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.

Ouarzazet: Making Movies in Morocco

Did you know one of the largest film studios in the world is in rural Morocco. Atlas Studios is in Ouarzazet. Scenes from Babel, Gladiator, Lawrence of Arabia, Game of Thrones and many other films have been shot in the area.

Atlas Studio

CLA Studio nearby

Set used as Jerusalem. Atlas saves many sets and has tours.

Parts of Gladiator were filmed at Ait Ben Haddou, a historic village along old caravan route. It is a Unesco site.

Camels and Dunes in the Erg Chebbi

No trip to Morocco is complete without a night at a tented camp in the red sand dunes. We were in the Erg Chebbi near Merzouga. Our trek included a 30-minute camel ride over a flat surface into the dunes, but the rest of the trip was by 4X4.

Me and my camel. Most of the pictures of the dunes were taken from the 4X4 because I was afraid to let go of the camel’s swaying saddle. The wrapped cloth turbans are a type of traditional headdress for the Berbers tribes, now called the Amazigh, any of the descendants of the pre-Arab inhabitants of North Africa.

The tented camp. At home in the desert with all the amenities, except wi-fi. Luckily, I could still get a signal.

We had a Moroccan musical performance of Gnawa, a mystical music originating from West Africa.

Gnawa Music

“Gnawa is one of the most popular types of music in Northern Africa. The Gnawa are slave descendants who were brought to Morocco by the Arabs and claim to be descendants of Sidi Bilal. Their sub-Saharan music has a lead, long-necked lute player who sings and is accompanied by metal castanets. . . .This style has been blended with hip-hop, jazz, rock, and funk but still preserves the traditional sound of their ancestors.” (from https://simply-morocco.com/moroccan-music/)

“For Gnawa music is a fusion of Arab, Berber and African rhythms. It is powerful trance music that goes back to the 16th century and has gained international popularity over the last few years. If you are in Morocco during the month of June, don’t miss the three-day Gnawa festival in the city of Essaouira in the south of Morocco. The main instruments of Gnawa music is the double-headed drum – or tbal – and metal castanets or qerqbat. Gnawa has also gone through changes and can be heard mixed with different musical styles such as Jazz.”  (from https://www.morocco.com/culture/music/)

Morning brought clouds and then rain as we left the dunes behind.

Assilah, An Arty City by The Sea

Assilah is on Morocco’s Atlantic coast north of Rabat. It has an arty vibe and holds an important annual arts and cultural festival in its medina. Originally settled by the Phoenicians, Assilah was an important Arabic city that was later conquered by Portugal. In the 18th and 19th centuries it was a pirate stronghold. From 1912-1956, it was part of Spanish Morocco.

15th century walls built by the Portuguese surround the 12th century medina.

Looking out from the promenade along the ocean with Portuguese battlements along the beach

Sculpture from the cultural festival

White-washed buildings with touches of green or blue, typical Andalusian style in Morocco

Privacy windows in t b e narrow streets of the medina so woman could chat

Mural from festival

The coast line of the now trendy location.

Section of a mural

An all seafood lunch. I really don’t like my food to stare at me.

In the market

School sign in Arabic, French, and Berber (Amazigh).

Chefchaouen The Blue City

Chefchaouen is a lovely hillside City in Morroco. It is known for its blue painted buildings. I was surprised to learn that the extensive use of blue is only about 20 years old. Something most travel writers either ignore or don’t know. The city is whitewashed or painted three times a year for religious reasons. If the paint is only one storey high, it was done by a women.

Many shades of blue

Night blues

From my terrace

A communal bakery. The women bring their loaves in the morning for baking.

Fort built in 1471 by Portuguese prisoners

Morocco

On a 17 day tour of Morocco. So far have been to Rabat, Assilah, Chefchauon, Ouazzane, now Fes. What a wonderful country. A few shots from Rabat.

Main gate at Royal Palace, Rabat.

Chellah, a medieval fortress on the edge of Rabat

Sub-Saharan musicians in front of the gate at Chellah

King Mohamed V Mausoleum

Hassan Tower. Unfinished minaret, c. 1150 and remains of unfinished mosque.

12th century wall of unfinished mosque

Cats are everywhere in Morocco

Modern graffiti in the Kasbah

Where the river meets the Atlantic Ocean from Kasbah overlook. Kasbah mean fort

Kasbah Gate

Andalusian music, Moroccan music from Spain

Chicken and almonds tajine

Playing with my Samsung S22 Ultra and low light

Lecture on Moroccan clothing styles at the Cross Cultural Center for Learning, our hosts in Rabat.

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