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Ruins, Historical Sites & UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Morocco

Morocco has a lengthy and extensive past. Since pre-Roman and Roman times, Phoenician, ancient, and prehistoric times, including traces of dinosaurs or rupestral, the past has left its mark. They all bear witness to the rich history of the nation and assure you of an enriching stay.

List of cultural UNESO World Heritage Sites in Morocco

  • Archaeological Site of Volubilis (added in 1997)

  • Historic City of Meknes (added in 1996)

  • Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou (added in 1987)

  • Medina of Essaouira (formerly Mogador) (added in 2001)

  • Medina of Fez (added in 1981)

  • Medina of Marrakesh (added in 1985)

  • Medina of Tétouan (formerly known as Titawin) (added in 1997)

  • Portuguese City of Mazagan (El Jadida) (added in 2004)

  • Rabat, Modern Capital and Historic City: a Shared Heritage (added in 2012)

Ruins at Lixus, the Golden Apple Garden, one of the 12 Labours of Hercules

Lixus is located on the Rabat-Tangier highway, seven kilometres from the town of Larache. The Carthaginians, Romans, and Muslims all sought safety in this historic city, teeming with artifacts representing many parts of ancient civilizations.

A mosaic of Neptune, the deity of springs and white water, can be seen among the remains of old cathedrals, fishing and salting factories, an amphitheatre, and other structures.

Greek mythology describes the city as the location of one of Hercules' twelve labors, which entails harvesting golden apples in Hesperides' garden.

The Carthaginian and Roman ruins of Lixus, perched on a hill with breathtaking views of the Loukos Estuary, serve as poignant reminders that this coast is home to some of the nation's earliest civilizations. You may explore without encountering crowds, even though it lacks the grandeur of Volubilis because so many of the ruins have been damaged by time and the environment. The site currently has a modern visitor center with an intriguing exhibit outlining what is known about its history.

Megalithic stones discovered nearby suggest that it was formerly home to sun-worshiping people knowledgeable about astronomy and mathematics. Then, until the Phoenicians established a colony like this here in around 1000 BCE, little is known. Hercules collected these golden apples from the Garden of the Hesperides, concluding the penultimate of his 12 labors, according to Pliny the Elder. It's possible that the golden apples were Moroccan tangerines.

If a guardian is available, they will be glad to tour you in exchange for a gratuity of about Dh100. The lower town, where the garum factories that made the paste so adored by the Romans were once located, is immediately inside the gate. A track ascends the slope to the acropolis, passing a sloping Roman amphitheater. Baths with some remnants of mosaic flooring were initially constructed into the side of the amphitheater. A few mosaics from the location were taken away and are now on exhibit in the Tetouan Archaeology Museum.

The trail keeps going until it reaches the overgrown acropolis atop the hill. You can see the salt fields below and the Loukos Estuary from here. The old city ramparts, municipal buildings (including temple sanctuaries), and pre-Roman remnants can all be found here.

The Carthaginians conquered the Phoenician colonies in the Atlantic Ocean in the sixth century BCE. By 42 CE, Lixus had entered the Roman Empire but continued to operate as a trading post, primarily dealing in gold, ivory, and enslaved people. Soon, garum, salt, olives, wine, and olive oil became its main exports; also, its traders made a fortune by exporting wild animals for the Empire's amphitheatres.

The colony at Lixus soon dwindled as the Romans retreated from North Africa, and in the fifth century, with the fall of the Roman Empire, it was altogether abandoned. Muslims then started calling the location Tuchummus.

The main entrance of Lixus is located just off the highway, beside the road that runs in front of the estuary, about 5.5 kilometers north of Larache on the road to Tangier. Getting a bus or taxi for your return trip may not be easy. Therefore, it's best to arrange for the driver to pick you up at a predetermined time. A petit taxi costs Dh20 one-way.

The ancient necropololis of Chellah

The city of Rabat offers one of the most beautiful tourist sites of the city, which is the Merinid necropolis of Chellah, located 2 km from its center. Listed by UNESCO as World Heritage in 2012, many visitors discover this city built on the ruins of the ancient Roman town of Sala-Colonia.

First came the Phoenicians, then the Romans took control of this beautiful hilltop site above the fertile Bou Regreg river plain around 40 CE. From 1154, it lay abandoned until the 14th century, when a Merinid sultan built a necropolis on top of the Roman site.

An elegant minaret, now topped by a stork's nest, is all left of a once-impressive mosque and the sultan's tomb, complete with stone carving and mosaic traces behind it.

