On Sunday, I had the opportunity to see the ruined Roman city of Volubilis and the imperial Moroccan city of Meknes. All the students embarking on the tour met at ALIF in the morning. We piled into a van, and then we were off into the Moroccan countryside. Much of the road was lined with ramshackle shops offering various goods, from fruit to baskets to hats.
We stopped along the way to admire some amazing scenery: a beautiful lake with houses scattered about the shores.
On the horizon were some rather epic-looking mountains.
In the distance you can make out a mosque. There were also people in boats out on the lake. Needless to say, the Moroccan countryside is a very evocative sight to behold.
Along the way to Volubilis, we stopped in a small town to buy some water for the trip. However, we wound up becoming the center of some drama in this sleepy rural town. As the vans parked, one of the students, Juan (a Spanish expat with several degrees under his belt… a belt that happens to be black, as he is a student of karate as well, I recently learned), was struck in the head by a mentally unstable man walking down the street. All the residents of the town got worked up into a frenzy as they shooed away the crazy man. Juan was bleeding a little bit, but in the end was perfectly okay. The incident wound up setting the trip back about an hour as we hung around this small town and checked up with a couple of local cops.
After some more driving through the countryside, we arrived at Volubilis.
The site is on top of a low-lying hill surrounded on all sides by wide-open fields—you can see for miles. To reach the ruins, we walked along a dirt path lined with trees, shrubs, and some nifty-looking cacti.
The entire site is overgrown, with much of the ruined city hidden amongst the shrubbery. When you “enter” Volubilis, you feel like you’ve stumbled into some ancient history purely by chance.
The fact that there was a lone donkey munching on the grass really added to the ambience as well.
Volubilis is a remarkably well-preserved city—you can really make out the layout of the city. For example, you can tell that this was once a major street.
Scattered throughout Volubilis are some excellent mosaics that have somehow survived the tides of history.
Everywhere you go, you can also make out the ruined foundations of ancient Roman houses. With a little imagination, you can almost see what life would be like back then—people hanging out in the streets, walking to and from the market and their houses… the general flow of life was probably not much different from today.
Here’s Driss showcasing the hand-made straw hats used by rural Moroccans (and foreign tourists) to protect themselves from the searing midday sun.
From Volubilis, you can see a nearby hilltop town off in the distance. I believe it is Moulay Idriss, the town where Morocco’s first Muslim king is buried.
From what I’ve read, over the course of Morocco’s history much of Volubilis was dismantled in order to build new settlements. Yet even so, I can’t stop mentioning how much of the city has survived. For example…
Also worth mentioning are these GIGANTIC stork-things. You don’t notice it when they’re far away, but they are very large birds. Volubilis was the first place I saw them, but since then I’ve also seen them guarding massive nests perched atop dilapidated rooftops and minarets in the countryside.
We ended our tour of Volubilis at the forum.
I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The ruins, combined with the surrounding countryside and foliage, really made me feel like I’d been transported back in time. It also reminded me of the epic scope of Moroccan history, but then, I’m a sucker for that kind of stuff.