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Visiting the Roman Town of Volubilis, Morocco

Volubis, a Roman town in Morocco
Volubilis, a Roman town in Morocco.

Situated in the boondocks of the Roman Empire, Volubilis shared the honor with another Moroccan backwater of being the most remote of Rome’s annexes. This isolation (so isolated that Latin survived as its principal language until the Muslim invasion in the 7th century) should encourage independent travelers to visit.

It does take some effort to get there. Begin in Meknés. Hail a local taxi and make your way to the intercity taxi stand, where you will wait to share a cab to Moulay Idriss (the nearest village to the site, about three kilometers away). Not all taxis go there and you may encounter some resistance to the demand that you, a Westerner, want to voyage out into the great unknown without the benefit of a guide. My husband and I positioned ourselves in the back seat of a Mercedes Benz, and within 10 minutes there were six of us. At less than a dollar per person, the trip is a bargain.

The drive to Moulay Idriss resembles Tuscany: groves of olive trees and prosperous-looking farmhouses. The ruins of Volubilis are extensive. Its basilica, forum, and temple, well-preserved mosaics, public baths and extensive plumbing system, and opulent homes and villas all testify to the town’s prosperity. Volubilis’ finds, including an outstanding collection of bronzes, are lodged in Rabat’s archaeological museum (another much-overlooked destination). Nonetheless, there are more than enough pieces of statuary and stelae to admire at the site’s open-air museum. Do your homework and leave the guidebook in your bag. Walk among the ruins with your senses receptive to your surroundings: ghosts of the past lingering among their homes and alleyways, artists sketching the site, lone travelers like yourself, and the odd stray dog.

Leaving Volubilis can be trickier than arriving. Although you should allot yourself several hours to see the site properly, taxis become rare with the dipping sun. So be prepared to hitch or walk if you haven’t reserved a taxi. Aside from a posh hotel near the site, there is little to accommodate the traveler between Volubilis and Meknès; the village of Moulay Idriss does not allow non-Muslims to stay overnight.

For More Info

Volunteering: Check out the Friends of Morocco Volunteering Section or workcamps with the Volunteers for Peace.

Teaching in Meknés: The Arab American Language Institute of Morocco often has openings.

For other opportunities within Morocco, see the America-Mideast Educational and Training Services, Inc. and the British Council in Morocco.

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