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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Morocco -- Volubilis

by Fodor's Travel Guide to Morocco 
Volubilis was the capital of the Roman province of Mauritania (Land of the Moors), Rome's southwesternmost incursion into North Africa. Favored by the confluence of the Rivers Khoumane and Fertasse and surrounded by some of Morocco's most fertile plains, this site has probably been inhabited since the Neolithic era.

Volubilis's municipal street plan and distribution of public buildings are remarkably coherent examples of Roman urban planning. The floor plans of the individual houses, and especially their well-preserved mosaic floors depicting mythological scenes, provide a rare connection to the sensibilities of the Roman colonists who lived here 2,000 years ago.

Dionysus and the Four Seasons
Along the Decumanus Maximus, the small spaces near the street's edge held shop stalls, while mansions—10 on the left and 8 on the right—lined either side. The house of Dionysus and the Four Seasons is about halfway down the Decumanus Maximus; its scene depicting Dionysus discovering Ariadne asleep is one of the town's most spectacular mosaics.

House of the Bathing Nymphs
The House of the Bathing Nymphs is named for its superb floor mosaics portraying a bevy of frolicking nymphs in a surprisingly contemporary, all but animated, artistic fashion. On the main street's right side, the penultimate house has a marble bas-relief medallion of Bacchus. As you move back south along the next street below and parallel to the Decumanus Maximus (right), there is a smaller, shorter row of six houses that are worth exploring.

House of Ephebus
The ancient town's greatest mansions and mosaics line the Decumanus Maximus from the town brothel north to the Tangier Gate, which leads out of the enclosure on the uphill end. One of the most famous is the House of Ephebus, just west of the triumphal arch, named for the nude ivy-crowned bronze sculpture discovered here (now on display in Rabat). The cenacula, or banquet hall, has colorful mosaics with Bacchic themes. Opposite the House of Ephebus is the House of the Dog, where a bronze canine statue was discovered in 1916 in one of the rooms off the triclinium,a large dining room.

House of Orpheus
 One of the important houses you will want to visit in the Roman ruins is the House of Orpheus, the largest house in the residential quarter. Three remarkable mosaics depict Orpheus charming animals with his lyre, nine dolphins symbolizing good luck, and Amphitrite in his sea-horse drawn chariot. Head north from here to explore the public Baths of Gallienus and free-standing Corinthian pillars of the Capitol.

House of Venus
The House of Venus contains Volubilis's best set of mosaics and should not be missed. Intact excavations portray a chariot race, a bathing Diana surprised by the hunter Actaeon, and the abduction of Hylas by nymphs–all are still easily identifiable. The path back down to the entrance passes the site of the Temple of Saturn, across the riverbed on the left.

Triumphal Arch of Volubilis
Impressively rising in fertile plains and olive groves, the grand stone arch of Volubilis is the centerpoint of the ancient Roman site. Decorated only on the east side, it is supported by marble columns, built by Marcus Aurelius Sebastenus to celebrate the power of Emperor Caracalla.

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