Finding Rome in North Africa

When I was told we would be heading to the Roman ruins of Volubilis, two thoughts came to mind:

I hope this isn’t going to be another guided tour.

Roman ruins in Africa?

But I quickly remembered ancient history class from middle school and freshman year of high school, and that the Roman empire had not only spread to the city of Carthage (modern day in Tunisia), but to much of North Africa, including areas in Morocco.

As for my first thought, seeing as this was an excursion included in a study abroad program….it was unfortunately going to be the typical guided tour.  It can be interesting to know specific historical details about a place, but I am the kind of person who likes to hop and climb around ruins, to discover things on my own like the free spirit that I am.  So as you can imagine, my expectations were not set too high, but I was of course still excited to see my very first Roman ruins and enjoy the experience.

view of volubilis  Well, let’s just say that this place shot my expectations out of the water.  Volubilis is gorgeous.

A Roman viewI could not get over just how picturesque the place was.  First of all, the ruins were very much intact, more so than any other sites in Morocco. And just to make the scene even better, all of Volubilis is perched on top of a hill, surrounded by green grass and flowers and gorgeous views in every direction. To the north rise up some mountains, with the small town of Moulay Idriss nestled right into the side of one.  To the south extends olive groves and farmland for as far as the eye can see.  With a cloudless blue sky as a backdrop, the entire scene is perfect.

moulay idrissWe met our friendly guide that morning at the entrance, and as all Moroccans do, he greeted us with a heartfelt welcome before leading our large group towards the ruins site.  And despite the fact that yes, we were being herded around like cattle, it was fascinating to to hear about what life was like for the Romans living here.  And the fact that we were walking exactly where they had ages ago was extremely cool in itself.

And let me tell you, their life did not seem like it was too difficult.


One of the rooms functioned like a fancy spa room, where the Romans could relax and enjoy the hot spring water that fed their baths, in all the free time they had.  Which, for the upper class, was a lot.

relaxing in the spa

Another area was the party room, where the Romans would eat and drink and celebrate literally until they dropped.  LITERALLY.  Right next door was the “vomitorium” where party guests would go to empty their stomachs so that even if they had eaten too much, they could still go and eat more.  Unbelievable.  The endless olive groves, vineyards, and abundant fruit in the area is probably what helped allow for this strange custom to be able to exist.

the sacrificial altarWe continued our tour, hopping around the ruins, taking photos, and gawking at the giant stork nest sitting on top of one of the columns (an actually very normal sight for Morocco).

down the pathWe witnessed olive presses, the brothel room, age-old sewers and beautiful marble floors that have survived the test of time and whose intricate designs still amaze people even now.

intact marble floorVolubilis was an amazing place.  It would have been great to just sit and ponder and take in the history around me alone, but it was still worth it to experience it all in a group.

views from volubilisAnd Volubilis isn’t all Morocco has to offer in the Rome department – there are ruins scattered all over the country! Mainly in the north and along the northern coasts, with another of the most iconic sites being Lixus.

Random ruinsImportant Info:  The ruins of Volubilis are about 30 minutes away from the city of Meknes, and right near the town of Moulay Idriss.  Grand taxis run from Meknes to both the ruins and the town.  The best time to come is of course in the spring or fall, where you avoid the scorching midsummer heat.  Coming at 8 or 9 in the morning is also best to avoid all the tourist crowds, although you may run into a school field trip group as we did.  Still though, probably better than a tourist horde coming off of a bus.

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