10 most important archaeological sites in Morocco
Ancestral land, Morocco has many historical sites. If some are known, others are much less so. Discover the 10 main ancient ruins in Morocco.
Often forgotten, Morocco is a country several thousand years old. From prehistory to our present, through the Mauritanian, Almohad, and Saadian periods, Morocco has seen several civilizations and cultures pass through its territory.
Some of these archaeological sites are known to everyone and are perfectly integrated into the cities. We think in particular of the palaces of Marrakech or the imperial city of Meknes. Others are more confidential, sometimes lost in the countryside. But enthusiasts will want to take a look!
Are you a history buff? Discover the 10 main archaeological sites of Morocco!
- State of conservation: depending on its date of construction and renovations, what state is the site currently in;
- Knowledge of the public: the notoriety of the archaeological site for the uninitiated;
- Historical influence: the historical importance of the site and its influence on subsequent civilizations.
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the ancient city of Volubilis is probably the most important archaeological site in Morocco. Volubilis is the ancient capital of the old kingdom of Mauretania. Founded in the 3rd century BC and then occupied by the Romans from the year 44, Volubilis experienced its hours of glory until the 3rd century.
For centuries, according to the testimonies of travelers of the time, the site was rather well-preserved. Unfortunately, it suffered heavy damage after an earthquake in the 18th century. Under the French protectorate in Morocco, the French found traces of Volubilis and cleared the ruins to make it, a few decades later, a major archaeological site.
Volubilis is accessible because it is located near the city of Meknes. The best-preserved buildings are the Capitoline Temple, the Basilica, and the Arc de Triomphe. There are also some mosaics. Although unknown, Volubilis is a rare witness to a very important period of Moroccan history.
Located a few kilometers from Volubilis, the city of Meknes can also be considered an archaeological site in Morocco. Its archaeological riches are today the most important monuments of the city.
For many, we owe them to Moulay Ismaïl, the Alaouite sultan of the 17th century. Most are part of the imperial city of Meknes, also called the Kasbah of Moulay Ismaïl, at the time when the capital of Morocco was transferred there.
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Kasbah is located south of the Medina. Its most remarkable monuments are its ramparts and its monumental gates. If the city appears as recent, it is because of its continuous use since its construction and, therefore, of continuous maintenance.
Located on a hill near Larache and the mouth of the Loukkos River, Lixus is an archaeological site in Morocco. The foundation dates back to Phoenician times.
Although the Phoenician origins are beyond doubt today, it was during Roman times that Lixus became one of the most important cities in the region. All the ruins have been unearthed thanks to excavations carried out in the 20th century. Among these ruins, there are baths, temples, 4th-century ramparts, and mosaics.
Despite the fall of the Roman Empire, Lixus remains inhabited, even by the Arab people after their conquest of Morocco.
The ancient city of Banasa was founded around 30 BC by the Romans. Quickly abandoned in the 3rd century, the ruins of Banasa are located near the capital Rabat, on the banks of the Sebou River.
Today, only a few stones remain and one can easily imagine the grandeur of this city, which was then reserved for war veterans. One can recognize the forum, a basilica, the Capitoline temple, as well as streets.
Despite its early abandonment, many objects and mosaics have been recovered. They are now kept in the Archaeological Museum of Rabat. A must for those who love ancient ruins.
Thamusida is an archaeological site in Morocco having been founded by the Berbers. Located a few kilometers from Banasa, the two towns have a shared history. They were notably abandoned around the same time by the Romans, in the 3rd century.
Today, Thamusida enjoys an ideal setting, on the banks of the Sebou River. It is a pleasant place for a walk. As for the ruins, cleared by the French at the beginning of the 20th century, they are unfortunately few and maintained. It is difficult to recognize to which building such a wall or such a ruin belonged.
On the other hand, like Banasa, the objects that have been found are now kept in the Archaeological Museum of Rabat.
Among the archaeological sites in Morocco, Rirha is one of the least documented. Today, archaeologists know that it dates from the Mauritanian era and that it disputed the status of capital with Volubilis. Above all, they wonder if Rirha corresponds to the city of Gilde which is mentioned in the texts.
Throughout history, the Romans occupied the city and expanded it, before abandoning it at the turn of the 4th century. In the 9th century, the Arabs settled in Rirha before they too abandoned it in the 14th century. Between the 4th and 9th centuries, the fate of Rirha is unknown.
Cromlech of M'zora
The Cromlech of M'zora is a unique place in North Africa. Indeed, among the archaeological sites in Morocco, it is the only megalithic, that is to say, only made up of stone constructions. Located south of Tangier, its preservation is good.
For the anecdote, the Romans made it a legendary place, the tomb of a king defeated by Hercules! What is certain is that, regardless of the subsequent occupations of Morocco, the site remained as it was. This is the reason why dating is complex.
In the 20th century, the site was excavated several times, which damaged it. Today, the highest preserved megalith is 5 meters high and the locals call it El Outed (the picket in Arabic).
El-Badi palace and the Saadian Tombs of Marrakech
Some may be wondering what Marrakech does among the archaeological sites in Morocco. The city is indeed not famous for its remains! However, Marrakech is home to some of the most beautiful of the Saadian era.
South of the Medina, near the Kasbah district, are the el-Badi palace and the Saadian tombs. These two buildings, which were once part of the same complex, date from the 16th century and the time of the wealthy Sultan Ahmed al-Mansour. Although it is in ruins, the palace impresses with its vastness. Some annexes are well-preserved, such as the one hosting the hammam.
The Saadian tombs are intimately linked to the palace. They are the last resting place of the Saadian dynasty, including the famous Ahmed al-Mansour who even has his own personal mausoleum! The Saadian tombs form one of the best examples of 16th-century Moroccan architecture.
Chellah (Sala Colonia)
Chellah is located near Rabat. This archaeological site in Morocco is founded in the Mauritanian era. Subsequently, the Romans occupied it and named it Sala Colonia. However, although rare Roman ruins remain, Chellah is famous for its Muslim necropolis, the construction of which was completed in 1339.
The necropolis is rather well-preserved. Its ramparts are almost intact, its gate is sublime and the 13th-century minaret is still standing. Chellah is a superb testimony to the time of the Merinids.
Today listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Chellah is a popular site for visitors.
Phoenician Tombs of Tangier
The locals have made it a place to meet. However, the Phoenician tombs of Tangier form a rather important archaeological site in Morocco. Unfortunately, their state of conservation is not up to their testimony.
These tombs have the particularity of being cut into the rock and offer a breathtaking view of the sea. Today, the Phoenician origin of the tombs is debated. Recent research would show a Roman origin. Either way, it's a unique and amazing place that will delight history and mystery buffs!.