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Abeja Dispatch

Abeja's Camera Visits Volubilis

Poor Kavitha sits there on the bed of the hotel room, her swollen ankle propped up on a pillow. Abeja is dangerous! Not only did she try to take Kavitha up the highest mountain in Northern Africa, but then she destroyed my buddy Sid, Kavitha's digital camera. He drowned in her daypack, the victim of a leaky water bottle! Poor Sid! He always felt sorry for me, being Abeja's camera, but she did him in first.

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The first glimpse of the city is breathtaking

Vocabulary Box

Hectare - A unit for measuring land; 10,000 square meters or 2.71 acres

Mosaic - Artwork that uses small pieces of stone, glass, etc., molded together to make a bigger picture

Patricians - Members of the ruling class. In the Roman Empire, this title was given out by The Emperor

Pretentious - Arrogant; something that thinks it's more important than it is

Trabeated - A style of architecture utilizing beams for ceilings

"Well, Kavi, I'm off to see Volubilis," Abeja says as she grabs me and stuffs me into her bag. "Take care of your ankle!"

Wow, Roman ruins! That'll be pretty cool... if I survive. This is the really OLD stuff we're going to see. Even though I'm pretty well traveled (being on the Odyssey and being from Japan and all), this is the first time I've been in the ancient Roman Empire! Volubilis was the most Western center of Greco-Roman culture, built around 169 AD. I've heard it was a really classy city.
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Archeologists have only uncovered half of the ancient city of Volubilis

Umph! She squashes my face when she digs around for a few dirhams to pay the taxi. But with me in one hand and her guidebook in another, we set off down the path through the barren fields.

This used to be forest, before all of Morocco and Algeria was willed to Rome by the King of Mauritania at his death in 33 AD The Romans divided it in two, and the western half was called Mauritania Tingitana, with the capital at Tingis - which is now Tangiers. The trees were all cut to clear the land for wheat fields. Northern Africa grew 60% of the wheat for all of the Roman Empire, and now this land isn't very fertile, and no trees grow around here at all! I guess there weren't any ancient Roman environmentalists, hugging the trees in their togas.

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Don't forget me!

Abeja along the Decumanus Maximus

Tea, anyone?
Now I'm up, snapping photos of the stone ruins in the distance. The pillars and arches are straight out of a high school history textbook. She's walking faster in excitement. Look where you're going, Abeja!

Whoa, that was close. She almost walked right into one of the archeologists working to uncover more ruins! Even though they started in 1915, they've only excavated about half of the 40 hectares that the city covered. It's already a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Site. But this area on the outskirts of town was just houses for the average people anyway. The center is where all the really impressive buildings and fancy mosaic tiles are!

Hey! Why is Abeja setting me down on this old stone? Oh, she's using my auto timer to get a picture of her with the columns along the main street, called the Decumanus Maximus! Next thing you know she'll be having me write her dispatches!

She picks up her guidebook and reads, "The porticoes lining the street are barrel vaulted on the north and trabeated on the south so that the inhabitants could walk along covered sidewalks." She laughs and shoves the pretentious book into her bag, vowing never to look at it again.

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The triumphal arch is a huge gate to nowhere!
At the end of the street stands the huge Triumphal Arch, leading from the Decumanus Maximus towards more ruins and vast open plains. Of course, it's not like the archway is a door through a wall or something. It just kinda stands there, out in the open, and you can just walk around it if you want. It's a Roman thing, I guess. It was built in the year 217 AD as this impressive monument to honor the Emperor and his mother. The archeologists pieced it back together in 1930.

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It's practically a penthouse apartment for birds
To the right we can see the remains of the huge basilica, where court was held.

The huge "Corinthian" columns have been put upright again, and some even have giant bird nests on top!

After snapping a bunch of photos, Abeja hands me to this strange old Spanish lady to take a cheesy picture of her with the columns of the Capitonie temple. It was built to honor yet another Emperor in the year 217.

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Ack! Abeja gave me away to some stranger!
This is before Christianity or Islam found their way to Northern Africa, and I guess the ancient Roman Gods didn't have problems with people building temples to honor themselves. The coolest things about this site, though, are the mosaics that all the rich "patricians" had in their luxurious houses. Some show scenes from Roman mythology, like Bacchus, Orpheus, and Diana bathing.

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This floor shows Bacchus and Ariadne, two characters from Roman mythology
One mosaic shows a man accepting a trophy for winning a type of horse race that was popular in Roman times. Called a desultor race, the rider had to jump on and off his horse while it ran.

The houses are long gone, but the mosaic floors still survive. Abeja just went crazy taking pictures and trying to get herself into them any way she could.

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Abeja will do just about anything to get into her own pictures!

Many of the houses had oil presses to make their own fresh olive oil. Water was brought down from the hills in aqueducts and waste was taken away in underground sewers. That's pretty amazing for the second century, don't you think? Christianity arrived on the scene in the fourth century, and the Berbers and Greeks, Jews and Syrians who lived in Volubilis spoke Latin and practiced Christianity until Islam came in the seventh century. The Romans were finally kicked out of here in 698 AD, but the city remained until the 18th century. Even though I was jostled and bounced as Abeja climbed all around the old patricians' houses to see the beautiful tilework, I made it back safe and sound, and with some good pictures to show for it. I don't know how much longer I'll survive as the camera of the klutziest, craziest world-trekker, but I'll sure see some great things in the mean time!

Abeja's Camera

Jasmine - Fes: A Medieval Town of Fairytales
Kavitha - Beauty is Only Skin Deep: Discover Meknes's Tortured Past
From Rags to Riches: Take a tour of Asilah, Morocco and see the transformation
Making a Difference - Abeja gets M.A.D.-- She's Making a Difference

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