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Follow the Roman Ghosts of Volubilis

Published by Cat London, Writer

Country: Morocco

The Experience

Walking the dry, empty streets of the ancient Roman town of Volubilis, your feet will kick up dust and ghosts. Volubilis, once a Carthaginian trading post and then a remote outpost of the Roman Empire, has been abandoned for more than 1,700 years. The ruined city was been proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage site to safeguard its amazing structures — some of the best preserved in North Africa — and especially its stunningly well preserved mosaics.

Once the administrative centre of a Roman province called Mauretania Tingitana, Volubilis may have once been home to as many as 18,000 to 20,000 people, all of whom were exempt from Roman taxation because they were so far away from the centre of power. Traces of the city’s inhabitants can be found everywhere, from the remains of the bathhouse to the olive presses that look as though you could almost start them up. Visitors can wander through the forum and the basilica, where the only remaining signs of life are the roosting storks whose nests top the beautiful columns that still stretch toward the sky. The dramatic mosaics are the highlight of any visit: these depict a host of mythological characters and events, from the lovers Bacchus and Ariadne to the Labours of Hercules.

There are guides available at the site, or you can hire one in Fès or Meknès. Though it is easy to wander the site yourself and guess at what you might be looking at, a guide — particularly an official guide — can offer a great deal more depth and detail about the site and its features. Most guides speak reasonably good English and all are fluent in French. Getting to Volubilis is easily done by shared taxi from Fès or Meknès.

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When to Go to Volubilis Morocco

Volubilis is accessible year-round and can be visited in any weather; rain will chase the tourists away and wash the dush off the mosaics to show their bright colours at their best, so don't be scared off by threatening clouds.

The mosaics and ruins are being well cared for, but they are said to have been degraded by the interference of visitors over the past ten years, so it might be wise to visit soon.

Odds n' Ends

Refrain from touching the mosaics or other delicate parts of the ruins; the oils in your hands can speed the erosion of the tiles. Do not climb on the ruins; it can be tempting, but it is important that the site remain for future generations!

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Language Guides

French , Spanish are some of the languages spoken in Morocco. If you know of a freely available phrase book or podcast for one of the missing languages, let us know!


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