Meknes

Meknes – One of Morocco’s Finest Cities – Lots to See and Few Tourists

One of the many gates in Meknes.

One of the many gates in Meknes.

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.

A view of Place el Hedim from our restaurant perch. This is late afternoon before the evening crowds arrive.

A view of Place el Hedim from our restaurant perch. This is late afternoon before the evening crowds arrive.

Paul trying to put a ring around the soda bottle neck. A lot harder than it looks! One of the many things to do in Place el Hedim.

Paul trying to put a ring around the soda bottle neck. A lot harder than it looks! One of the many things to do in Place el Hedim.

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).

The beautiful Bab Mansour gate.

The beautiful Bab Mansour gate.

Near the Bab Mansour is a large courtyard enclosed by walls, where our Riad (hotel) was located.

Interior of Riad Yacout, our home in Meknes. Great place.

Interior of Riad Yacout, our home in Meknes. Great place.

The square near our hotel with carriages waiting for their next fare.

The square near our hotel with carriages waiting for their next fare.

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…

Inside the subterranean vaults of the Prison of the Christian Slaves.

Inside the subterranean vaults of the Prison of the Christian Slaves.

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.

In the courtyard of the Mausoleum.

In the courtyard of the Mausoleum.

Inside the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail.

Inside the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail.

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.

Robyn with our friends and horse-drawn carriage for our tour around the Ville Impériale.

Robyn with our friends and horse-drawn carriage for our tour around the Ville Impériale.

The long passage road (about 1 mile) along walls of the Ville Impériale.

The long passage road (about 1 mile) along walls of the Ville Impériale.

Inside the granaries of the Ville Impériale. There was an underground water supply system here.

Inside the granaries of the Ville Impériale. There was an underground water supply system here.

The gigantic stables at Ville Impériale. Everything about this place is on a huge scale.

The gigantic stables at Ville Impériale. Everything about this place is on a huge scale.

In addition there are numerous souks to keep you busy shopping for all those things you won’t use once you get back home!

No lack of pottery available in Meknes!

No lack of pottery available in Meknes!

Outside Meknes

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.