Meknes The Underrated Imperial City

It was sunny in Morocco for several weeks, no signs of rain or wet weather in the near future, as observed and as announced by the weather forecast. Its been a while since my trip to Chefchaouen, so why not take a weekend trip and visit a new city. After some thinking and as i was traveling by myself, i decided that my next destination should be a city i never visited before. The list is long but a weekend trip imposes visiting a place within close range and that has enough activities to keep me busy for two days. I didn’t need much thinking to determine that my next stop would be Meknes.

Public Park in Meknes

Meknes at first sight

After a 4hrs train ride from Tangier, i finally arrived and so begins a weekend full of new discoveries or maybe lots of disappointments, i wasn’t sure what to expect from the city. Once outside the train station, i decided to walk to my hotel instead of taking  a taxi so i can know the city more and get a better first impression.

As i walked through the city streets, it was obvious that Meknes has a calm pace of life. People sitting in cafés enjoying a late breakfast on a sunny saturday morning. Traffic is normal and there are no jams in city center and administrative area. The new city or Hamria was a lot like other modern Moroccan cities, with lots of shops and cafés. This part of Meknes is overall clean and has green spaces and parks to just sit and relax.

I walked for nearly 20 minutes heading to the Old Medina. And then there was a sudden change in architecture that shifted from French Style buildings to Typical Moroccan structures with narrower streets.

The Old Medina of Meknes

The Medina is the city’s old town surrounded by the fortified walls that once stood between the city and its invaders. The former Imperial Capital of Meknes was a remarquable stronghold in the middle ages. First founded by the Almoravids, in the 11th century, Meknes owes its glory to the Second Sultan of the Alaouite Dynasty (The Dynasty is still ruling Morocco Today): Moulay Ismail. The Sultan made Meknes the Kingdom’s Capital and invested some real effort to make it worthy of this status. The city’s monuments and landmarks are still witnesses of its former grandeur.

Gates in Meknes

The Medina is real maze with narrow streets and old buildings. It’s busier than city center as it harbors many shops where locals and tourists alike prefer to do their shopping. It also has many of the cities guesthouses and it’s where i decided to book a hotel for the night. To be frank, i was lost at first and couldn’t figure out where it was. But the time i spent looking through the alleys, was a real delight as there were absolutely no touts nor hassle to buy anything. This is one of the things that really distinguish Meknes from other touristy cities like neighboring Fez.

After finding the hotel which is an old renovated Riad, and receiving the warmest of welcomes by its owners. I was off to see the city’s beautiful landmarks as recommended by my hosts.

Highlights of Meknes

The Imperial City has a number of must see places displaying its unique style and architecture, making it one of Morocco’s UNESCO Heritage Sites. Meknes is usually overlooked by tourists, who come to the nearby city of Fez and then head further south to see Marrakech or the desert. I was surprised by this fact after seeing everything the city has to offer.

El Hedim Square

Meknes

Situated just outside the Medina, this square is almost a miniature of the Iconic Jemaa el Fna square in Marrakech. Many people come here to hang out and enjoy the shows offered by various performers. Snake charmers, Monkey handlers, Henna Tatooers, story tellers and many more. I was actually very surprised to see how busy the square was around sunset, as opposed to how empty i left it during the afternoon. The square has a variety of cafés and restaurants perfect for people watching while enjoying a meal or a beverage. The view is more interesting from one of the many terrasse restaurant around the square.

Meknes

Medrassa Bouanania

This Islamic School is one of Meknes well known landmarks. Built in the medina by the Merinid Sultan Abou Hassan Al Marini, in 1331 and finished 20 years later during his son’s reign. This Dynasty was famous for its interest in knowledge and Islamic Theology. Merinid Sultans built numerous schools and education establishments and the school was a place for education and living for its students, who came to seek knowledge from many other regions in the country.

Once in the building, the eye is struck by the intricate carvings and decorations that give the school its unique mix between Arabic, Moorish and Islamic architectures. The details are eye-catching and the artwork and effort put into every corner is an interesting display of high artistic skills.

Meknes

A walk in the Medrassa was quite delightful as it was very quiet and i had the whole place for myself. The history behind the school takes your imagination away, to picture it back when it was a busy place full of students and their teachers, and you can almost hear the echoes of the Holy Quran being recited in mass.