To its right (east) are the tombs of several saints and the Bassin aux Anguilles, a pool that attracts women who believe that feeding boiled eggs to its resident eels brings fertility and easy childbirth. Next to the minaret, at a lower level, is a small madrasa (school for studying the Quran) with the remains of pillars, students' cells, a mihrab (niche indicating the direction of Mecca), and an ornamental pool.

At the bottom of the site, on the slope beneath the tomb of Sultan Abu Al Hasan and his wife, is a shady walkway lined with flowers, palm trees, and bamboo.

The Chellah is an evocative setting for several of the city's festivals, including Jazz au Chellah and Mawazine.

Colonized by flourishing vegetation and storks that made a home for themselves, there are several interesting remains: ruins of the Zaouïa, a minaret, tombs, flowered alleys, and a large basin. The Merinide Necropolis also hosts many events, such as the Jazz Festival.

The ruined Roman city of Volubilis, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Located near Moulay Idriss Zerhoun, Volubilis is an archaeological site listed by UNESCO as World Heritage. Considered the main Roman ruins of Africa, Volubilis symbolizes the multiple cultural influences in Morocco.

There are traces of several civilizations that have succeeded each other. Founded in the 3rd century B.C., it was the capital of Mauritania which the Romans later occupied with 20,000 inhabitants.

The archaeological site Volubilis remains a wonder for lovers of ancient architecture, the history of civilizations, and ancient ruins. From Mosaics, carved columns, oil presses, and various other buildings, these remains are just breathtaking!

The best-preserved archaeological monument in Morocco is the destroyed Roman city of Volubilis, which is located in the center of a fertile plain. It was recognized as a Unesco World Heritage site in 1997. Its most remarkable features are the numerous exquisite mosaics that have been kept in place. To make a spectacular day excursion from Meknes or Fez, combine Volubilis with adjacent Moulay Idriss Zerhoun, located approximately 33 kilometers north of Meknes.

At Volubilis, only around half of the 40-hectare site has been excavated. The area of the site farthest from the entrance in the south is where the more well-known monuments are located.

Bring a hat and lots of water because the sun may be very intense on a hot summer day. The best time to visit is in the spring when abandoned stones are covered in wildflowers and the surrounding fields are at their greenest. Optimal times to visit are early in the morning or late in the day; Volubilis is most spectacular around sunset when the last rays illuminate the historic columns.

Although several buildings have portions roped off, you can explore the grounds at your leisure. A tiny on-site museum is located just past the entrance gate and houses some of the valued treasures from the ancient city, including some exquisite bronzes. In contrast, the majority are now housed in the Rabat Archaeology Museum.

The Forum, Basilica, and baths at Volubilis

The ruins of Galen's Thermal Baths are situated close to the House of Orpheus. They vividly display the highly advanced underfloor heating in this Roman hammam despite being essentially ruined (look for the low arches). The public restrooms are located across from the steam room, allowing residents to conduct their business while conversing with one another.

Traditionally, the Forum, Basilica, and Capitol were constructed on a high point. The Forum and Basilica are located immediately north of the Capitol, built in AD 218 and honored the Triad of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva. If storks are nesting at the time of your visit, the Basilica's rebuilt columns will likely be topped with nests, creating an iconic image of Volubilis. Numerous plinths surrounding the Forum have been engraved with Latin inscriptions to indicate where statues of the greats formerly stood. Keep an eye out for the subtle display of Roman civil engineering that is the carved stone drain-hole cover.

In 217, the marble Triumphal Arch was erected in memory of Julia Domna, the mother of Emperor Caracalla. The arch, which originally had a bronze chariot on top, was rebuilt in the 1930s, and the errors from that time were fixed in the 1960s. The hillock offers a beautiful perspective of the entire area to the east.

Olive presses for the wealthy at Volubilis

Look for the flat presses and scattered stone storage vats to identify the olive presses, which are the least impressive aspect of the site but reveal the economic foundation of ancient Volubilis, much like the abounding olive orchards in the neighborhood today. Private olive presses were a feature of wealthy homes.

The exceptionally well-preserved mosaics at Volubilis

The House of Orpheus is the most luxurious and spacious residence. Its dining room features a mosaic of a dolphin and a mosaic depicting Orpheus lulling animals to sleep with his lute. The private hammam features a solarium, a tepidarium (warm room), a frigidarium (cold room), and a caldarium (hot room) with exposed steam pipes.

