Meknes is an engaging Imperial capital which is pleasant to live in. Despite the wealth of its historic heritage, it has retained the simplicity of its origins. With its medina and markets, Meknes combines the attractions of an historic town with those of a picturesque city basking in the glory of its majestic monuments. As a result of its prestigious past, Meknès has a wealth of unexpected surprises to offer those who stray a little from the beaten track. Or those who are able to listen to the stones…
In the 17th century, the Alaouite sultan Moulay Ismaël decided to make Meknes one of the most beautiful and powerful Imperial cities in Morocco. And still today, protected by around 40km of walls, it has preserved imposing monuments, including numerous mosques which earn it its nickname of the "city of a hundred minarets". Among them, the Great Mosque, probably founded in the 12th century, is remarkable for its gates with beautiful sculpted canopies. Its medina and the remains of the royal palace earned Meknès a place on Unesco's world heritage list. The city is still prosperous, benefiting from the harvests of the fertile Saïs plains (grain, olives and grapes).
Gates and palaces
Considered to be one of the most beautiful gates in the world, Bab Mansour was constructed at the beginning of the 18th century. It is the entrance to the Imperial city proper, where a visit to the sultan's mausoleum is still of interest. You can also meditate on the edge of the Agdal pond, an immense rectangular basin.
Markets and lively squares
Meknes has one of the busiest medinas in Morocco. The Place El-Hedime, located exactly between the old town and the Imperial part of the city, houses the covered market and becomes busy at dusk: fire-swallowers, storytellers, animal trainers and jugglers create an atmosphere different from anything you are used to.
The regional ethnographic museum, which has its home in the Dar Jamaï palace, is arranged seamlessly around a superb Andalusian garden. Gold stitching, faience and ancient jewelry give a comprehensive glimpse into the Kingdom's past splendors.
The largest Roman archeological site in Morocco lies 31km north of Meknès: Volubilis. Triumphal arch, capitol building, house of Bacchus – everything testifies to the city's splendor and its economical and political weight. Not to mention the moving delicacy of the mosaics. Allow at least two hours to discover this open-air treasure.
Beauty and power
Its medina and the remains of the royal palace earned Meknes a place on Unesco's world heritage list. A tour round its ramparts reveals its full beauty. Some borjs (small forts) also provide a panoramic view. The city is still prosperous, benefiting from the harvests of the fertile Saïs plains (grain, olives and grapes). In the 17th century, the Alaouite sultan Moulay Ismaël decided to make this one of the most beautiful and powerful Imperial cities in Morocco. The mausoleum where he lies is a monument worth visiting.
Gates and market
The town's heart beats close to the magnificent and peerlessly beautiful Bab Mansour gate. From dusk, the Place El-Hedime and its great market welcome a host of merchants, jugglers and fire-swallowers. An unforgettable popular and medieval atmosphere.
In the medina
The very picturesque souks offer all local crafts, from fabrics to the numerous rugs. Close to there, near the Great Mosque, the Bou Inania medersa, an Hispano-Moorish masterpiece which no longer receives students, is open for you to visit. The Nejjarine mosque is one of numerous mosques in the "city of a hundred minarets". The El Mansour palace, a luxurious 19th century bourgeois mansion transformed into a bazaar, is also worth a visit.
On the edge of the Agdal pond, a gigantic expanse of water which irrigated the harem and gardens, gaze on Dar El-Ma, the palace of water. This housed Imperial cisterns and served as a storage area for supplies in case of siege. At the time, the 7m-thick adobe walls and a clever system of canals ensured constant coolness.
The sacred town of Moulay Idriss lies 22km north east of Meknes. Moulay Idriss converted the local Berber people to Islam before founding Fez. The town of Moulay Idriss comprises stunning white houses arranged around the mausoleum and is still a spiritual center, an unspoilt place with timeless charm.
By heading north towards the end of the summer, don't miss one of the most famous events in the Kingdom, the Tissa horse moussem. This "fantasia" assembles Berber horsemen from the region to the sound of drums, gunfire, rythmic songs and traditional dances. Meknes is also the home of the largest stud farm in North Africa with its 200 acres and 450 horses. In the 17th century, Moulay Ismaïl, who lies in a finely wrought mausoleum which is open to the public, also had enormous stables built.
Whatever you do, don't miss visiting the Qara prison in Meknes. The arresting atmosphere which rules in the immense low-vaulted rooms of these vast underground holding rooms is just as eerie.
Palace of water
On the edge of the Agdal pond, a gigantic expanse of water which irrigated the harem and gardens, gaze on Dar El-Ma, the palace of water. Its several-meters-thick walls ensure that the supplies stored there in case of siege remain constantly cool.
Meknes by night
From dusk, the Place El-Hedime and its great market welcome a host of merchants, jugglers and fire-swallowers. An intoxicating popular and age-old atmosphere.