- Archaeologists in Morocco have discovered more ruins of an ancient Roman port city located in present-day Rabat.
- Moroccan officials hope the 1.2-square-mile site, Chellah, will further boost the history-rich North African country’s tourism industry.
- “It’s something everyone can be interested in,” Youth, Culture and Communication Minister Mehdi Ben Said said of the dig site. “We’re aiming for 1 million [visitors] with the development of this site, the life of it, the creation of marketing, communication and everything.”
Archaeologists have unearthed more ancient ruins of what they believe was once a bustling port near the capital of modern Morocco, excavating spas and working-class neighborhoods that the country hopes will attract tourists and scholars in the coming years.
On Friday, researchers from Morocco’s National Institute of Archaeological Sciences and Heritage presented new discoveries made this year at Chellah — a 1.2-square-mile UNESCO World Heritage site with a footprint nearly five times the size of Pompeii.
Scholars believe the area was first inhabited by the Phoenicians and emerged as a key outpost of the Roman Empire from the second to the fifth centuries. The fortified necropolis and surrounding settlements were built near the Atlantic Ocean on the banks of the Bou Regreg River. The finds include bricks inscribed in the Neo-Punic language, a language that predates the arrival of the Romans in Morocco.
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The main excavation site has been closed for renovations since the pandemic, and archaeologists have been working to expand it since March. The footprint — including the sprawling site unveiled Friday — is larger than that of Volubilis, a widely visited ruin 111 miles east of Rabat.
Abdelaziz El Khayari, a professor of pre-Islamic archeology from Morocco’s National Institute of Archaeological Sciences and Heritage, said the site’s importance stems from its location on water, which likely made it an important trading area, facilitating the exchange of materials, including the introduction of Italian marble and export of African ivory. He said the new excavations highlighted the richness of the city and hoped to learn more in the coming months and years.
“We still haven’t discovered the real port,” he said.
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El Khayari and his team of archaeologists said the new discoveries farther from the center of Chellah had never been studied. At a press conference on Friday, reporters were shown a newly discovered statue of a woman – possibly a deity or empress – draped in cloth. They said it was the first such statue discovered in Morocco since the 1960s. They also made a neighborhood of limestone and sunset.
Mehdi Ben Said, Morocco’s minister of youth, culture and communication, said he was confident that the location of the ruins near the center of the Moroccan capital would become a magnet for tourists from both Morocco and abroad. His department has invested $487,000 in the project since March and plans to double that amount next year and every year thereafter until the excavation is complete.
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“It’s something everyone can be interested in,” Ben Said said. “Sites like Volubilis get 500,000 visitors a year. We’re aiming for 1 million with the development of this site, its life, the creation of marketing, communication and everything.”