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One of the many UNESCO sites in Morocco is Volubilis, the ruins of an ancient Roman city at the very fringes of what was the Roman Empire. We headed up to the present-day holy city of Moulay Idriss and spent a couple of nights to check out Volubilis in all of its glory.

A bit of history

At the far reaches of the Roman Empire, Volubilis was a wealthy city of about 20,000 people at its height, its population consisting of Romans as well as pro-Roman locals. Given the massive distance from Rome, people were encouraged to settle there with generous land grants and other privileges. With an abundance of wheat, olives, and precious metals collected from the fertile countryside, it was a wealthy city with many inhabitants who lived in grand and luxurious houses. But all good things come to an end, and the city was eventually abandoned by Rome in 285 AD and slowly fell into obscurity and ruin thereafter.

Our impressions

As we first set foot inside the ancient city, our eyes were drawn upward towards a collection of massive pillars rising up within a sea of old stone walls that were once the walls of the smaller houses of the city inhabited by its less wealthy residents.

But as we made our way further in, some of the grander houses of the city began to present themselves. One of the most impressive things was the amount of water that would haven been flowing into the city through aqueducts and into each of the houses through channels and fountains and pools, and back out of the houses through subterranean sewage systems.

While the houses would have originally been quite grandly decorated, some of the only surviving parts of this decoration are a number of mosaics that have been uncovered throughout the town depicting everything from geometric Berber patterns and fish motives to detailed scenes from mythology or observations on daily life.

As we explored the ruins of the many houses we were also puzzled by deep groves cut into the stone floors of many of them, which turned out to be part of the local process for processing olive oil. Nearly all of the larger houses had an olive press on site, complete with stone grinders and massive presses, while the city hosted an impressive seventeen bakeries that would have turned the freshly ground flour into warm, delicious bread every day.

The walk back home

We spent a good few hours exploring Volubilis, but when we had seen enough we headed back into the lush fields surrounding the ancient city and decided to take the long way back to Moulay Idriss.

With epic views of the countryside calling to us and our little daughter now fully awake, it was a sunny and pleasant walk for all of us, complete with a relaxed stop for a diaper change under an olive tree and one last look at Moulay Idriss at sunset to finish off the day.

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