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Ancient Morocco: History, Monuments, Heritage


Morocco is an ancient nation steeped in history. While the country was inhabited by prehistoric man, it was also the land of the ancestors of today's Berbers, the Moors at the time of the first Phoenician-Punic navigators, the Carthaginians and the Romans.

These first ones left traces of their Iberian-Maurusian civilization - Man of Mechta el-Arbi - and of their Capsian civilization, among other remnants, their famous cave paintings, marks painted on the rocky walls of the Atlas Mountains.

While the latter have marked the history of the country with one of the most splendid civilizations that the western Mediterranean knew in antiquity, the Libyan-Berber or Mauritanian civilization.

Roman Morocco was known in antiquity as Tingitan Mauritania, which was part of the ancient Moorish kingdom known as Mauritania and extended over the northwest and centre of present-day Algeria, and part of northern Morocco.
Mauritania-Tingitania extended from the north of the peninsula to Salé (Necropolis of Chellah) and Volubilis (Region of Meknes) to the south and east as far as the river Oued Laou.
Its main cities are Volubilis, Sala (Chellah), Lixus, Banasa, Ceuta, Melilla and Tingis (now Tangiers) which was its capital. It was administratively attached to the province of Spain (Betica). Alas, time didn't spare everything, several ancient cities were lost with the passing of time, wars and other difficulties.
Only a few cities with ruins are present today, the most intact of them are Volubilis as well as Chellah, Lixus, Banasa and Thamusida.


An ancient Roman city located on the banks of Oued Khoumane, a river in the suburbs of Meknes (Morocco) not far from the holy city of Moulay Idriss Zerhoun where Idriss I rests.
The name of the city comes from the Latin volubilis meaning "which turns, which has a gyratory movement". The Berber name of the city is Walili, Oualili, or Walila which means the bindweed flower. The city lived from the olive oil trade. Many oil presses can be found in the ruins.

Sala Colonia/Chellah:

The site of Chellah was probably the oldest human settlement at the mouth of the Bouregreg. The Phoenicians and Carthaginians, who founded several trading posts in Morocco, probably inhabited the banks of the Bouregreg.
Chellah, however, preserves the remains of a later Roman city. Excavations have revealed the presence of an impressive settlement, the town cited as Sala by Ptolemy and Sala Colonia in the itinerary of Antoninus. The remains of the "Decumanus Maximus" or main road, have been excavated, as well as those of a forum, a monumental fountain, a victory arch, a Christian basilica, etc. 
The main road of Sala was monitored by soundings carried out in the direction of the ancient port on the Bouregreg, a port that is now silted up. In this way, the Roman town extended beyond the Merinid enclosure in the direction of the river.


An ancient city founded by the Phoenicians around 800BC. It is located near the current city of Larache, on the right bank of the Loukkos river. Its ruins occupy the hill currently known as "Chummich", which derives from "Tchimmis" or "tuchumus", the name that designated the site in medieval times. Contrary to popular belief, this name has nothing to do with the name "Maqom Shamsh", which appears in Neo-Punic script on ancient coins struck in the first century BC by an as yet unidentified city.
Lixus is certainly one of the oldest cities in North Africa according to the ancient sources of Pliny the Elder . According to the latter, Lixus was founded in the 12th century BC, well before Carthage and Gadir. The first settlement was founded on a hilltop acropolis overlooking an estuary, a topographical situation much sought after by the Phoenicians.


Banasa is an ancient Roman city the meaning of whose name is still uncertain. It is located in the plain of Gharb, on the left bank of the Oued Sebou in Morocco.
Several centuries before the Emperor Augustus decreed the foundation of the Julia Valentia Banasa colony at the beginning of the 1st century A.D., the site had known a strong Phoenician and then Carthaginian presence.
This presence expressed itself in particular through a flourishing craft industry, as evidenced by the many pottery kilns that have been excavated. It is likely that at the beginning of the Roman occupation Banasa was only a military camp surrounded by a moat. But soon the contours of the town began to take shape. Right-angled streets appeared, as well as a forum lined with porticoes, a judicial basilica, a temple with six chambers and half a dozen baths, two of which were private.


(Now Asilah): Founded by the Phoenicians, before Christ under the name of Zêli, it was then occupied by the Carthaginians from 700 to 146 BC before being under Roman domination, the latter renamed it Zilis.
Thamusida is a river port of the Roman period in Morocco. The small ancient city is located 1 to 10km as the crow flies from the present-day city of Kenitra and about 23 km as the crow flies, north of Mehdia, on the left bank of the Sebou River at Sidi Ali ben Ahmed. It is approximately halfway between Sala (in the South) and Banasa (in the North), in an area prone to flooding, the site then remaining elevated and connected to a vast hinterland. It was easy to defend.
The nearby forest of the Maamora probably provided the building materials (cork oaks).
The fish-rich and navigable river upstream and downstream, as well as the surrounding cultivable land, made it an important centre of occupation.
Thamusida was located on a Roman road that started from Tangiers/Tingis, passed through Larache/Lixus, Banasa, went down to Sala Colonia (Chellah) and stopped at the siltworks (still visible at the southern exit of Rabat on the road to Casablanca).
The antiquity of the cities of Lixus and Tingis had long been known through texts. Archaeology has revealed that towns in Tingitan Mauritania had an older past.


Rirha, which may have been the ancient city of Gilda, mentioned in Greco-Latin texts, possible capital of the kingdom of Mauritania (north-western Morocco today) before the Roman conquest, is an ancient city located in the Gharb plain, about 35km from the site of Volubilis and 8km north of Sidi Slimane (province of Kenitra), Morocco.
The site of Rirha occupies, on the right bank of the Beht river, an artificial triangular hill about ten meters high, elongated from east to west and surrounded by a bend in the river.
The site underwent a so-called Mauritanian phase dating back to at least the 3rd century BC, characterised by mud architecture, followed by a Roman phase (1st-3rd century AD), during which an urban landscape developed (domus, enclosure, sewers, etc.) and, ultimately, an Islamic phase (9th-14th century), which reoccupied the buildings of ancient times.

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