Fez, Day 2: Volubilis

By the second century BC, the Roman empire extended through a network of fishing cities in northern Africa.  During the last century BC, they established themselves in Volubilis, not far from current-day Fez.  The city remained under Roman control until the Berbers drove them out in the 300s AD.  The Arabs took over in the 8th century AD and remained until the place was leveled in the 1755 Lisbon earthquake.  Today, it’s a city in ruins set among fields and olive orchards.  We hired a driver to take us out to visit it.  We’ve seen Roman ruins before, and in general these ruins didn’t stand out as particularly remarkable.  But the mosaics were incredible — some of the best I’ve seen.  Plus, everything was Roman and therefore familiar; it felt kind of like coming home and seeing all your old friends.

Main thoroughfare – toward Tangier gate

Main thoroughfare – toward Rabat gate
In front of the triumphal arch

Initially a legal complex, this building became a Catholic basilica after
Constantine converted to Christianity

Behind the basilica:  Temple of Jupiter with sacrificial alter

Olive oil press

Roman houses were generally rectangular, laid out around  a central courtyard.  Many of these houses were still largely intact (at least, as far as their floorplan went).  It was neat to get a sense of what a house was like and to see the varieties of courtyards:

Circular yard with corner gardens and columns

Courtyard with central basin and gardens

This one had jets of water in the middle, and pools
around the edge — the scallopingcreates seating spots
for the family:  each person gets his own nook
in which to sun himself while soaking

Too much sun, not enough soaking

As I mentioned, many remarkable floor mosaics remained in their original location, largely untouched by time.  Each piece is a colored stone (as opposed to tile), so they don’t need any further protection from the elements.

This one has standard Roman gods but African animals,
some of which are now extinct from this region


Acrobat riding a horse backward while clutching a trophy

This was a house of ill repute; lots of “coupling chambers” leading
off the main courtyard

Have you ever wondered about the origin of the “carat” as a unit of weight measurement?  Me neither.  But I learned the answer today:  Our guide explained that carob beans are consistently identical in weight with every other carob bean on the planet.  So the Romans would use those beans when measuring out gold, etc.  From “carob” came the word “carat.”  Cool.

Carob seed pod

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