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ZILIS, THE ROMAN RUINS OF CITY HAS SUNK INTO OBLIVION

Per: Camille ALARY  

DISCOVER The ruins of Zilis are located in the east of Dchar Jdid, towards the Had Gharbia plain, about 31 km south of Tangier and 12 km northeast of Assilah. In the antiquity, relations between North Africa and southern Spain were flourishing, although they had been under the domination of the Roman Empire.

The Roman city of Zilis is installed on a set of plains and hills, of semicircular form, crossed by three rivers. The archaeological excavations made on the site indicate that its pre-Roman origin, perhaps Phoenician, dates from the fourth century before J.C. Meanwhile, the creation of the Roman colony was made between 27-25 before J.C. hypothesis supported by the discovery of coins and epigraphs which also show the city name. Pliny the Elder, scientist, naturalist and military writer, born in the year of 23 AD, mentions it under the name of the former colony Augusti Iulia Constantia.

At Zilis, in the middle of the countryside, we found the remains of a large temple, dedicated to Mercury, several houses, baths and some remains of walls and streets dating back to the early days. Urban characteristics of Auguste Iulia Constantia (Zilis), confirm that it was a Roman city (wall, tank , peristyle houses ...); materials found (ceramics, coins, inscriptions ...) correspond to a period from King Juba II (23 AD) to Flavius ​​Honorius (423 AD).

Archaeological excavations show two major phases of the Roman colony:

  • A first called, alto-imperial, from the first century BC to the second half of the third century. During that period, the colony reached a remarkable development, translated by the construction of an aqueduct and a large tank that supplied the entire thermal.

  • A second phase began in the time of Constantine, in the first half of the fourth century. The city develops the urban implantation, probably following the restoration of the regional defense. Nevertheless, the city has undergone two significant drops throughout the Roman occupation: in the 1st century BC. JC, and the second in half of the third century.

The economy Zilis was based on the exploitation of natural resources of its territory, principally agricultural, which had fed the military garrisons of Zilis. The discovery of oil mills near of the colony, allows to deduce intensive cultivation of olive trees and vineyards, particularly, in the area located in the east and south of Zilis. Other remains seem indicate that farming of the population was ,without doubt, diverse in order to satisfy the local demand.

The situation of the city, near of the mouth of the river Garifa, has excellent conditions like shelter for coastal navigation; the port and industrial zone of kouass (Akwass Briech), had stimulated the export capacity through business activities with the rest of the region of Lixus. A road had also connected the city until Tingis.

During the High Empire, the production of four factories of salting in Kuass, added to the exports of Zilis and its region, confirm the importance of the colony in the commercial circuit which had connected the both sides of the strait till the beginning of the third century.

Zilis, after joining the Betic stage, belongs to the Roman province of Mauretania-Tingitane, which includes all the north of Morocco. Christian evangelization of the Roman provinces of Africa began in the third century, until the invasion of the Vandal kingdom in 429, which eliminated all traces of Christian civilization. The Emperor Justinian tried to restore Catholicism in North Africa, after that Belisarius, Byzantine general, had defeated the Vandals in the year of 533. The Roman domination remained till the beginning of the fifth century in the region of Tangier. It is supposed that the Romanized Berber populations preserved Greco-Roman civilization until the Arab invasion in 712.

The latest archaeological excavations in Zilis, took place in 1982 by a by Franco-Moroccan team of archaeologists. But until today no sign indicates visitors how to get there, and the poor condition of the track does not facilitate the quest of reckless adventurers. Sculptures, steles, engraved stones and other personal effects of the Roman city of Zilis are among the museums of Tangier and Rabat. However, traces are still visible on the site and can easily become a tourist attraction for the region.