Meknes Morocco the City of a Hundred Minarets

Meknes is the smallest of the four imperial cities of Morocco.  This 11th Century town became the Imperial City under Sultan Moulay Ismail in 1672, a bloodthirsty ruler who increased the city’s fortifications by making thousands of slaves toil away until it became the largest fortified city in North Africa.

Sultan Ismail had an eye for beauty too, so created beautiful gardens and palaces in which to house his harem of 500 women.  Others weren’t housed so graciously, as Ismail also had built a large gaol underneath his Royal Palace in which he kept captured Christian sailors.

Although Meknes wasn’t built until the 11th Century, it wasn’t the first city to be built in the region.  Just outside of Meknes are the ruins of Volubilis, a Roman town that was built on the ruins of a previous Carthaginian settlement.  Volubilis marked the western boundary of Roman territory in North Africa and is consider to one of the best preserved Roman constructions in North Africa.  The ruins would be in much better shape if they had not been hit by a number of earthquakes over the centuries.

Meknes is located in the Atlas Mountains between Rabat, the current Capital of Morocco, and the ancient city of Fes.  It has a population of just under one million, and its main industries are textile manufacturing and food processing.  Today, Meknes is divided into two parts, the Old Town, otherwise known as the Medina, and the New Town.  It is in the Medina that is of main interest to visitors.  

Here you will find Moulay Ismail’s official palace, the Dar El Makhzen Palace that is surrounded by a 2 kilometres long corridor made of large stones.   There are also a number of ornately-decorated large gates in the Medina.  Perhaps the most impressive is the Babs Mansour gate which was built using marble that was taken from the Volubilis Roman ruins.

They are a large number of mosques in the city, not all of which are open for non-Muslims to visit. The biggest of these is the Grand Mosque, which was built in the 11th Century and which features 11 gates and 143 arcades.  Not all of these mosques are in good condition, as the minaret of the Bab Berdieyinnie mosque collapsed recently, killing a number of people.

The El-Hdim Square, in the centre of the Medina, is one of Mekne’s highlights. Local musicians, story tellers, traditional medicine physicians, snake charmers vie for your attention. Or, you can sit in a cafe sipping mint tea and just watch it all happening before you.

Meknes is considered to be so special that is has become a UNESCO World heritage Site.  That does not mean that it is a dead city, for Meknes is a very vibrant place.  There are plenty of bargains to be had in the souks, and it’s a great place to enjoy typical North African cuisine.  Because Meknes isn’t as well known as places like Fes and Marrakech, it doesn’t attract the same number of tourists, so you can see the city pretty much at your leisure without too much hassle.

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