A journey to Morocco’s ancient sites of Volubilis and Moulay Idriss Zerhoun

Travel back in time to the third century BC with photographer Peter West Carey as he brings these ancient sites to life through his photography.

A visit to the archaeological sites of Volubilis and Moulay Idriss Zerhoun — a 45-minute drive from Meknes’ train station in north-central Morocco — is a step into Northern Africa’s deep well of history.

Islam got its start in Morocco, and Morocco got its start as a unified state in the ancient town of Volubilis. The fertile valley surrounding the now-ruined city has been inhabited for over 5000 years, including a far-reaching arm of the Roman Empire, which crafted the majority of the buildings and foundations found at what is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. A city of grand, triumphant arches and intricate mosaics flourished here for more than two centuries before falling to local tribes near the end of the third century AD.

Five hundred years later, Arab leader Moulay Idriss I unified Morocco and established Volubilis as its capital, but he was assassinated after only three years in power. His son, Idriss II, carried on his father’s plan to relocate the capital to the new town of Fes, while Volubilis deteriorated. Moulay Idriss I’s remains were relocated to a new mausoleum in the nearby city of Moulay Idriss Zerhoun in the 14th century, which is now regarded as one of Morocco’s holiest sites by Muslims.

However, words can only tell a portion of this rich history. To understand what once stood proudly on this site, you must first see the archaeology.

The Arch of Caracalla morocco
The Arch of Caracalla.
Peter-West-Carey-Morocco Basilica
Inscriptions adorn much of the stonework in front of the Basilica.


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One of many original mosaics unearthed during restoration efforts by the French and Morocco.
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The Basilica and surrounding fertile valley. Olives were a staple crop in Roman times and are still farmed today.
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My daughter looking down the Decumanus Maximus toward the Arch of Caracalla. This was once the main road into town, with shops on both sides.
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Many storks have found safe haven atop the pillars of the Capitoline Temple, which stands next to the magnificent Basilica.


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Tourists stroll through the city’s eastern outskirts, with the Capitoline Temple and the Basilica in the background.


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A view of Volubilis – upper centre – from the higher streets of Moulay Idriss Zerhoun.
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What did my daughter enjoy about almost every location we visited in Morocco? The sweet cats.


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Moulay Idriss Zerhoun, built on two hills beneath the Atlas Mountains, is compact and offers almost all homes a view of the valley below.


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Donkeys cart goods through the streets of Moulay Idriss Zerhoun as the sun sets.


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Grab lunch or a tasty dinner before heading back to Meknes.


The Mausoleum of Idriss I morocco
The Mausoleum of Idriss I.