Ancient Lixus: Oldest Roman Ruins in Morocco

Set on a hillside facing Larache across the Loukkos Estuary is Lixus, one of the oldest and most continuously inhabited sites in Morocco. Only a quarter or so of the site has ever been excavated but the visible ruins themselves are partly impressive and good for an hour or two exploration. Besides its archaeological worth, Lixus drives its mystique from its legendary association with Hercules, a fertile ground for imagination.

The site is not enclosed, so you’re at liberty to wander and explore. You do not need to hire a guide either, as the site is rather small and a notice at the entrance explains the site with a useful map.

The History of Lixus

Lixus is one of the oldest inhabited sites in Morocco: megalithic stones in the vicinity confirm prehistoric settlements before the Phoenicians and Carthaginians settled in. The Phoenicians were the first to establish Lixus as a trading post around 100 BC. According to Pliny and Tabo, it is here that Hercules was dispatched to accomplish his penultimate Labour: picking the Golden Apples from the Gardens of Hesperides.

In 600 BC, Lixus fell to the Carthaginians who kept it as a post trading in gold, ivory and slaves. By 45 AD, it fell under Roman patronage and became an important city exporting salt, olives, wine, garum (a fish paste) and wild animals for use in amphitheatres.

After Roman Emperor Diocletian withdrew his patronage from North Africa, Lixus rapidly declined and completely abandoned after the collapse of the Empire.

Sights in Lixus

Garum Factories Llixus

The main gate to the Lower Town spreads across from the railings on the main Larache-Tangier road. Insides the railings are the remains of the garum factories, where fish was salted and Cotta, a prized fish paste was produced. The factories were developed in the first century AD and continued to operate until the Roman withdrawal in the fifth century.

A gravel path, some 100 m down the road to Tangier and towards the hills, leads up to the Upper Town (or Acropolis), where you can see minor ruins of the amphitheatre and public baths. The amphitheatre’s deep arena provides some wonderful views over the surrounding countryside. The public baths featured some remarkable mosaics depicting Helios, Mars, Rhea, Venus and Adonis. Most of these are now on display at Tetouan’s archaeology museum. The only remaining mosaic, depicting Oceanus, has unfortunately been irreparably damaged.

Continue your path past the amphitheatre and public baths to the main ramparts of the Acropolis and the main assembly of buildings. There are a network of walls and foundations, the city’s original ramparts, civic buildings and additional public baths. To the south is the impressive citadel, a collection of closely-packed ruins standing next to each other. There are temple sanctuaries, including an early Christian basilica and a number of pre-Roman buildings that feature Phoenician influence in their design.

Acropolis Lixus

Getting to Lixus

The site is a five-kilometer walk from Larache, on the main LaracheTangier road. To get there, take bus #4 or #5 from Larache, outside the Casbah de la Cigogne. Alternatively, hire a small taxi for around 20dh one-way, or charter a small boat from the beach.