There are a few more roped-off mosaics on the left, immediately before the triumphal arch. One, at the House of the Acrobat, shows a contestant receiving a prize after winning a desultory race in which the participant had to dismount and remount while the horse ran. This location was a brothel for exhausted warriors who would stop by here after making it back to the triumphal arch after a battle. To the west of here is the House of the Dog, famous not for its mosaics but for a lonesome granite plinth with a large phallus carved into it.

The Decumanus Maximus ceremonial route rises the slope northeast from the arch. The site's best mosaics are found in the homes that line each side. The House of the Ephebus, the first structure on the opposite side of the arch, houses a mosaic depicting Bacchus riding atop a chariot carried by panthers that are now completed.

Next is the House of the Columns, which is named for the columns surrounding the interior court in a circle. Note the variety of their styles, which include spirals. The House of the Knight, also known as House of the Cavalier/Rider, is located nearby and features an incomplete mosaic of Bacchus and Ariadne. The attention of admirers has partly hurt the nude Ariadne.

The following four homes bear names derived from their outstanding mosaics: the House of Hercules' Labors, the House of Dionysus and the Four Seasons, the House of the Bathing Nymphs, albeit the nymph mosaics are severely damaged, and the House of the Wild Beasts. The first tells the story of the Twelve Labors in virtually a circular comic strip format. Hercules was well-liked during the period due to the heroic deeds that were said to have taken place there.

The finest mosaics are sometimes reserved for last. Head toward the lone cypress tree that designates the House of Venus, where King Juba II resides, after crossing the Decumanus Maximus. Two of the mosaics are beautiful and suitably include semi-romantic themes. The first is the sensual composition, The Abduction of Hylas by the Nymphs depicts Hercules' lover Hylas being seduced from his duty by two lovely nymphs. Diana Bathing is seen in the second mosaic. Acteon, a hunter, caught a glimpse of the virgin goddess when she was taking a bath. As retaliation, she transformed him into a stag. Acteon is depicted as sprouting horns and on the verge of being pursued and eaten by his pack of hounds, as is the fate of all fabled peeping toms.

Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou

With the help of some Hollywood touch-ups, this Unesco-protected red mudbrick ksar (fortified village) seems frozen in time, still resembling its days in the 11th century as an Almoravid caravans.

Shooting location of famous films

Movie buffs may recognize it from Lawrence of Arabia,Jesus of Nazareth (for which much of Aït Ben Haddou was rebuilt), Jewel of the Nile (note the Egyptian towers), and Gladiator. A less retouched kasbah can be found 6km north along the tarmac from Aït Ben Haddou: the Tamdaght kasbah, a crumbling Glaoui fortification topped by storks’ nests.

What is a ksar?

The ksar is a typical pre-Saharan habitat compirsed of a collection of mud structures encircled by high walls. The dwellings cram close together within the defensive walls, which are fortified by corner towers. In the region of Ouarzazate, Ait-Ben-Haddou is a stunning illustration of southern Moroccan architecture.

The most well-known ksar in the Ounila Valley is the site of Ait-Ben-Haddou, which is situated in the foothills on the southern slopes of the High Atlas in the Province of Ouarzazate. A remarkable example of southern Moroccan architecture is the Ksar in At-Ben-Haddou.

What does the ksar contain?

The ksar is a cluster of primarily communal homes. A dense concentration of houses, some modest and others resembling small urban castles with high-angle towers and upper sections decorated with clay brick motifs, can be found inside the defensive walls reinforced by angle towers and entered through a baffle gate.

There are also buildings and community areas inside the walls. It is a remarkable collection of structures that provides a thorough overview of pre-Saharan earthen construction methods. The earliest buildings don't date back to the 17th century, despite the southern Moroccan valleys being home to these structures' structure and technique since very early times.

What was the purpose of the ksar?

The location served as one of the numerous trading stops along the road that connected Marrakesh to ancient Sudan via the Tizi-n'Telouet Pass and the Dra Valley. Architecturally, the living spaces are arranged in a small, confined group that is suspended. The mosque, the public plaza, the grain threshing grounds beyond the ramparts, the fortification and loft at the top of the village, the caravanserai, the two cemeteries (Muslim and Jewish), and the Sanctuary of Saint Sidi Ali or Amer are among the communal spaces of the ksar. The Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou is a superb example of Moroccan pre-Saharan earthen building.

List of sites in Morcco under consideration for UNESCO World Heritage classification (as of 2022)

  • Moulay Idriss Zerhoun

  • Taza et la Grande Mosquée

  • Mosquée de Tinmel

  • Ville de Lixus

  • El Gour

  • Grotte de Taforalt

  • Parc naturel de Talassemtane

  • Aire du Dragonnier Ajgal

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