Meknes

Dar El Jamai Museum

This Traditional Moroccan House was built in the 19th century by the Grand Vizir (Minister), Mohamed Ben Larbi Jamaï during the reign of the Alaouite Sultan Hassan I. The Jamai family was a wealthy house of Meknes at the time. But following the sultan’s death, the family lost its wealth including the house.

During the french colonial era, it was turned into a military hospital. Now the Moroccan government use the building as a Museum, and it is protected by Dahir Law as one of the cities historic and most valuable landmarks.

Meknes

The house has a central garden and many of its rooms and sections exhibit a variety of historic items. The structure is characterized by its fascinating tile work and precise carvings, that are almost omnipresent in Moroccan sights. The museum is an exemple of the Moroccan artistic character, passed on through generations making Dar Jamai a place worth visiting.

Meknes

Along with the architecture, Dar Jamai offers an interesting collections of items. Traditional Moroccan Clothes,  Pottery work, Jewelry, Books and Musical instruments can all be seen with labels displaying information about every item.

Meknes

Bab El Mansour

Standing proudly facing El Hedim Square, is the most beautiful gate of Meknes. Bab El Mansour is a huge heavily decorated gate and one of the city’s infamous sights. Built by Sultan Moulay Abdallah in the 18th century, the monument is designed by a christian architect who converted to Islam. The Bab is also supported by two columns of roman style, brought from the nearby ruins of Volubilis. The gate is considered one of the most important monuments of Morocco, it is a protected National Heritage, and contributes in making the city a UNESCO Heritage Site.

Meknes

Moulay Ismail Mausoleum

Away from the Medina and at walking distance from Bab El Mansour, through a set of public parks, is the final resting place of one of Morocco’s great Sultans Moulay Ismail. He was the only rulers who made Meknes his capital and contributed to most of its glory.

A walk across three large and peaceful courtyards, leads to the entrance of the mosque inside of which is buried Moulay Ismail. This religious monument is one of the very few that allow entrance to non-muslim visitors.

Meknes

 Taking shoes off is a must before being allowed inside the beautifully decorated Mausoleum. These fantastic decorations give the place its charm, and to be honest i was really upset to leave because every detail is just amazing.

Meknes

Hri Es Souani Granaries

These granaries are situated a bit farther from the medina. Walking left from the mauseoleum and along the long royal palace’s wall will lead you straight to Hri Es Souani. This building was used as granaries to store all kinds of crops, as well as stable for the royal horses.

Once inside i realized how huge it was, i couldn’t even imagine how much wealth was stored inside, back when the city was the Kingdoms capital. Meknes is situated in a very fertile area and agriculture is a main activity. This fact explains the need of such a huge place for storage. The dense walls ensured a convenient temperature to preserve all the products for as long as possible.

Meknes

Meknes

Sehrij Souani Bassin

Sehrij Souani is a large water reservoir used mainly to irrigate royal gardens and to provide a source of water. it is connected to numerous wells situated under Souani Granaries. Now the reservoir and its surrounding parks are mainly a place where locals come to relax and enjoy a sunny day. Many kids even use it as a pool during the summer, to freshen up from the heat and the high temperatures that reach at times fourty degrees celsius.

Meknes

After a day of sight seeing, i let myself wander in the city’s streets and neighbourhoods that hardly receive any tourists. One constant thought lingered in my mind the whole time. I was always hearing myself say that “I can totally live here!!”.  The city felt very safe and less hectic than many cities of its size and despite the fact that nearly a million people call Meknes home.

The city is rich with history and fantastic things to see and do. But still always overlooked by most Moroccan Tours and it is less known among travelers. A Fact that i hope will change soon because the city definitely deserves more.

Have you been to Meknes ? Are you planning on visiting this historic city ? Let Me know what you think ?

 

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Imad NOHAD

an employee 8 hours a day and travel obsessive all day. Through this blog, i document my travels and share my experiences with people who love to explore.

2 Comments

  1. I have to admit that I’ve never heard of Meknes until I stumbled upon your blog. I wonder why this beautiful city with so many pretty heritage buildings is largely ignored by most tourists — which is a good thing, I suppose. The detailed patterns on the walls of some of those buildings look so exquisite, and enough reason to go. Thanks for introducing Meknes to us all, Imad.

    • Thanks Bama for stoping by. Indeed Meknes Needs more exposure because of its clear potential.
      Thanks and Hope you come to Morocco soon.
      Happy travels.

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