Written by Koentje3000 on 31 Jan, 2013
Mix the grandeur of an ancient imperial city with the hustle and bustle of a sleepy provincial town and combine with a hilly region to make most history buffs jealous. This is the recipe for Meknes. Despite its central location, strategically between Fes (70km)…Read More
Mix the grandeur of an ancient imperial city with the hustle and bustle of a sleepy provincial town and combine with a hilly region to make most history buffs jealous. This is the recipe for Meknes. Despite its central location, strategically between Fes (70km) and Rabat (150km), the place is missed by most coastal day-trippers or by the one-week bottom-priced "tour Morocco" bus trips organized by several European and other tour operators that tend to bring you from one carpet shop to the next silver works. Only the Roman-era Volubilis nearby gets a fair share of them. If you do make it here, try to at least stay one night as the city gets something magical in the night lights.Just like many other Moroccan towns, Meknes consists of a new town, dating mostly from last century, and a UNESCO World Heritage listed old town, with mostly older buildings. Unmistakably the centre of the old town is Place El-Hedim, a 0.5 ha rectangular square (around 1 acre). The local government is trying to transform the square in the evening in a Meknes version of the famous Jemaa El-Fna at Marrakesh, but so far the tiny attempts are not very successful. At one side of the square you can lose your way in the small streets of the ancient medina. It’s not as impressive as its counterpart in Marrakesh or as large as the one in Fes, but definitely the most quiet and relaxing of the three. Be prepared however for a small "donation" in case you lose your way and you have to ask the locals. The medina contains several beautiful historical buildings, like the green 11th century Great Mosque (off limits to non-Muslims), the wonderful 14th century Medersa (Islamic school) Bou Inania or the 19th century Dar Jamai Palace.At the other side of El-Hedim is the massive 18th century town gate Bab El-Mansour, one of the greatest sites of the city. The blue-tiled gate changes colours throughout the day. Just behind the gate is the Dar Kebira quarter. It houses the beautiful mausoleum of Moulay Ismail, who made Meknes his capital and constructed several new buildings and quarters. He is sometimes viewed as the founder of the city, although there existed a city here already since long before him. Beyond the mausoleum, the road continues for about 1km between the Dar Kebira town walls and the walls of the non-visitable royal palace to a square with an entrance gate of the palace. Another km south of here you can visit the palace’s old granaries and horse stable (Dar el Ma).There are a few sights close to Meknes. Most notably the ancient Roman sight of Volubilis, possibly the most visited place in the region, especially by Western tour groups. It’s located about 25km north of Meknes. This World Heritage site boosts one of the most interesting Roman sites of Africa. A few km away is the rarely visited village of Moulay Idriss, named after Idriss I, the founder of Fes, who has his mausoleum here. The picturesque town sits peacefully on two hills and only gets large gatherings of people during the yearly moussem (religious festival). Close
Written by HobWahid on 18 Feb, 2004
Meknes is one of Morocco’s imperial cities and one of numerous former capitals. It enjoyed its height of power during the seventeenth century when it was captured the heart of Moulay Ismail. Since then it has a bit of a troubled history and no doubt…Read More
Meknes is one of Morocco’s imperial cities and one of numerous former capitals. It enjoyed its height of power during the seventeenth century when it was captured the heart of Moulay Ismail. Since then it has a bit of a troubled history and no doubt lost some of its grandeur. Still, with the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail, the most spectacular gate in North Africa, and an old city less oppressive than that in Fes, Meknes is a fine place to stop for a night.
There are numerous hotels to stay at in Meknes just out side of the Medina, the old city. However, if you are going the budget route, as I did, make sure your hotel has functioning heat, only in the winter of course. I was there in February and did not realize that the heat was not working in the hotel. It took about four blankets to fend off hypothermia . . .
As for the sights of Meknes, most of them are centered around, or just outside of the old city. A good place to start is the Mausoleum of Moulay Idriss. Moulay Idriss, the eccentric emperor who had visions of grandeur for Meknes, lies in a suitably impressive mausoleum just outside of the gates to the old city. With tiled courtyards and fountains, the mausoleum is definitely worth a stop. From there you can swing by the equally impressive Bab al-Mansour, an enourmous and ornate gate into the old city. Although the gate is closed to all traffic, and the atmosphere has been a bit ruined by the constant stream of honking cars that passes in front, it is still possible to imagine the awe the gate would impress upon travelers arriving at Meknes centuries ago.
From Bab al-Mansour, you can head into the Medina. If you are coming to Meknes from Fes, you will surely find this Medina to be less stressful than the one in Fes. However if you are stopping by Meknes first, you might be in for a bit of a shock. The Medina is a confusing maze of narrow streets, underpasses and gates that come to life during the day with shoppers, shopkeepers and people going about their daily business. There are plenty of aromatic spice shops where you can please your nose as well as shops selling all sorts of crafts. The biggest joy comes from just walking around the Medina, discovering a new corridor, and dodging donkey carts. While there are still plenty of touts about and you should keep careful watch over your wallet and camera, it is no where near as hectic as Fes and you will find that it rather easy to walk around freely and unbothered.
Meknes is Fes’ little sister. It is not as grand or impressive, but it is also free of a lot of the hassles that can make Fes a headache. While there is not much to entertain for more than a day, it is a perfect place to stop just for a night.