Awe and Excitement in Ancient Morocco

I like old things. Fortunately, Morocco is home to a lot of extremely old things. Unfortunately, they aren’t particularly careful with them. Since arriving we’ve heard several of stories of ancient monuments that started falling into disrepair and had many of their usable bit stripped and added to other newer buildings and monuments. In the case of Volubilis, however, Morocco’s sometimes-casual attitude towards old things is a tourist’s dream.

Volubilis was a pretty well-to-do, olive trade based town that changed hands repeatedly after it was originally established sometime in the 3rd century B.C.  The Romans annexed it in 40 A.D. and developed most of the city that is visible today, although it was used as a Christian and later Islamic settlement until the 11th century. It was badly damaged by an earthquake in the 18th century and subsequently looted by various Moroccan rulers for building supplies to use in nearby cities. A large portion of the town was excavated and restored in the late 19th century during the French occupation of Morocco and Volubilis is now officially a UNESCO World Heritage site where visitors are astonishingly allowed to traipse about the ruins as they please (with the exception of several roped off mosaics).

Like I said before, I like old things! Volubilis was pretty high on my list of places to visit in Morocco.

The trip to Volubilis from Fez was an hour and a half of train and taxi rides through Meknes and out into the mountains, past Moulay Idriss and down through olive groves to the Volubilis visitor center.

To be honest, the age and history of Volubilis were so overwhelming that my brain shut down a little bit. I was reduced to casually pointing out particularly pretty pieces of 1500+ year old masonry while my imagination silently exploded with joy.

This bit of column is older than my entire country. Fancy that!


Ruins of the basilica.


Most of the bath houses and wealthier homes near the center of the city feature amazingly well preserved mosaics.


20 years vs. 1,800 years.


Wonder and awe and all that.  





Decumanus Maximus, a.k.a. Main Street, looking towards the Arch of Caracalla with the Gordonian palace on the right.


More ruins and Moulay Idriss in the background, the mountain town that nabbed most of Volubilis population in the 11th century.

The only unsatisfying thing about Volubilis is that the ruins are so extensive that we weren’t able to fully explore the city. However, it achieved full marks in the “Blow Your Mind With History” category, which is exactly what I was hoping for.

Borj Nord

The day after Volubilis we continued “ancient ruins” trend and visited Borj Nord, a lookout over the Old City of Fez, built a few hundred years ago by a paranoid ruler wanting to keep an eye on his citizens.

The wall in the foreground marks the boundary of the Old City and the green pyramid roofs in the center are Kairaouine Mosque and University, housing one of the oldest operational universities in the world. 


Sunny and warm with a chance of ancient fortresses.


The view off the other side to the mountains outside of Fez. The white structures on the hillside are old Merenid tombs.

I’m always a little disgruntled by the way my brain reacts when it’s confronted with something incomprehensible. Finding myself unable to fully grasp all of the years and history wrapped up in these ancient structures I fluctuate between feeling awed and excited and feeling that it’s really no big deal. Given the energy required to feel awed and excited all the time, I guess I’m less surprised by the fact that people constantly living in the presence of ancient history don’t worry much about deconstructing bits of it to use in their new and improved constructions. I have needed to make an effort to stay mindful of the history we’ve been surrounded by on this trip.

On that note, I’ve discovered that large amounts of coffee, Moroccan mint tea and cheap, delicious pastries are a great way of replenishing the energy I require to adventure on, awe and excitement included.




  1. Bumsly

    lovely pic of the ancient beautiful inanimate, arching over the present day beautiful animate;
    i wish my computer could access the remaining image files linked; i can only imagine…
    I love the contrasts: warm brilliant arabesque geometries set in ancient stark geologies, overlaid with superfluity of spices;
    home in diffuse dim drear darby desert wilderness chill, pining for the “…leeks of egypt…”
    (i dug up a recipe for moroccan chicken – so jealous i am; you get the real thing)
    Bumsly Owl

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