You would never expect to find ancient Roman ruins in Morocco. And not small ruins, but the whole city dating the 3rd century BC and built in a 40-hectare territory. When I first time visited the Volubilis Archaeological Site, I didn’t think it to be so huge and well-preserved. I was impressed that some mosaics were in better condition than some I have seen in major museums of the world. There is even a giant triumphal arch – impressive for that time.
History of Volubilis
Volubilis Archaeological Site is located in a fertile agricultural area, about 30 km north of Meknes city, and around 60 km from Fez. The history of Volubilis dates to the 3rd century BC onward as a Berber, then proto-Carthaginian, settlement. Later Volubilis became the capital of the kingdom of Mauretania. From the 1st century AD onwards, Volubilis grew under Roman rule and was the Roman Empire’s most remote city.
Since then, Volubilis rapidly grow to a size of 40 hectares, with 2.5 kilometers long wall to protect it. As historians state, in the 3rd century BC, Volubilis was home to 20,000 residents. Most of the buildings, public places, residencies with amazing mosaic tile works, and triumphal arches were built during that period. Locals made their wealth mainly off olive oil production.
In the late 8th century, Volubilis became home to Idris ibn Abdallah, the founder of the Idrisid dynasty and the “founder of Morocco”. Later, people moved from Volubilis to live to Fez and Moulay Idriss. In the 18th century, a powerful earthquake demolished many fully standing structures. Only around the 1830s, the French army began excavations in Volubilis; many monuments were restored. However, until these days, only about half of the 40-hectare site at Volubilis has been uncovered. To protect this unique place, in 1997, Unesco declared Volubilis as the World Heritage site.
How to get to Volubilis?
Volubilis is located about 30 km north of Meknes city, and around 60 km from Fez. The nearest village Moulay Idriss is 5 km away from the site. Volubilis is surrounded by beautiful landscapes and farmer fields, making it more complicated to access.
If you are staying in Fez, Volubilis can be a fantastic day trip. As it’s enough to spend 2 hours in Volubilis, on the same day you can visit the nearby Moulay Idriss Zerhoun village and have a short tour of the imperial city of Meknes.
The easiest way to reach Volubilis is to book a private tour (contact me for more info).
If you want to explore Volubilis yourself, first, catch the train from Fez to Meknes. For train schedules, check the official Moroccan Railway website Oncf-voyages.ma. Train to Meknes leaves every 30 minutes; the journey takes 35 min and costs 25 Dh (around 2 euros).
In Meknes, you can have some free time exploring the imperial city or head directly to the grand taxi parking spot for the Moulay Idriss village. Grand taxis are located next to the d’Amour garden (across the road from the Institut Français entrance), coordinates are here. The grand taxi to Moulay Idriss costs around 10 Dh/a seat.
FROM MOULAY IDRISS
From Moulay Idriss village, you can take another taxi to Volubilis, which cost around 30 Dh/one way for the whole taxi.
You can agree with the taxi driver to wait for you. However, there are always some taxis waiting at Volubilis, or you can walk back to Moulay Idriss. I did walk myself and enjoyed it.
Can you get a grand taxi from Meknes directly to Volubilis? Yes, if you pay for the whole taxi and driver agrees to wait for you until you explore Volubilis. It can cost around 300 Dh.
ROAD TO CHEFCHAOUEN
If you are going to Volubilis with a rented car, after the visit, you can continue through a local scenic towards Chefchouen city.
I drove myself once from Marrakech to Chefchouen, stoping at Moylay Idriss for lunch and visiting Volubilis. We started early morning and were in Chefchoeun around 8 pm. Or, opposite, you can drive from Chefchouen directly to Volubilis, not taking another road to Fez.
Volubilis Historical Site is open to the public every day, from 8:30 am until an hour before sunset.
The entrance fee for foreigners is 70 dirhams and 30 Dh for children under 12 years old. For Moroccans, the entrance fee is 10 Dh.
If you want to have a guide, there are available at the entrance to Volubilis for around 250 dirhams. Guides usually can speak not only English, French but also Spanish and often German.
Try to visit Volubilis during the sunset. The mix of ancient ruins and rays of lights is breathtaking. You will also avoid tourist crowds; most of the tour groups come to Volubilis around lunchtime.
At the Volubilis site, there is only one small local restaurant selling snacks. It’s pretty expensive so I recommend for lunch to visit the Moulay Idriss village.
If you want more off beaten paths experience, book a donkey trip from Moulay Idriss to Volubilis. The trip can be booked through the Dar Zerhoune guest house in Moulay Idriss. You would take a donkey from Moulay Idriss, through the main square, past the town park, and on the mountain road, past olive groves to Volubilis. On the way, you will enjoy panoramic views of Moulay Idriss, the Zerhoune mountain range and the valley surrounding Volubilis.
More info: https://www.darzerhoune.com/
Funny fact about my picture below. This “stork nest holding pose” was offered by the guardian who also took the pic. After, I saw he was suggesting to take a picture of the same posture for more tourists. Of course, tips were appreciated. I was laughing imagining an Instagram full of photos with tourists holding the same stork nest.
Volubilis is definitely worth to drive off the main road for a visit. This place reminds me again about the rich history of Morocco and a wonderful glimpse into the complex past of Northwest Africa.
Official guidebooks about Marrakech forces you to go where everyone else is. Instead, let me be your Marrakech digital insider! In my 155 pages magazine, I mixed hi-so and down-home options to get an understanding of Marrakech dynamics. As well, you will find some history facts, maps, guide to public transport, shopping, alcohol selection etc.