Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Et tu Berber

Volubilis is a well preserved Roman ruin dating from 100 AD.   The Romans seemed remarkably active that year in Northern  Africa. They were in a two year siege of the Zealots in Masada, and were conquering Petra and building there at the same time.  Volubilis was a prosperous city with a temple, basilica and of course, baths.
The ruins remained of many rich homes with still vivid mosaics, further evidence of the prosperity of the Roman citizens.
Sight of the right facing swastika was startling.  Use of the swastika (the word is derived from Sanskrit) dates back over 10,000 years and is found in almost every culture.  The image is believed to have evolved from the appearance of a basket weave, and it is a symbol of good, or peace, or at least it was.  It was not until 1920, when the Nazi party adopted a left facing version of the swastika as their symbol, that it became a dreaded symbol of evil.

The settlement was large and housed merchants who served the people of the city and the Roman Legions housed there.  The shop signs were pictograms carved in stone so that illiterate customers could easily recognize the wares sold there.  Most of the signs were found in front of small shops on the main thoroughfare.
Looking at the signs above, you can see the first three, going clockwise from the upper right are for fowl, beef, and wine.  The fourth sign was located at a large venue that was well away from the main road.  Clearly the military leaders of Volubilis understood, as did Joe Hooker of American Civil War fame, what it took to entertain soldiers who are far from home.

The Romans held Volubilis until the 3rd century when they had trouble with the locals.  Their problem groups were members of what is today called the Imazirn, an independent group that is an amalgam of peoples of North Africa who have lived in the region for thousands of years.  

The Romans called them barbarians and the coast of Morocco became known as the Barbary Coast.  Sultan Moulay Ismail used pirates from the coast to capture European slaves to build Meknes.  The English changed the name to Berber.  Although it was originally an insult, Berbers today are proud of their heritage and the fact that neither the Romans, and in modern times the French were ever truly successful in dominating them. 

The Lisbon earthquake of 1755 caused significant damage to the Roman structures, which until that time were largely intact.  Further damage was caused when the site was looted to provide material for the construction of Sultan Moulay Ismail’s fortress city of Meknes.  Below is a picture of one of the Volubilis columns that is part of the Bab el Mansour.
The sun was sinking lower as we started to leave Volubilis.  As it shown through the Triumphant Arch, an older couple stood and discussed the ruins.  The woman had trouble walking, and her spouse took her arm as the sun shone around them.  There is a draw to places like this that appeals to so many different people.  I wondered what they discussed as they continued their journey.  They made a pretty picture.
We left Volubilis and headed toward Fes, traveling through large farms that looked too big to be family operations.  The terrain began to change as the hills became more pronounced and the countryside drier.  The sun painted the hills with a rosy glow. 

It was a good day.  Tonight we will see Fes.


  1. Loved learning of this remarkable site. It is amazing that so much remains intact. You have seen some wondrous things in your adventures off the beaten path. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  2. Thanks for the photo tour. Wonderful pix's and commentary.
    p.s. I thought it was a lobster...