of Saturn" that stood on the eastern side of
Volubilis. It appears to have been built on top of, or converted
from, an earlier Punic temple, which may have been dedicated to
Baal. It is a sanctuary with a surrounding wall and a three-sided
portico. In its interior was a small temple with a cella built on a
shallow podium. The temple's traditional identification with
Saturn is purely hypothetical and has not generally been accepted.
Public buildings in Volubilis
Exterior of the
Basilica at Volubilis
Interior of the Basilica
The Capitoline Temple
Volubilis also possessed at least three sets of public baths. Some
mosaics can still be seen in the Baths of Gallienus, redecorated by
that emperor in the 260s to become the city's most lavish baths.
The nearby north baths were the largest in the city, covering an area
of about 1,500 m2 (16,000 sq ft). They were possibly
built in the time of Hadrian.
The Arch of
Caracalla is one of Volubilis' most distinctive sights,
situated at the end of the city's main street, the Decumanus Maximus.
Although it is not architecturally outstanding, the triumphal arch
forms a striking visual contrast with the smaller
Tingis Gate at the
far end of the decumanus. It was built in 217 by the city's governor,
Marcus Aurelius Sebastenus, to honour the emperor
Caracalla and his
mother Julia Domna.
Caracalla was himself a North African and had
Roman citizenship to the inhabitants of Rome's
provinces. However, by the time the arch was finished both Caracalla
and Julia had been murdered by a usurper.
The arch is constructed from local stone and was originally topped by
a bronze chariot pulled by six horses. Statues of nymphs poured water
into carved marble basins at the foot of the arch.
Caracalla and Julia
Domna were represented on medallion busts, though these have been
defaced. The monument was reconstructed by the French between
1930–34. However, the restoration is incomplete and of disputed
accuracy. The inscription on the top of the arch was reconstructed
from the fragments noticed by Windus in 1722, which had been scattered
on the ground in front of the arch.
The Arch of
Caracalla at Volubilis
North side of the Arch of Caracalla
South side of the Arch of Caracalla
The inscription reads (after the abbreviations have been expanded):
IMPERATORI CAESARI MARCO AVRELLIO ANTONINO PIO FELICI AVGVSTO PARTHICO
MAXIMO BRITTANICO MAXIMO GERMANICO MAXIMO
PONTIFICI MAXIMO TRIBVNITIA POTESTATE XX IMPERATORI IIII CONSVLI IIII
PATRI PATRIAE PROCONSVLI ET IVLIAE AVGVSTAE PIAE FELICI MATRI
AVGVSTI ET CASTRORVM ET SENATVS ET PATRIAE RESPVBLICA VOLVBILITANORVM
OB SINGVLAREM EIVS
ERGA VNIVERSOS ET NOVAM SVPRA OMNES RETRO PRINCIPES INDVLGENTIAM ARCVM
CVM SEIVGIBVS ET ORNAMENTIS OMNIBVS INCOHANTE ET DEDICANTE MARCO
SEBASTENO PROCVRATORE AVGVSTI DEVOTISSIMO NVMINI EIVS A SOLO FACIENDVM
or, in translation:
For the emperor Caesar,
Marcus Aurelius Antoninus [Caracalla], the
pious, fortunate Augustus, greatest victor in Parthia, greatest victor
in Britain, greatest victor in Germany, Pontifex Maximus, holding
tribunician power for the twentieth time, Victorious Commander for the
fourth time, Consul for the fourth time, Father of the Country,
Proconsul, and for Julia Augusta [Julia Domna], the pious, fortunate
mother of the camp and the Senate and the country, because of his
exceptional and new kindness towards all, which is greater than that
of the principes that came before, the Republic of the Volubilitans
took care to have this arch made from the ground up, including a
chariot drawn by six horses and all the ornaments, with Marcus
Aurelius Sebastenus, procurator, who is most deeply devoted to the
divinity of Augustus, initiating and dedicating it.
Houses and palaces
The houses found at
Volubilis range from richly decorated mansions to
simple two-room mud-brick structures used by the city's poorer
inhabitants. The city's considerable wealth is attested by the
elaborate design of the houses of the wealthy, some of which have
large mosaics still in situ. They have been named by archaeologists
after their principal mosaics (or other finds):
The House of
Orpheus in the southern part of the city thus takes its
name from the large mosaic depicting
Orpheus playing his harp to an
audience of trees, animals and birds. As Paul MacKendrick puts it,
the mosaic is rather artlessly executed, as the animals are all of
different sizes and face in different directions with no relationship
to Orpheus. It appears that the mosaicist simply copied patterns from
a book without attempting to integrate the different elements. The
mosaic is situated in the triclinium, the dining room, where the
diners would have reclined on couches set against the walls and
admired the central mosaic. Other mosaics can be seen in the atrium,
which has a depiction of
Amphitrite in a chariot pulled by a seahorse
and accompanied by other sea creatures, and in the bathing rooms. One
room off the main courtyard has a mosaic of a dolphin, considered by
the Romans to be a lucky animal.
