The Ancient Cities of Morocco

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With a human presence estimated at 300,000(Homo Sapiens of Jebel Irhoud), Morocco has very early had an important human activity. The hinterland is full of exceptional archaeological sites, both in terms of their remains and their age, the last trace of a civilisation that was once prosperous and influential even beyond the Sahara.

Here is a (non-exhaustive) list of these unique places of history!

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Rirha, The Oldest Capital of Morocco

After decades of excavations, Moroccan researchers (with the help of French and Spanish researchers) were able to find the legendary Rirha (or Gilda), the capital of Mauritania according to Greco-Roman writings.

Located in the Gharb plains, the oldest archaeological evidence of the site dates back to at least the 2nd century BC. The city was built around a Moorish centre and a late Roman extension. The site was abandoned from the 3rd century AD onwards before having a modest revival under the Almohads.

Excavations are still going on in the hope that new discoveries will provide new information about Mauritania.

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The Saracen Tower Or Borj Esserrajine, The Ancient Moorish Fortress Of Taza

The history of this fort is unfortunately not well known. However, all the inhabitants of the region attest to legends that date the fort back to pre-Islamic times. The few written sources mentioning this fort describe the history of this place in the following way: during antiquity, Taza was only a simple fortified city (or oppidum) before becoming a real fortress and an important political centre when the kings, at the height of their power, were able to face the attacks of Rome.

From the confrontation with the Roman civilisation, the Berbers brought back their ideas and methods. Some of the walls of the walls date from around the 2nd century BC, which gave this tower a particular shape and an important resemblance to some Roman towers.

The Berbers also imported pottery techniques from Rome. Several pieces of pottery have been found, but also oil lamps, soup pots, vases with handles etc.

With the arrival of the Almohads on the scene, the ramparts were extended to protect the upper town of Taza from incursions from the east.

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The Lost City of Nul Lamta and the Fortress of Agwdid

During antiquity, there were two ways in which cities could develop: the first was to settle around a fertile point, and this is found in Morocco, especially in the fertile plains of the northwest.

The second way is through trade, with some trading places allowing traders to settle down to satisfy customers, often nomadic, travelling through the region.

The oldest known commercial city in Morocco was born in this way. Nul Lamta is located south-east of Guelmim in what is now called the Tighmert Oasis Chapelet. Existing before the arrival of the Idrissides, it had its hour of glory during the advent of the Almoravides. Indeed, Abdallah Ibn Yassine, founder of the Almoravid movement, came from this town and died only after conquering Sijilmassa, Aghmat, the Souss and Nul Lamta.

The city became a place of exchange between the West African populations and the rest of Morocco, thus developing a trans-Saharan route from the Senegal River to Marrakech via Oualata and then Nul Lamta.

The Almoravids added the fortress of Agwdid and exported the architecture of the commercial city to Oualata (Mauritania), Timbuktu and Gao.

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The Millenary City Of Volubilis, Jewel Of Moorish And Roman Culture

The most popular archaeological site in Morocco, Volubilis was a major city from antiquity until the arrival of Islam. Founded by the Berbers and attached to Mauritania, the city will know an exceptional development at the time of its entry in the Roman bosom at the 3rd century before J-C.

The city will have an enclosure composed of 9 walls, places of worship and also towers around the city. Situated on a fertile plain, the region will experience an important commercial and agricultural development thanks to various roads, a complex clay canalization system and an aqueduct.

Volubilis will be an example of the coexistence between Moorish and Roman civilization, coexistence which is notably visible by the addition of Mauretanian altars to the Roman basilicas. The city was inhabited for more than 7 centuries before Idris II, the second Idriside sovereign, founded the city of Fes. The site has been the subject of archaeological excavations since the beginning of the 20th century and only half of it has been excavated to date. The quality of the finds and the site has led to its inclusion on theUNESCO World Heritage List.

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The M'zora Cromlech, Moorish King Burial Ground

Located south of Asilah, the cromlech has surprised many researchers and archaeologists because of its resemblance to Stonehenge and its history. M'zora (or Msoura) is composed of a central tumulus surrounded by 167 monoliths of different sizes. Known since Roman times, this site was reputed to be the tomb of the Libyan giant and king Antaeus, killed by Hercules according to legend. The Roman general Sartorius even went to the site to verify the veracity of this reputation before finding, according to Plutarch, a corpse measuring sixty cubits (~26 metres).

The cromlech remained a place of worship and the exercise of Moorish power (King Ascalis even took refuge there) for several years before being abandoned following the Roman conquests. This type of burial mound can be found throughout northwestern Morocco, which suggests a common civilisation around the Moorish dynasty.

The site was peacefully preserved by the locals who nicknamed the place "el outed" (the stake) in reference to its pointed shape. Several European geographers and travellers made mention of this place until the excavations of the Spanish archaeologist Cesar Luis de Montalban , who permanently damaged the site in the 1930s. According to testimonies of locals who participated in this excavation, there would be a tomb under this site with a giant sword and human bones similar to the description of Sartorius...

Secrets Still Buried...

Due to its high population density and its long history in these lands, human settlements in Morocco can be counted in the hundreds. Even before the Punic or Roman influence, many traces of the sedentary existence of the Berbers and Moors are scattered everywhere. One of the traces of this existence can be found in the different names of the Moroccan regions and rivers (Mulucha/Moulouya, Draa, Sus...).

Unfortunately, few archaeological sites have yet been properly excavated, as the task is so great and the means so derisory. These ancient and mysterious cities are only waiting to be studied in order to reveal all their secrets, those of a population with an important degree of civilisation, with a culture, a language and a writing of its own and common, and whose influence was felt from the Mediterranean to the Sahel.

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