Exploring the Ancient Roman Ruins of Volubilis in Morocco: The Impressive World Heritage Near Meknes
Explore the Ancient Roman Ruins of Volubilis in Morocco

The archaeological site of the Volubilis in Morocco is one of the country’s most impressive historic attractions. This ancient Roman city near Meknes offers travelers the chance to explore well-preserved ruins and marvel at beautiful mosaics dating back to the 3rd century B.C.

Visiting Volubilis makes for an easy and rewarding day trip from Fes or Meknes. The ruins cover over 40 hectares, providing plenty to see during a morning or afternoon of wandering the old Roman streets. Highlights include the Triumphal Arch, House of Orpheus, Capitol, Basilica, and Baths of Gallienus.

Below is a complete guide to visiting this UNESCO world heritage site, the Roman city of Volubilis, including how to get there, what to see and do, and tips for making the most of your time exploring this Roman site in Morocco.

History of Volubilis

History of Volubilis

Volubilis was founded in the 1st century BC on the site of an older Amazigh settlement. It served as the capital of the Roman province of Mauretania between AD 40 and 285 after being incorporated into the Roman Empire.

The city was founded as a Roman colony by Juba II, the Roman-backed king of Mauretania. Juba II was the son of the late King Juba I of Numidia, an ally of Rome. Under Juba II’s rule, Volubilis flourished as a thriving agricultural and economic center producing olive oil, cereals, and wild animals for Rome.

History of Ancient Roman City, Volubilis

Volubilis continued to grow rapidly as a Roman provincial capital through the 1st and 2nd centuries B.C. The city’s stunning mosaics, basilica, and triumphal arch date from this period when Volubilis had an estimated population of 20,000 people.

After the Romans withdrew from Volubilis around 285 AD, it was briefly taken over by Berber tribes before being abandoned in the 11th century. The ruins lay undisturbed for centuries before archaeological excavations began in the late 1800s.

Now designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Volubilis stands as one of the most well-preserved and extensive examples of an ancient Roman town in North Africa.

How to Get to the Archaeological Site of Volubilis in Morocco?

How to Get to the Archaeological Site of Volubilis in Morocco

Volubilis sits conveniently close to the popular tourist destinations of Meknes and Fes in northern Morocco. It makes for an easy day trip from either city, located about 30 minutes drive north of Meknes and 1.5 hours from Fes.

Most travelers visit Volubilis as a day trip from their base in Meknes or Fez. Hiring a private driver for the day is the most convenient option for getting to Volubilis and back. Some organized day tours also offer connections from Tangier to visit Volubilis.

Entering the Archaeological Site of Volubilis in Morocco

This allows time flexibility to visit in the best light during the morning or late afternoon. CTM Buses (www.ctm.ma) and grands taxis also connect Meknes and Moulay Idriss several times per day.

If driving yourself, Volubilis is well-signed from the main road (N13) between Meknes and Moulay Idriss. There is parking just outside the entrance gate.

Exploring the Roman Ruins of Volubilis Near Meknes

Volubilis stands as Morocco’s largest and best-preserved Roman site. It served as the capital of the Roman province of Mauretania between AD 40 and 285. The ruins cover some 40 hectares, although only about half have been excavated.

In 1997, Volubilis was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which recognizes its significance as an outstanding example of a Roman colonial town.

Highlights of a visit include exploring the ancient town center along the Decumanus Maximus, seeing the elaborate House of Orpheus mosaics, and standing before the grand Triumphal Arch of Caracalla.

Here are the key areas and monuments to discover when exploring Volubilis:

Triumphal Arch

Triumphal Arch

The Triumphal Arch was built in 217 AD to honor a visit by the Roman Emperor Caracalla and his mother Julia Domna.

The Arch formed the entrance to the city. It stands nicely preserved today as an imposing welcome monument.



The Capitol marked the beginning of the Decumanus Maximus, the city’s main street. It likely housed the most important temple as well as the city’s basilica where legal proceedings took place.

The remains of columns outline its rectangular shape.


Built in AD 217, the basilica with its Corinthian white marble columns and marble floor has been partially reconstructed to give a sense of its grand size and beauty.

House of the Ephebe

More fine mosaics are on display in this aristocratic home. Notable mosaics feature Bacchus in a chariot drawn by panthers and scenes of athletes and acrobats engaged in sports.

House of Orpheus

The outstanding mosaics inside the House of Orpheus represent some of Volubilis’ finest art. Scenes depict Orpheus playing the lyre, surrounded by animals charmed by his music.

House of the Columns

House of the Columns

The open courtyard with its circle of columns is a highlight within this partly-reconstructed home. Some of the mosaics and artifacts found here are now displayed in the Archaeological Museum in Rabat.

House of the Knight

More intricate mosaic floors are preserved inside this large home, as well as a still-standing oven used for heating water for the private baths.

House of the Dog

Mosaics of guard dogs still stand watch at the entrance to this house named after a scene of dogs attacking a deer.

Other Notable Houses

In addition to the House of Orpheus and House of the Knight, Volubilis contains other homes with intricate mosaics worth seeing.

Make sure to visit the House of the Labours of Hercules, House of Dionysus and the Four Seasons, House of the Nymphs Bathing, and House of the Wild Beasts. Each contains detailed mythological or nature scenes rendered on mosaic floors.

Also take time to admire the mosaics at the House of Venus, which feature vivid scenes of the Roman goddess of love and beauty.

Temple of Saturn

Temple of Saturn

The partially standing columns of this temple offer a classic view of Roman architecture. It was reconstructed in the 1960s with six columns re-erected.

In addition to the Temple of Saturn, there were also smaller temples dedicated to the Roman gods Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva.

