We passed Volubilis on our way from Meknes to Fez — a short stretch, really. At the time we visited, a Safari Rally was well on its way from parts of Spain like Sevilla and Toledo to Marrakech. Quite a collection of classic cars which diverted our interest from the ancient ruins of Volubilis. But only temporarily. A short walk and a few uphill climbs brought us finally to this archeological site which was an important outpost of the Roman Empire in the 3rd century. All of 42 hectares, which is not much, but the wealth then of this Mauritanian capital is very evident in its fine buildings which thankfully survived to this day and age.
Given the scale of this ancient settlement and the remaining area yet to be discovered, its historical significance has yet to unravel beyond what our local guide Rashid narrated. Don’t get me wrong. Rashid is one very competent guide whose passion for his work shows as he spews out details of this ancient civilization accompanied by a very good sense of humor. Yet I find there’s got to be more than the usual historical bits — after all, there were 10 centuries of occupation and the site yielded a treasure trove of archaelogical finds bearing witness to Berber, Mauritanian, Roman, Christian, Arab and Islamic cultures. As a UNESCO Heritage site, we can only look forward to further documentation of some of these lost cultures. In a sense, the abandonment of Volubilis for a thousand years somewhat “preserved” the ruins despite earlier “looting” to build some magnificent edifices in Meknes.
The triumphal arch and the Capitoline Hill smacks of very Roman roots, along with what remains of the basilica, temples, thermal baths, even brothels. Prosperity obviously ruled those days, considering the grand mosaic tiles found in ancient residences which mercifully survived continuing exposure to the elements. The whole area gives one a glimpse of life some 2,000 years ago. You can just imagine the contrast between this civilization in its time to conditions outside the settlement or elsewhere in Morocco.
Yet something seems amiss. Sure, it is not of the same grand scale as Pompeii nor the Roman Forum, but I was adequately drawn to some tourist spots where “Roman ruins” was limited to a single edifice and a few pillars. Could it be that its history needs a good “retelling”? Like nothing grabs me the way the Vesuvius eruption blanketed an entire Italian town in volcanic lava, or someone of prominence or historical significance actually lived or died somewhere. I’m sure there is some great story waiting to be told. And I bet Rashid can deliver such a story with aplomb.