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Volubilis

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Volubilis is a proverbial 'lost city in the sand'. Close to the city of Fez, it was a major centre of population and commerce under the Roman Empire, but began to decline in the third century ad. A severe earthquake sealed its fate: it was abandoned and not rediscovered until the 19th century. When McAslan visited Volubilis, reckoned to be the best Roman site in Morocco and one of the most significant anywhere, he was profoundly disappointed - there was no overall sense of history or place, despite the survival and excavation of striking remains (a triumphal arch, the columns of a temple and the mosaic floors of the villas of the leading citizens). The site was virtually unintelligible to non-specialists - and there were, local archaeologists admitted, difficulties in displaying the site's ongoing programme of excavations. McAslan's project, developed in consultation with the Moroccan culture ministry, aims to present the site to visitors and to provide a strategy for protecting and repairing remains and a museum for artefacts excavated at Volubilis. The vaulted halls of the museum evoke the monumental character of Roman architecture, but are lightweight in construction and will have views out to the site. There will be spaces for lectures and presentations and even for dramatised performances that bring the place to life. The cool restraint of the new building defers to the grandeur of the past, but is entirely modern in itself.

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