The House of the Athlete or Desultor, located near the forum, contains
a humorous mosaic of an athlete or acrobat riding a donkey back to
front while holding a cup in his outstretched hand. It may
possibly represent Silenus. The most prestigious houses in the
city were situated adjoining the Decumanus Maximus, behind rows of
shops that lined the street under an arcade. They were entered from
side streets between the shops.
The House of the Ephebe was named after a bronze statue found there.
It has a prominent interior courtyard leading to a number of public
rooms decorated with mosaics, including a depiction of
Bacchus in a
chariot being drawn by leopards.
The House of the Knight next door also has a mosaic of Bacchus, this
time showing coming across the sleeping Ariadne, who later bore him
six children. The house takes its name from a bronze statue of a
rider found here in 1918 that is now on display in the archaeological
museum in Rabat. It was a large building, with an area of about
1,700 m2 (18,000 sq ft), and incorporated a substantial
area dedicated to commercial activities including eight or nine shops
opening onto the road and a large olive-pressing complex.
Mosaics in Volubilis
Bacchus encountering the sleeping
Ariadne from the House of
Mosaic of the Four Seasons in situ in the House of the Labours of
Mosaic of Diana and her nymph surprised by
Actaeon while bathing, from
the House of Venus
The bronze bust of Cato the Younger, found in the House of
The House of the
Labours of Hercules
Labours of Hercules is named for the mosaic depicting
the twelve tasks that the demigod had to perform as penance for
killing his wife and children. It is thought to have been created
during the reign of the emperor Commodus, who identified himself with
Hercules. Jupiter, his lover Ganymede and the four seasons are
depicted in another mosaic in the house. The house was of palatial
size, with 41 rooms covering an area of 2,000 m2
(22,000 sq ft).
A building dubbed the Gordian Palace is located further up the
Decumanus Maximus. It was the largest building in the city and was
probably the residence of the governor, rather than the emperor
Gordian III; it was rebuilt during Gordian's reign in the mid-3rd
century. It combined two separate houses to create a complex of 74
rooms with courtyards and private bathhouses serving both domestic and
official functions. It also incorporated a colonnaded front with a
dozen shops behind the colonnade, and an oil factory consisting of
three oil presses and an oil store in the north-east corner of the
complex. The decoration of the Gordian Palace is today quite plain
with only a few scanty mosaics remaining. Despite its presumed
high status, the floors seem to have been mostly rendered with opus
sectile rather than decorated with mosaics. Inscriptions found in
the palace testify to the city's decline and eventual fall. They
record a series of treaties reached with the local Berber chieftains,
increasing in number as the city became more vulnerable and the
tribesmen pressed harder. By the time of the final treaty, just a few
years before the fall of the city, the chieftains were being treated
as virtual equals of Rome – an indication of how much Roman
power in the area had declined. The last two inscribed altars,
from 277 and 280, refer to a foederata et diuturna pax (a "federated
and lasting peace"), though this proved to be a forlorn hope, as
Volubilis fell soon afterwards.
The House of Venus, towards the eastern side of the city under a
prominent cypress tree, was one of the most luxurious residences in
the city. It had a set of private baths and a richly decorated
interior, with fine mosaics dating from the 2nd century AD showing
animal and mythological scenes. There were mosaics in seven corridors
and eight rooms. The central courtyard has a fanciful mosaic
depicting racing chariots in a hippodrome, drawn by teams of peacocks,
geese and ducks. The mosaic of
Venus for which the house is named has
been removed to Tangier, but in the next-door room is a still-extant
mosaic showing Diana and a companion nymph being surprised by Actaeon
Actaeon is depicted with horns beginning to sprout from
his head as he is transformed by the angry goddess into a stag, before
being chased down and killed by his own hunting dogs. The house
appears to have been destroyed some time after the city's fall around
280; a mosaic depicting Cupids feeding birds with grain has been
charred by what appears to have been a fire burning directly on top of
it, perhaps resulting from the building being taken over by squatters
who used the mosaic as the site of a hearth.
The same building was also the site of the discovery in 1918 of a
bronze bust of outstanding quality depicting Cato the Younger. One of
the most notable artefacts discovered at Volubilis, it is now on
display in the Archaeological Museum in Rabat. It was still on its
original pedestal when it was found by archaeologists. The bust has
been dated to the time of
Vespasian and may be a copy of a
bust created in Cato's lifetime or shortly thereafter. Its inscription
identifies its subject as the orator. Another outstanding bust,
depicting a Hellenistic prince, was discovered in a bakery across the
street. It seems to have been made at the same time as the Cato bust
and may well have come from the House of Venus, where an empty
pedestal in another room suggests that the Cato had a companion piece.
