Meknes is about halfway between Rabat and Fez and makes a great stop for a couple days. Due to its historical significance and numerous sights, the city is a UNESCO World Heritage site. For a map of places visited in Morocco, click here.
This is the city of Sultan Moulay Ismail who reigned for 55 years (1672 – 1727). He is revered as a father of his country who united Morocco by campaigning against rebellious Berber chiefs and the Europeans, and creating Morocco’s strongest-ever army. Unfortunately he was also extremely brutal – responsible for 30,000 deaths (not including those killed in battle!). In Meknes, you can get a glimpse of the scale and enormity of his lifestyle and building projects.
The main square, Place el Hedim, is quiet during the day and hopping at night with numerous food stalls, shops, snake charmers and all kinds of other entertainment. There are a number of restaurants lining the square.
On the south side of the Place el Hedim is the Bab Mansour, a huge gate that marks the entrance into the overwhelming expanse of palaces and grounds of Sultan Moulay Ismail. It is quite beautiful and has an intricate design. Supposedly Moulay Ismail asked the architect if this was the best he could do, and he said “no”. Oops. The answer cost him his life. If he had said yes, I wonder what would have happened (it would probably have been the same outcome).
Near the Bab Mansour is a large courtyard enclosed by walls, where our Riad (hotel) was located.
From this courtyard it is a short walk to several sights, starting with the Prison of Christian Slaves, an area of subterranean vaults, lit only by the skyholes to the square above. It is believed these vaults were actually storage areas although Moulay Ismail did have Christian captives, so who knows…
Close to the prison is the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail, which is the one of the few active Islamic shrines that non-muslims may visit. It is quite beautiful and worth a stop.
Ville Impériale is the creation of Sultan Moulay Ismail. Most of the palace is not open to tourists, since it is still in use by the Moroccan king. You can take a carriage ride around never-ending walls and visit some of the old ruins, such as the stables and granaries. This area is known as the Heri es Souani.
In addition there are numerous souks to keep you busy shopping for all those things you won’t use once you get back home!
About 25 km (15 miles) outside of Meknes is one of the greatest Roman city ruins in Africa, Volubilis. Just 4 km from Volubilis is the holy Islamic hill town of Moulay Idriss which until a few years ago did not allow tourists to stay over night. I will review these sights in a future post.
References: The Rough Guide to Morocco.