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  7. Volubilis mosaics – Part Deux

Volubilis mosaics – Part Deux

In 2017, I started to travel to see mosaic I had been dreaming of for many years. Twice a year I would go back to Europe and then go to Spain, Portugal, Germany… You realize of course that almost wherever you can find Roman mosaics, there you’ll also find good wine and food.

Then came 2020… And I’ve since been living in the memories of my past trip !

In 2018/2019, I went to Morocco with my family. I had fantasized about the Volubilis mosaics for 15 years. We left Fez one morning for a tour of Volubilis and Meknes. I stayed in Volubilis !

Panoramic view of the ruins with fields in front and behind, and mountains in the distance. Several reconstructed buildings including a basilica and triumphal arch are visible.

I previously blogged about the Volubilis mosaics in 2 articles

Learning from the Volubilis mosaics

Some figurative scenes of the Volubilis mosaics are quite unique in their depiction of activities specific to Roman Mauretania.

But when I realized the wealth of geometric borders and rugs used by the local mosaicists I became quite interested in the way they had constructed them.

3 basic shapes…

What I always find amazing is how some patterns that look so intricate are in fact very often (but not always) generated through combinations of very basic elements.

  • Squares
  • Triangles,
  • Circles,

are pretty much all you need.

So here one of those Volubilis mosaics shows a nice combination of hexagons, squares, stars and triangles. Some of them inscribed with various medallions.

Volubilis mosaics floor, 2nd century AD

Geometric mosaic floor, Volubilis, Morocco

Researching this design, I came to realize that its basic element is a combination of 1 square and 4 triangles :

basic element of an intricate geometric Volubilis mosaic

Basic element

If you duplicate and combine this element on an orthogonal grid as I explained in my previous post about roman tiles, you end up with this type of combination :

combination of 4 elements

4 elements combined in a square

The hexagons are now visible and you can now create bigger combinations of this pattern and colorize them to your liking.

Here is very classical early roman palette, easy to realize with 2 stones and terracotta :

Classical tricolor palette using 2 stones : crema marble and Granite, and Terracotta.

Classical tricolor palette

And this is a much brighter palette. This type of colors could only be achieved with glass tesserae.

Bright Byzantine type colors


You could also use different patterns like this Solomon knot

2 strands Solomon knot

to insert them into the frame. Many of the Volubilis mosaics were built in this way, by creating a regular frame and filling it up with various medallions.

Tricolor pattern of hexagons, squares and Solomon knots

Tricolor pattern with Solomon knots

As you can imagine them, variations are endless. The very interesting part of this is the fact that an infinity of decorative patterns is generated from a simple combination of 1 square and 4 triangles.

Today we arranged the basic element on the simplest possible grid. In a next post I’ll show you how the exact same elements can actually generate a very different design when combined in a slightly different way.


Feel free to download and use the images on this page for your own graphic or mosaic projects. If you realize something you are particularly proud of, I would love to see pictures !

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