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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Day 3 -- Volubilis


Triumphal Arch


The Romans were conquerors and not very nice guys. They enslaved those they conquered, killed those who got in their way, and hungrily gobbled up the known world for their own riches and desires. However, say what you will about their bad habits, they were marvelous engineers and city builders. Volubilis was no exception.

Aziz, our local guide
This inland outpost, originally established by the Phoenicians, was enhanced and expanded by the Romans during their three-century long stay (325 BCE – 225 AD) in Morocco. The reason? It was a "grain basket" as well as a place for olive oil. 

 


They built the city out of the limestone from the mountains, which weren't all that close. They plastered the walls of their buildings and painted them. On the floors they put mosaics, some of which have been preserved and are among the best and most colorful in the world. A wall 18 feet high surrounded the two-square mile city that included a triumphal arch (still mostly intact), temples, a forum, main street with space for shops, housing for all classes of people. An aqueduct brought water in from the mountains to provide drinking water, toilet and laundry facilities, a spa. One of the private homes was 10,000 square feet! Their slaves here were the native Berbers, who took over Volubilis when the Romans left and they inhabited the town until the 1755 Lisbon earthquake leveled it.
I could feel the presence of the Romans here, just as I had when I was in the forum in Rome, only it wasn't a sadness that pervaded this place. Instead, it was just a presence, maybe tinged with pride at having created such a marvelous city.  I had never heard of Volubilis and yet it fascinated me. There was a young woman who looked to have a Muslim prayer book with here. She was praying here, in this valley surrounded by the most fertile soil in Morocco. I found this odd, as I had never seen anyone do this among Roman ruins. Our guide, Yemani, said it was not so unusual, as Muslims pray anywhere
that is a clean place. Maybe the woman had Berber background and she was praying for her ancestors who lived here longer than anyone else. Maybe she was an archeology student and she was hoping for inspiration and good luck in her work. Maybe she was an architect or an artist and she merely admired what had once been here. Nevertheless, no one can come to Volubilis and not be moved by its size, former strength and beauty, or its importance in settling the known world of its time for this was civilization!

Volubilis is only recently being excavated and there is much work to do and much more to learn here. It is my dream to spend time in an archaeological dig and if I were to choose a place, it would be Volubilis. No wonder it is a UNESCO world heritage site!



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