Morocco’s location in North Africa and at the intersection of Europe and Africa has made it attractive to tourists from all around the world. With beaches on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean and the well-known Atlas Mountains, Morocco witnesses an influx of millions of visitors from Europe, Africa, and the rest of the world, every year. Morocco is one of the dream destinations for travelers for its culture, food, and warm people; amongst other reasons. One of the most incredible places in Morocco is the relatively unexplored city of Meknes, an Imperial City.
The City of Meknes and Alaouite splendor
Morocco has four Imperial Cities, namely Fes, Marrakesh, Meknes, and Rabat, of which Meknes is the quietest one. It is less than an hour’s drive away from Fes, its chaotic brother, and has always been the most reclusive of all the Imperial Cities of Morocco. In spite of being quieter, it is a vibrant city, composed of the old (medina) and the new (ville nouvelle). The medina and the ville nouvelle offer to a traveler a striking contrast just three miles apart, with the medina hosting historical wonders and the ville nouvelle boasting of modern splendor.
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".
The city gets its name from the tribe ‘Meknessa’, which predominantly inhabited Eastern Morocco in the 8th century and was founded in the 11th century by the Almoravids and was treated as a military settlement; and later went on to become a capital under Sultan Moulay Ismail, who founded the great Alawite Dynasty. The way the entire city was built was influenced by the Spanish-Moorish style of architecture and has a fascinating blend of Islamic and European styles, which is evidenced through the high walls with grand doors. Its grandeur inspires the wonder of all those who visit the hill-top city today and is reflective of the architectural prowess of its creators.
Meknes was declared a UNESCO World-Heritage Site in 1996 and its beauty has been carefully and delicately preserved. Even the building of the urban parts of the city sees a blend of Islamic and European architectural styles.
What To Do in Meknes
Sightseeing in Meknes has a delightful charm that can only be explained if you’ve seen it yourself. So what should you see in Meknes? Here are the top 5 attractions in Morocco:
Place Hedim is the main square in Meknes, surrounding which you can find a number of beautiful and historically-significant buildings. There are also a number of alleyways leading into bustling markets, which are an immensely popular spot for tourists because evenings at the marketplaces are replete with snack vendors, games, and music.
The impressive Heri es-Souani is a set of buildings that served as the Imperial stables and granaries. The roofless buildings still have arched doorways you can stand under and get some creative photos in!
Bou Inania Medersa
The Bou Inania Medersa, an Islamic school of learning (medersa), was founded in the 14th century and its architecture stands out because of its beautiful tile decorations. Climbing to the rooftop allows you a scenic view of the medina and the Ville nouvelle.
The Bab Al-Mansour is an exquisitely designed gate between Meknes’ Medina and Imperial City districts and was built in 1732. It is one of North Africa’s finest gateways that has survived through the ages. The gateway was never intended for usage, but only to be displayed to visitors - and it is not difficult to see why it may have been something to be proud of! The Bab Al-Mansour is a stunning structure, with intricately carved designs and tile-work, which was representative of architectural design in Morocco at the time.
The Dar Jamai was built in the 19th century and was converted to the Museum of Moroccan Art in 1920. It was initially the residence of the elite Jamai family and their affluence is evidenced in the painted wood and interior plaster of the interiors, which were typical of wealth. There is also a beautiful Andalusian-style inspired garden outside. Today, the museum showcases some of the most incredible arts and crafts of the Moroccan region.
Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail
You can also visit the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail, which is where the tomb of Sultan Moulay Ismail has been placed, but the mosque is not open to non-Muslims. However, you can still enter the tomb hall and the outer parts of the complex, and witness a breathtaking display of religious decorations.
If you are a fan of even the darker aspects of historical kingdoms, you can visit the slightly eerie Habs Qara, the low-ceilinged underground chamber that was used to keep prisoners.
Other than seeing the historical buildings, walking around the markets of Meknes can introduce you to a vibrancy like no other, as you walk through local markets selling you colorful varieties of fruits, vegetables, and dates. Or you can visit the souks and buy colorful lamps, carpets and so on. You can also take a caleche ride across the city, which is a horse-drawn carriage taking you around the city.
When visiting Meknes, you must prepare to be amazed, as you observe and take in historical wonders, while also gorging on local delicacies and shopping for regional souvenirs. A delight for tourists, Meknes is definitely a destination you want to visit once in your lifetime!