Volubilis: A Roman Outpost in Morocco

Founded in the 3rd century BCE by the Carthaginians and later controlled by the Berbers (Amazigh), the fortified city of Volubilis became an important Roman outpost in the 1st century CE. Located near Meknes, between Fes and Rabat, it was the most distant North African outpost in the empire. The city remained a Roman stronghold until 285, when it was defeated by local tribes. It was inhabited through the 11th century. City structures remained substantially intact until 1755, when the earthquake that destroyed Lisbon, Portugal caused the collapse of Volubilis and other sites in North Africa. The city has been partially excavated and some reconstruction has been undertaken.

The Tingis Gate, northern-eastern entrance to Volubilis,168/169 AD. Volubilis had eight monumental gates. Notice the stork’s nest on the column. They are everywhere in Morocco.

Map of the Roman Empire. Volubilis is on the left side in Mauretania Tingitana. It is the largest and best-preserved Roman ruins in Morocco. It became a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in 1997.

The Decumanus Maximus, the east-west main street in the Roman expansion of the city. The Arch of Caracalla, heavily restored in the 1960s, is at the far end. The rich, fertile lands surrounding Volubilis produced olive oil and grains.
A panoramic view of some of the townhouses in the upscale area of the city. The wealthy residents had large peristyle houses, many with mosaic floors and private baths. Volubilis was a thriving city and an administrative center for the Roman Empire.

Volubilis is known for its well preserved, though in some cases heavily restored, mosaic floors found in the houses of the wealthy classes and in public and private baths. The subjects are generally mythological characters and stories, fantastic beasts or nature. I enhanced the colors in a couple of the photos below to really capture the image. In situ, the mosaics appear duller due to bright sun and deterioration due to the elements. The originals would have appeared brighter, like this first image.

House of Venus
House of Dionysus and the Four Seasons
House of Orpheus floor, one of the largest mosaics
Dolphin mosaic floor in the private baths of the House of Orpheus.
Detail from House of Orpheus mosaic
A section of a house.
Fertile fields of Morocco’s Jebel Zerhoun Plain supported Volubilis and supplied olive oil and wheat to much of the empire.
The Arch of Caracalla. The extensive reconstruction in the 1960s has been questioned.
The Capitoline Temple dedicated to Juno, Jupiter and Minerva, c. 218 CE.
The Basilica. Originally a judicial and administrative hall, it was later used as a church. Early 3rd century CE.
After the city was abandoned and following the earthquake, stone and architectural elements were pillaged for buildings in other cities, such as nearby Meknes.
The red bricks show areas of restoration or reconstruction.

One of my goals on this trip was to see if I could be happy using a cell phone camera when I traveled rather than hauling around my DSLR and a lens or two. I purchased a Samsung S22 Ultra and for the most part shot all my photos with it. Overall, I am pleased with the results though, even with four optical lenses on the phone, I miss the optical zoom on my main DSLR lens. The phone camera was especially handy when taking photos from a moving bus.

Square Perspectve #16

Walking With Nero

The Octagonal Dining Room with Domed Ceiling. Domus Aurea (Nero’s Golden House), Rome, c. 64-69 AD, Rome, Italy. Concrete was used for the dome construction.


The Golden House

The Golden House of Nero, Domus Aurea, a magnificent palace in ancient Rome, was constructed by the emperor Nero between AD 64 and 68. The palace and its grounds were laid out as a park with porticoes, pavilions, baths, and fountains, with an artificial lake in the center. (Under the emperor Vespasian the lake was drained for the site of the Colosseum). The Golden House was never finished and survived only four years, until June 9, A.D.68, when Nero committed suicide. The complex is historically significant  because it introduced aesthetics of monumental architecture developed in the imperial style of Roman architecture under DomitianTrajan, and Hadrian. It was also one of the first building do use concrete for fine architecture.

Little survives of the palace but excavations have revealed hints of its grandeur and size. It is said to have had over 300 rooms, none of which were bedrooms. Nothing remains of the palace’s second storey. Much of the excavated structure was built into the hills or was built over by the Baths of Trajan. After years of restoration, part of the palace was opened to the public in 1999. Heavy rains in 2006 weakened the structure and forced the site to close. Happily, the Domus Aurea was again open to the public when I visited Rome in November 2019. About 30 of 100 excavated rooms are opened to the public. Each room generally takes its name from the decorative elements that remain: the Room of the Vault of the Owls (sala della volta delle civette) and, the most famous, the Room of the Golden Vault” (sala della volta dorata). Admittance is by appointment only on a guided tour that is all underground. It was one of the highlights of my five weeks in Italy. If you are interested in Roman history, art, or architecture, or the genesis of Renaissance painting, I highly recommend visiting. Demand is high and space is limited, so book ahead.