Baths of Gallienus

Baths of Gallienus

Parts of the original structure, pipelines, and pools still stand within these public thermal baths dating to the late 200s AD. Ongoing excavations occur on-site.

Olive Presses

Scattered throughout the site, Volubilis featured many olive presses producing olive oil which was a lucrative export for the city. Several remain intact today.

Don’t miss also wandering along Volubilis’ Decumanus Maximus. Though it now terminates abruptly, this impressively wide street lined with columns once connected the main gate to the Triumphal Arch.

It offered commanding views over the surrounding fertile plains that allowed Volubilis to prosper.

Give yourself at least 2-3 hours to wander Volubilis’ expansive ruins. A morning visit is ideal to avoid the heat of midday. The late afternoon light also beautifully illuminates the Triumphal Arch and columns lining the Decumanus Maximus.

Whenever visiting, be sure to bring good walking shoes, a hat, water, and sunscreen.

Moulay Idriss Zerhoun – Morocco’s Holiest Town Near the Roman City of Volubilis

After exploring Volubilis’ Roman ruins, take a quick side trip to Moulay Idriss Zerhoun, one of Morocco’s most sacred pilgrimage sites.

This picturesque whitewashed town sits just 3 km from Volubilis. Moulay Idriss I, the most revered saint who introduced Islam to Morocco, was the founder of the Idrisid dynasty, the first Arab Muslim dynasty in Morocco that ruled from 788 to 974 AD.

Moulay Idriss Zerhoun houses the saint’s mausoleum in the center of town. Non-Muslims cannot enter the mausoleum but will enjoy wandering the lanes lined with food stalls and souvenir shops.

The hilltop offers great views over the town and surrounding olive groves. Stop for a mint tea on a terrace café before heading back to Meknes or Fes.

Tips for Visiting Volubilis

Tips for Visiting Volubilis

Visiting Volubilis is easy and rewarding as a day trip from Fes or Meknes. Here are some tips for making the most of your visit:

  • Hire a guide to fully appreciate Volubilis’ history. The site has several excellent licensed guides who provide walking tours for 100-150 dirhams.
  • Visit in the morning or late afternoon for the best light and to avoid the heat.
  • Wear sturdy shoes as the site has some uneven and rocky areas.
  • Bring sun protection like a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. There is little shade at the expansive ruins.
  • Take your time, especially along the main street. Trying to rush through sees you miss many beautiful details.
  • Stop for a drink or lunch in the town of Moulay Idriss on your way back to Meknes/Fes.
  • Photography permits are available for just 5 dirhams at the entrance gate. Tripods require an additional permit.

Frequently Asked Questions About Visiting Volubilis

What is the best time of day to visit Volubilis?

The best times to explore Volubilis are early morning or late afternoon. This allows you to avoid the hot midday sun and also capture the ruins in the ideal soft light.

Aim to arrive about an hour before sunset for a beautifully lit experience.

How much time do you need at Volubilis?

You need 2-3 hours to fully explore the Volubilis’ extensive ruins. This allows enough time to wander the main street, visit all the key houses and monuments, and absorb the atmosphere at an unrushed pace.

Avoid trying to rush through in just an hour or you’ll miss many details.

When was Volubilis made a UNESCO World Heritage Site?

Volubilis UNESCO World Heritage Site

Volubilis was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. This designation highlighted its importance as a remarkably intact example of a Roman colonial town dating back to the 1st – 3rd centuries BC.

Should I visit Moulay Idriss Zerhoun?

Yes, the small town of Moulay Idriss makes for a nice complement to Volubilis. Spend 30-60 minutes wandering its lanes and admiring the views.

Have a mint tea on a terrace before heading back. As Morocco’s most sacred town, Moulay Idriss offers a look at pilgrimage and religious life.

How do I get from Meknes/Fes to Volubilis?

How do I get from Meknes or Fes to Volubilis

The easiest way is to hire a private car and driver for the day. This allows you the flexibility to visit when the light is ideal.

You can also take CTM buses or grand taxis from Meknes to Moulay Idris’s town and then walk or take a petit taxi the final 3 km to Volubilis.

Is there an entrance fee for Volubilis?

Yes, it costs 20 dirhams to enter Volubilis. There are also small fees for photography (5Dh) and videography (20Dh) permits. Make sure to also tip your guide if you do a walking tour.

Should I visit Volubilis on a day trip or stay overnight nearby?

Volubilis works great as a day trip from Meknes or Fes. With organized transport, you don’t need to overnight nearby.

However, staying in Moulay Idriss does allow you to catch the ruins in the ideal morning and late afternoon light over two days if desired.

What should I wear and bring for visiting Volubilis?

Dress for the hot sun and walk over uneven ground. Bring sturdy shoes, a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and a bottle of water. There is little shade at the expansive ruins so sun protection is key.

A guidebook also helps identify all that you see.

In Summary

  • Volubilis makes for an easy and rewarding day trip from Meknes or Fes in northern Morocco.
  • Highlights include the Triumphal Arch, Capitol, Basilica, House of Orpheus mosaics, and wandering the Decumanus Maximus.
  • Nearby Moulay Idriss Zerhoun, Morocco’s most sacred town, is also worth a quick visit.
  • Visit in the morning or late afternoon for the best light and to avoid the midday heat.
  • Hiring a guide greatly enhances appreciation of Volubilis’ extensive ruins and history.
  • Photography permits are inexpensive and let you capture great shots around the site.

Visit Volubilis with Great Desert Tours

Want an in-depth, hassle-free experience of Volubilis? Want to avoid crowds as you explore the extensive ruins and learn about the Roman capital?

Check out Great Desert Tours. Our knowledgeable guides lead tours to Volubilis and other top sites in Morocco. Ride in comfort from your accommodation and avoid large crowds on customized tours.

Visit Volubilis the right way – with Great Desert Tours!


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