The archaeological site of Lixus (Site archéologique de Lixus) is located near the city of Larache (88.5 km/1 hour 10 minutes by car southwest of Tangier). Although we didn’t visit the site until around five in the evening, the sun had really set against the hill and was still shining brightly even at that time. The site does not offer many places to hide from the sun, so it might be advisable to visit this site early in the morning after opening or just before closing. Definitely don’t go to Lixus at lunchtime.
A bit of the history of the Lixus archaeological site
In the Phoenicians times, Lixus is considered one of the largest cities in the western Mediterranean and the oldest city in Morocco. Archaeologists have found objects in the site that were imported from all over the Mediterranean. In the 6th century BC the city was attacked by the Carthaginians and remained in it until the establishment of the Roman Empire in 40 AD. Gold, ivory and slaves were traded in the city. On the other hand, salt, wine, olives, fish sauce and wild animals were exported from Lixus to amphitheatres throughout the Roman Empire. During this period, several private and public buildings were built in the city.
During the times of the Roman Empire, the city experienced its greatest prosperity. Thermal baths, temples, basilica, amphitheater and fortifications were added. After the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century AD the so-called the dark age, from which we have not preserved many finds. We know that the industrial district functioned until the beginning of the 5th century and that a community of Christians lived in the city before the arrival of the Muslims. Muslims occupied the city until the 14th century. An Islamic villa with an atrium, a mosque, waste pits and ceramics have been preserved from this period.
Did you know that …
…according to ancient Greek fables and myths, Heracles‚ last task was to bring 3 golden apples that guaranteed eternal life from the garden of the Hesperides? The apples were guarded by the nymphs Hesperides, daughters of the Titan Atlas. Giant Atlas had to carry the entire firmament on his shoulders forever as a punishment for rebelling against the gods. The garden was allegedly located in the city of Lixus. And the golden apples could be Moroccan tangerines.
Tour of the Lixus archaeological site
We started the tour at the Lixus Museum (Museo di Lixus). In several rooms, you will get to know the development of the site and the most important finds.
Then the guide took us to the industrial district. I’m not talking about any factories, but artisan workshops. They specialized in the processing of fish meat and the production of fish sauces (garum – fish sauce made from fermented fish). The neighborhood is located near the river and is believed to have been the city’s river port. The district consists of 10 workshops and 150 fish maceration tanks. Workshops were said to be among the largest of their kind in the entire Mediterranean and operated for almost half a millennium.
As you walk around the tanks, be careful not to accidentally fall into one of them and end up in fish sauce. The surroundings are not secured in any way.
From the industrial district, we continued further up the hill until the amphitheater and public baths began to appear in front of us. In the amphitheater, fights between gladiators and wild animals took place. The public baths, like other discovered Roman baths, consist of an antechamber, cold and warm rooms and pools. The bath was decorated with marble and wall paintings. Only a few meters above the amphitheater stand the last remains of the basilica.
Inhabitants of the city of Lixus lived at the very top of the hill. The residential district consisted mainly of spacious and richly decorated Roman houses with colonnaded courtyards. The houses were inhabited by the owners of meat workshops and farms around the city. Houses were characterized by geometric and figural mosaics, wall paintings and private baths. The mosaics discovered here are exhibited in the Archaeological Museum in Tétouan.
We didn’t see much of the residential area. Grass and small bushes were really everywhere. In some places they even grew out of the walls.
As you approach the palace complex from the residential area, you will still see the last wall that protects it today. The complex consisted of a palace with annexes, a temple, thermal baths with an ancient wrestling arena, an Islamic villa, a mosque, drinking water storage tanks, the remains of an aqueduct, pre-Roman houses and a necropolis. The remains of palace buildings represent all the periods that the site has gone through. From the Phoenicians to the 14th century, when the inhabitants left the site to move to the new town of Larache.
From the entire location, you will have its surroundings in the palm of your hand. You’ll see the Loukkos River winding its way through the landscape before emptying into the Atlantic on the horizon. You will not miss the sea salt tanks and the seaside town of Larache.
Explanations are only in Arabic and French. We English speaking visitors were given a paper from which we learned more about the history and the site. The site’s official website is also only in French. The ticket costs 60 mad/6 euros/person.
What to do, see and visit in Larache?
Despite the fact that Larache is only 7 km/12 minutes by car west from the archaeological site of Lixus, we did not visit the city. Maybe we didn’t have to sit at the hotel for two hours after lunch. It doesn’t matter. I hope I will have the opportunity to visit this city again.
What we know about the city is that it was occupied by the Spanish in the 17th century and its inhabitants built ships for corsairs. In 1911, Larache became the main port of the Spanish protectorate.
Place de la Liberation
The center of the city is the Place de la Libération square. It is lined with cafes where locals spend a long time sipping mint tea.
Old Town (Medina)
Similar to other cities in Morocco, the old city in the form of a medina has been preserved in Larache. It is entered through the Bab Al Khemis gate. The narrow streets converge on the Zoco de la Alcaiceria square, which functions as a market. To the north of the medina is the ruined Saadian fortress, and to the south is a viewpoint.
700 m/8 minutes walk from the Place de la Libération is the view of the Terrasse Corniche. The viewpoint offers a view of the old town of Larache, the mouth of the Loukkos river and the Atlantic.
Ras R’mel Beach (Plage Ras R’mel)
You won’t find many places with gradual access to the sea directly in the city. However, nearby (11 km/17 minutes by car north of Place de la Libération, just 1.5 km as the crow flies) you will find Ras R’mel beach. A boat runs across the mouth of the Loukkos River to take you from one bank to the other. The trip should cost around 10 mad/1 euro/person.
In the city, you can still see a fortress from the 17th century, which is closed to the public, a gallery in the medina, a music conservatory, which you can only see from the outside, and the grave of the French writer Jean Genet.
In conclusion …
The ravages of time have already taken their toll on the archaeological site of Lixus. I confess that I have already visited more attractive archaeological sites than Lixus. In them, they clearly defined where visitors can move and where their entry is already prohibited. As visitors, we got everywhere in Lixus. I didn’t have such a strong need to climb all the stones and take pictures on all the walls, which are slowly (some maybe quickly due to the actions of others), but definitely falling apart.
Several speakers spoke about sustainability during the academy. I apologize in advance, I don’t want to offend anyone, but if the tours of the archaeological site of Lixus continue as they are and no protective measures are taken, the site, which has survived for thousands of years, will surely disappear sooner or later.
The article was created in cooperation with FIJET and FIJET Slovakia.
© Ing. Adam Vanečko