The bust, which is also on display in Rabat, is usually identified as
Juba II but other possibilities include
Hiero II of Syracuse,
Cleomenes III of Sparta,
Juba I or Hannibal.
Headquarters of Idris I
Just outside the walls of the city, on the floodplain of the Oued
Khoumane, was found a series of interlocking courtyard buildings, of
which the largest contained a hammam, or bath. This is an L-shaped
structure, with a cold room paved with flagstones and benches running
along the sides. At the end is found a plunge pool with three steps
leading into it. From the cold room one moved to a vestibule at the
corner of the building, decorated with a relief of a shield taken from
the Arch of Caracalla. From there, one moved into the warm room, still
covered by a vault, and finally into the hot room. The vault of this
has now been restored, but it is possible to see the channels in the
floor through which the hot air passed. Beyond this a furnace heated
the room, as well as the hot water which would have flowed into basins
in the corners. The courtyard of which this hammam formed the western
limit was large, and contained numerous large silos for grain storage.
To the south of this courtyard was one evidently designed for
reception, with long narrow rooms to the east and west, one of which
was painted red, with a low bench or divan at one end. Further south a
third courtyard, only partially excavated, seems to have been devoted
to domestic use. The plan, with its large courtyards and narrow rooms,
is very different from the contemporary one or two-roomed structures
inside the walls, probably inhabited by the
Berbers of the Awraba
tribe. It is dated by coins and pottery to the reign of Idris I, and
has been identified as his headquarters .
Ancient Rome portal
Iulia Valentia Banasa
Iulia Constantia Zilil
Iulia Campestris Babba
Roman 'Coloniae' in Berber Africa
Moulay Idriss Zerhoun
^ Carrasco 2000, p. 128.
^ a b c d Rogerson 2010, p. 236.
^ "Archaeological Site of Volubilis". African World Heritage Fund.
Archived from the original on 20 October 2013. Retrieved 21 October
^ Parker 2010, p. 491.
^ Davies 2009, p. 141.
^ a b c Davies 2009, p. 41.
^ a b c d e f g Rogerson 2010, p. 237.
^ Romer 1998, p. 131.
^ Löhberg 2006, p. 66.
^ a b c d e f g h
Volubilis Project – History.
^ a b MacKendrick 2000, p. 312.
^ Fentress & Limane 2010, p. 107.
^ Conant 2012, p. 294.
^ Akerraz 1985.
^ a b Fentress & Limane 2010, p. 103–122.
^ a b c Rogerson 2010, p. 238.
Leo Africanus trad. A. Épaulard, I, p. 245
^ Windus 1725, p. 86.
^ Windus 1725, p. 86–9.
^ Shabeeny & Jackson 1820, p. 120–1.
^ Harris 1889, p. 69–70.
^ a b Raven 1993, p. xxxi.
^ Wright 1991, p. 117.
^ Dyson 2006, p. 173–4.
^ Wharton 1920, p. 45.
^ Wright 1997, p. 136.
^ Wharton 1920, p. 158.
^ Dean 2002, p. 39.
^ Parker 2010, p. 494.
^ a b c d e f g
UNESCO September 1997, p. 73.
^ Gran-Aymerich 2006, p. 60.
^ a b
UNESCO September 1997, p. 74.
^ Reports on these excavations, as well as a detailed plan of the
site, can be found at http://www.sitedevolubilis.org.
UNESCO September 1997, p. 75.
^ a b c
UNESCO September 1997, p. 72.
^ a b c d MacKendrick 2000, p. 304.
^ a b Raven 1993, p. 116.
^ a b c d e f g h i j k l
Volubilis Project – Map.
^ a b Davies 2009, p. 42.
^ a b c d Rogerson 2010, p. 239.
^ a b c d MacKendrick 2000, p. 305.
^ a b c MacKendrick 2000, p. 311.
^ a b c d Rogerson 2010, p. 240.
^ Raven 1993, p. xxxiii.
^ a b Grimal 1984, p. 292.
^ a b c d e f Rogerson 2010, p. 241.
^ Rogerson 2010, p. 244.
^ Roller 2003, p. 153 fn. 181.
^ MacKendrick 2000, p. 303.
^ Davies 2009, p. 43.
Volubilis Project – House of the Cavalier.
^ Rogerson 2010, p. 242.
^ a b c Rogerson 2010, p. 243.
^ Rogerson 2010, pp. 243–4.
^ MacKendrick 2000, p. 310-11.
Akerraz, Aomar, ed. (1985). "Note sur l'enceinte tardive de
Volubilis". Bulletin Archéologique du Comité des Travaux
Historiques. pp. 429–436.
