Set on a hill overlooking the Loukos Estuary, the Carthaginian and Roman ruins of Lixus are evocative reminders that settlements on this coast are among the oldest in the country. Megalithic stones found in the vicinity of Lixus suggest that the site was originally inhabited by a sun-worshipping people with knowledge of astronomy and mathematics. However, little more is known about the area’s prehistory until the Phoenicians set up the colony Liks here in about 1000 BCE. According to Pliny the Elder, it was here that Hercules picked the golden apples of the Garden of the Hesperides, thus completing the penultimate of his 12 labours. The golden apples may well have been Moroccan tangerines.
Few visitors make it here outside the summer months, and in winter your only companions will be the wind and the odd goat quietly grazing. A new visitor centre has been under construction near the site entrance for many years now, and locals have no confidence that it will open in the immediate future. In the meantime, there's no entrance fee. Tips to the site guardian are appreciated.
The main gate to Lixus is just off the highway, off the road running in front of the estuary. Only about a quarter of the ancient city has been excavated, but the visible ruins, though badly damaged and overgrown, hint at how grand and important this city once was, and are worth a visit.
If there is more than one site guardian on duty, one is usually happy to lead visitors through the site for a small tip.
Immediately inside the gate is the lower town, with the remains of garum factories where fish was salted and the paste so beloved by the Romans was produced. A track leads up the hill to the acropolis, passing a steep amphitheatre built by the Romans along the way. Baths were originally built into the side of the amphitheatre, with some traces of mosaic flooring. Some mosaics from the site were removed and are now on display at the archaeology museum in Tetouan. Others are said to have been destroyed when the son of a former guardian of the site tried to dig them up so as to sell them on antiquities black market.
Continue up the path to the overgrown acropolis, which straddles the crest of the hill. From here there are lovely views down over the Loukos Estuary and salt fields below. The civic buildings (including temple sanctuaries) and original city ramparts are here, as are traces of pre-Roman structures.
In the 6th century BCE, the Phoenician Atlantic colonies fell to the Carthaginians. Lixus remained a trading post, principally in gold, ivory and slaves and, by 42 CE, had entered the Roman Empire. Its primary exports soon changed to salt, olives, wine and garum (an aromatic fish paste) and its merchants also grew rich from the export of wild animals for use in the empire’s amphitheatres.
The colony at Lixus rapidly declined as the Romans withdrew from North Africa, and was abandoned completely in the 5th century, after the collapse of the Roman Empire. Later, the site became known to Muslims as Tuchummus.
Lixus is approximately 5.5km north of Place de la Libération in Larache, on the road to Tangier. A petit taxi costs Dh20 one way, but you may have trouble flagging down a bus or taxi on the highway for your return trip; it's best to organise for the taxi driver to pick you up at an agreed time.
There is no food available on-site, so pack a picnic before heading off from Larache.