Located near the Moroccan town of Meknes, halfway between Rabat and Fez, the abandoned Roman town of Volubilis is marked out by startlingly beautiful, and incredibly well-preserved,  mosaics.  I visited Volubilis back in April, and the experience was well worth it.

Volubilis, Morocco

The 12 Labours of Hercules.

Abandoned by the Romans in the third century AD and excavated from the late 19th century onwards, only about half of Volubilis has been fully uncovered. The 40 hectare site was crowned a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, but remains little known.To be honest, I had not even known about it until I stumbled upon it in a Lonely Planet guidebook. Once I saw the images though, I immediately changed our schedule from two nights in Rabat to one, in order  to fit in a trip there. My friend Ding had little cause for complaint once we arrived.

Roman columns, bathhouses, aqueducts and bakeries, are one thing, but the most unique aspect of Volubilis is the mosaics that have somehow (largely) retained their colours and shape despite constant exposure to the elements, and suffering vandalism at the hands of some over-zealous Muslims over the ages. In fact, it began to drizzle while we were exploring. I shudder to think what kind of damage the drip-drip-drip of the rain and the heat of the sun will eventually do to the site in years to come.

But for now, gazing upon the mosaics will make you think of the Roman legions and their endless marches, togas and orgies and slaves. And if you’re a fan of the writer Neil Gaiman, the Sandman, the Dreaming and the tragic fate of poor, poor Orpheus will likely come to mind.

Volubilis, Morocco

Volubilis, Morocco

The symbols of the zodiac.

Volubilis, Morocco

Diana the Huntress

Volubilis, Morocco

The head of Medusa, the Gorgon slain by Perseus.

Dolphins!

Volubilis, Morocco

The House of Orpheus! Unfortunately, the Sandman was nowhere to be found.

Volubilis, Roman ruins

I think you can guess what this place was used for. Ahem.

Volubilis, Morocco

Endless columns

Volubilis, Morocco

The Flash had run all the way to Volubilis.

If all this has made you contemplate going there, do note that most travelers will make it a day trip to Volubilis and the nearby holy town of Moulay Idriss. It’s best to base yourself in Meknes, which is about a 30 minute drive from Volubilis. There are some very nice riads, or traditional Moroccan houses, there. I forget the name of ours, but we booked it through Expedia, and it cost us slightly less than $50 a night. It was really pretty and well-ventilated, and our room was rather large too.

Meknes, Volubilis, riad

The central courtyard of the riad

Meknes, riad

The view from the second floor of the riad.

Meknes, riad

We had a HUGE room.

 So what do you think of Volubilis? Would you ever fancy going there?