Carrasco, J. L. Escacena (2000). "Archaeological relationship between
North Africa and Iberia". In Arnaiz-Villena, Antonio; Martínez-Laso,
Jorge; Gómez-Casado, Eduardo. Prehistoric Iberia: Genetics,
Anthropology, and Linguistics. New York: Springer.
Conant, Jonathan (2012). Staying Roman: Conquest and Identity in
Africa and the Mediterranean, 439–700. New York: Cambridge
University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-19697-0.
Davies, Ethel (2009). North Africa: The Roman Coast. Chalfont St
Peter, Bucks: Bradt Travel Guides. ISBN 978-1-84162-287-3.
Dean, Sharon L. (2002). Constance Fenimore and Edith Wharton:
Perspectives On Landscape and Art. Knoxville: University of Tennessee
Press. ISBN 978-1-57233-194-5.
Dyson, Stephen L. (2006). In Pursuit of Ancient Pasts. New Haven, CT:
Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-11097-5.
Gran-Aymerich, Eve (2006). "Jane Dieulafoy". In Cohen, Getzel M.;
Joukowsky, Martha Sharp. Breaking Ground: Pioneering Women
Archaeologists. London: University of Michigan Press.
Fentress, Elizabeth; Limane, Hassan (2010). "Excavations in Medieval
Volubilis 2000-2004". Quadernos de Madinat Zahra
Grimal, Pierre (1984) . Roman Cities [Les villes romaines].
Translated by G. Michael Woloch. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin
Press. ISBN 978-0-299-08934-4.
Harris, Walter (1889). The Land of an African Sultan: Travels in
Morocco. London: S. Low. OCLC 249376810.
Löhberg, Bernd (2006). Das "Itinerarium provinciarum Antonini
Augusti": Ein kaiserzeitliches Strassenverzeichnis des Römischen
Reiches. Berlin: Frank & Timme GmbH.
MacKendrick, Paul Lachlan (2000). The North African Stones Speak.
Chapel Hill, NC: UNC Press Books. ISBN 978-0-8078-4942-2.
Parker, Philip (2010). The Empire Stops Here: A Journey along the
Frontiers of the Roman World. London: Random House.
Raven, Susan (1993). Rome in Africa. London: Routledge.
Rogerson, Barnaby (2010). Marrakesh, Fez and Rabat. London: Cadogan
Guides. ISBN 978-1-86011-432-8.
Roller, Duane W. (2003). The World of
Juba II and Kleopatra Selene.
New York: Psychology Press. ISBN 978-0-415-30596-9.
Romer, Frank E. (1998). Pomponius Mela's Description of the World. Ann
Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
Shabeeny, El Hage abd Salam; Jackson, James Grey (1820). An account of
Timbuctoo and Housa. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown.
UNESCO Advisory Body Evaluation" (PDF). UNESCO. September 1997.
Retrieved 28 October 2012.
Windus, John (1725). A journey to Mequinez, the residence of the
present emperor of Fez and Morocco. London: Jacob Tonson.
Wharton, Edith (1920). In Morocco. New York: C. Scribner's Sons.
Wright, Gwendolyn (1991). The Politics of Design in French Colonial
Urbanism. University of Chicago Press.
Wright, Sarah Bird (1997). Edith Wharton's Travel Writing: The Making
of a Connoisseur. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
"The History of Volubilis".
Volubilis Project. 25 September 2003.
Archived from the original on April 24, 2012. Retrieved 29 October
"The House of the Cavalier".
Volubilis Project. Archived from the
original on November 20, 2008. Retrieved 1 November 2012.
"Map of Volubilis".
Volubilis Project. Archived from the original on
February 21, 2011. Retrieved 29 October 2012.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Volubilis.
Volubilis on the
World Heritage Sites in Morocco
Medina of Fez
Rabat, Modern Capital and Historic City: a Shared Heritage
Tétouan (formerly known as Titawin)
Archaeological Site of Volubilis
Historic City of Meknes
Essaouira (formerly Mogador)
Medina of Marrakech
Portuguese City of Mazagan (El Jadida)
Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou
Former cities in Morocco
Iulia Constantia Zilil
Iulia Valentia Banasa
Iulia Campestris Babba
Romano-Berber cities in Roman North Africa
Iulia Constantia Zilil
Iulia Valentia Banasa
Iulia Campestris Babba
Leptis Magna 1
Creta et Cyrenaica
Diocese of Africa
Praetorian prefecture of Africa
Exarchate of Africa
North Africa during Antiquity
Christianity in Roman Africa
UNESCO World Heritage Sites 2 Proposed
Phoenician cities and colonies
Mauritania / Morocco
Cerne / Arambys
Sa Caleta, Ibiza
Turkey / others