Frescoed Vaulted Ceiling, Room of Achilles on Skyros (Room 119), Domus Aurea (Nero’s Golden House), Rome, c. 64-69 AD, Rome, Italy

Room of Achilles on Skyros (Room 119)

Much of the palace decoration is related to mythology and the Homeric poems, especially the Illiad. The Room of Achilles at Skyros is said to be the work of the painter Fabullus. The center panel of the barrel vault depicts Achilles, with spear and shield in hand, surrounded by the daughters Lycomedes, the king of the island of Syros. Achilles, who had been disguised as a girl, has just revealed his true identity to Odysseus.


Frescoed Vault, Central Octagonal Decoration Set into Mosaic Ceiling Room 42, Ceiling, Domus Aurea (Nero’s Golden House), Rome, c. 64-69 AD, Rome, Italy

Nymphaeum of Polyphemus (Room 42)

The ceiling and walls of a rectangular nymphaeum were originally covered by colorful mosaics and marble sheathing, which were stripped for reuse after Nero’s death. The nymphaeum had a waterfall fountain on the bottom and water was conveyed into a central basin. The lower part of the walls were originally covered with marble.   Four vault medallions and a central octagonal medallion are partially preserved. The central scene show Polyphemus,  one of the Cyclopes described in Homer’s Odyssey, receiving the cup of wine from the hands of Ulysses.

Central Passageway, Frescoed Wall, cleaning test section, Domus Aurea (Nero’s Golden House), Rome, c. 64-69 AD, Rome, Italy

Grand Passage/Grande Criptoportico (Room 92)

A small section of the surviving wall painting has been cleaned as a test to give an approximation of the original. This passageway, which is set into the hill, was used by servants to move throughout the palace. It is a massive space with frescoed walls and ceiling vaults almost 36 feet high. It shows some of the painting motifs that became part of the Renaissance vocabulary following the discovery of the palace by Renaissance painters.


Damaged Frescoed Ceiling, Room of the Golden Vault, (Sala della Volta Dorata), Used to enter the room during and after the 15th centery by artists who studied the painting on the ceiling and upper walls.  Domus Aurea (Nero’s Golden House), Rome, c. 64-69 AD, Rome, Italy

Room of the Golden Vault

Floors, walls, and ceilings were originally covered with the sumptuous wall paintings, mosaics, and stucco decorations or sheathed in marble, precious stones, ivory, and gold. Following Nero’s death, the palace was stripped of its marble and most of its decorative elements. Over the centuries, the internal space was filled with rubble or used as foundations for later buildings, which helped to preserve at least some of the palace structures. Since before the Renaissance, holes have been cut into the Domus Aurea’s ceiling so that people might descend inside to see its spectacular decorations, such as those in the Room of the Golden Vaults  and as part of the construction of a park (top right) in the 1930s. In the 16th century Raphael and his followers were inspired by the wall paintings in the grotte, or caverns, of the palace, especially the tiny grotesques, which became an intricate part of many Renaissance frescoes. (The grotesque decoration generally depicts monsters and hybrid characters, often represented as a mix of different figures, surrounded by natural or geometrical decorations, in a very symmetrical structure, on a white or one colour background. The characters represented are not connected to any specific story, but represented in a very simple and basic way.) Many artists were inspired by the grottos of the Domus Aurea and some, such as Raffaello, Ghirlandaio and Pinturicchio, left their signature on the walls. Unfortunately, the holes and other breaches of the palace allowed water and roots to infiltrate and damaged both the structure and the frescoes. Humidity has caused serious deterioration to the frescoes.


Renaissance Fresco Detail, Palazzo Vecchio, Florence Italy

Renaissance grotesque decorations from one of the rooms of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence

Join Becky’s July Squares: Perspective #15


Walking With Nero

Criptoportico, Domus Aurea, c. 64-69 AD, Rome, Italy. The servants passageway along the back of Nero’s Golden House. The corridor is built into the side if the hill.

OWPC: Manual

Manual Labor

Chain of workers manually moving buckets of sand and debris from archaeological site near the Valley of Kings, Luxor, Egypt

A number of archaeological excavations were taking place in the area outside of the Valley of Kings near Luxor, Egypt. We passed a site where a chain of workers manually moved buckets of sand and debris from dig area.

Join Jennifer’s One Word Photo Challenge: Manual

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