Archaeologists have discovered additional ancient ruins of what they believe was once a busy port city near Morocco’s capital, digging out thermal spas and working-class districts that the kingdom hopes will attract tourists and researchers in the coming years.
On Friday, researchers from Morocco’s National Institute of Archaeological Sciences and Heritage unveiled new discoveries made this year at Chellah, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a footprint nearly five times the size of Pompeii.
Scholars believe the Phoenicians were the first to settle in the area, which later became a significant Roman empire outpost from the second to fifth centuries. The walled necropolis and accompanying towns were built along the banks of the Bou Regreg river near the Atlantic Ocean. Bricks inscribed in neo-Punic, a language that predates the advent of the Romans in Morocco, have been discovered.
Since the epidemic, the main excavation site has been closed for restorations, and archaeologists have been working on enlarging it since March. The footprint, including the expanded site disclosed on Friday, is greater than Volubilis, a popular tourist destination 111 miles (179 kilometers) east of Rabat.
According to Abdelaziz El Khayari, a pre-Islamic archaeology professor at Morocco’s National Institute of Archaeological Sciences and Heritage, the significance of the site stems from its location on the water, which likely made it an important trading site, facilitating the exchange of materials such as the import of Italian marble and the export of African ivory. He stated that new excavations highlighted the city’s wealth and that he intended to learn more in the next months and years.
“We still haven’t discovered the actual port,” he said.
El Khayari and his team of archaeologists claim that the latest discoveries further from Chellah’s core have never been studied. They showed reporters a freshly discovered statue of a woman, presumably a divinity or empress, clothed in fabric at a news conference on Friday. They claimed it was the first statue of its kind discovered in Morocco since the 1960s. They also displayed a community made of limestone and sunbrick.
Morocco’s minister of youth, culture, and communication, Mehdi Ben Said, expressed confidence that the ruins’ placement near the core of Morocco’s city will attract tourists from Morocco and abroad. Since March, his agency has invested $487,000 (455,000 euros) on the project, with plans to quadruple that amount next year and each year thereafter until excavation is completed.
“It’s something that can interest everyone,” Ben Said said. “Sites like Volubilis get 500,000 visitors per year. We are aiming for 1 million by developing this site, bringing it to life, setting up marketing, communications, and everything.”