The Basilica of Volubilis


Volubilis is situated in Morocco, the former Roman province Mauretania.

The basilica was build around 217 A.D. slightly later than the great basilica at Lepcis Magna and was part of the forum complex. The affiliation with this forerunner (and thus with the basilica Porcia as Roman model) is clear. The building can be inscribed in a rectangle of 42,2 x 22,3 metres and its surface is approximately a quarter of the surface of the basilica of Lepcis. The axis of the building runs parallel to the forum and has on the short sides semicircular apses which form the end of the axis. On the left and right sides of the apses we see quadrilateral rooms. The function of these rooms is not clear but we may suppose that it were archives or secretarial rooms. Maybe in one of these rooms there was a wooden staircase that led to the ambulatory on the upper floor.

At the same time its plan represent features of the early Italian basilica: the fašade is formed by an arcuated colonnade and open to the forum. By doing so the interior of the basilica as a covered space formed the continuation of the open space of the forum. According to the Vitruvian prescriptions it has an interior collonade along the four sides, with a central open space of 29,60 x 10,60 metres between the columns and 7 x 4 columns approximately 7,08 metres high (base and capital included). Consequently the aisles are 4,3 metres wide.

These columns supported an architrave and a second floor around the central bay. Since to less has been found of this upper storey it is impossible to describe what it looked like. Only some remnants of smaller columns with a lower diameter of 62,5 cm have been found but that is not enough to make a correct reconstruction of the basilica.

Luquet, in his article about the building, based his reconstruction on a drawing of John Windus who visited the site in 1721. He assumes that the drawing gives an image of the interior of the building. In my opinion this can't be through. The drawing represents on one sheet an overview of different buildings of Volubilis: we see the arch of Caracalla, a city gate and two parts of the basilica. But these two parts are not drawn in their normal proportions but the different parts have been put closely together. What we see in reality are the north and south ends of the west fašade. This is proven by the protruding mouldings of the cornices that run clearly around the outside angle of the building; furthermore we see on the south end (right part of the drawing) between the two left columns of the ground floor the deepened surface of which the upper edge indicates the starting point of the front arcade. This deepened surface can still be seen on the fašade. And then there are the three lower courses of masonry; where the edges of the rest of the building are designed in a ruinous state, these three courses form a straight line. This line can coincide with the beginning and the end of the front colonnade.

If my assumption is correct it means that the upper floor of the west fašade was also (at least at its north and south ends) adorned with engaged half columns and that there was a projecting moulding running around the building and not only above the front collonade. This deviates completely from the propositions of Luquet as shown in the drawing below. On the same drawing we see also a row of windows above the bays of the collonade. This is a clear supposition because no elements of these windows are described in the article. It may be also conceivable that the second storey was formed by a collonade between the two protruding volumes of the north and south end. This collonade could have a smaller proportion than the collonade on the ground floor, and formed the continuation of it.

The proposed section shows a rather high building of nearly 25 metres from ground level to the ridge. but the whole building up is completely conjectural. The ony thing we may say with certainty is that there was a completely elaborated second storey, the rest of this reconstruction is the view of Luquet.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

A. Luquet, La basililque judiciaire de Volubilis, in Bulletin d'ArchÚologie Marocaine, 7, 1967, pp.407-445
M.Risze, Volubilis, Eine r÷mische Stadt in Marokko von der FrŘhzeit bis in die islamische Periode, Mainz, 2001



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