Meknes takes its name from the Berber Meknassa from the name of the founding tribe of the city. The inhabitants of this tribe were called Amknassen, Amknasse in the singular which means warrior and fighter. It is the capital of the administrative region of Meknès-Tafilalet, in the center of the country. The city is located 120 km east of Rabat and 60 km west of Fez. It is one of the four imperial cities of Morocco. It was the capital of Morocco during the reign of Moulay Ismaïl under the Alaouite dynasty. The history of Meknes seems to date back to the creation of an unfortified rural town in the 8th century. The settlement in the 9th century of a Berber tribe, the Meknassa, who set up their camp north of the Boufekrane wadi, gives the city its name. The Almoravids made it a military site in the 11th century. The Almohads destroyed the city, guilty of resistance, to build a larger and more charming one with mosques and powerful fortifications. When they captured it, the Merinids built madrasahs, kasbahs, and mosques in the early 14th century. Under the Wattassids, it was a prosperous city. In the 18th century, Meknes became the administrative capital of Morocco, under the reign of the Alawite sultan Moulay Ismail, who made the city famous thanks to the money made from the resale of Christian sailors captured at sea and kept in the huge underground prison “Cara Prison”.
Monuments & tourist attractions of the city of Meknes:
Several Historical, Religious and educational buildings in Meknes: Moulay Ismaïl Mausoleum, Nejjarine Mosque, The Grand Mosque, Jamaï Roua Mosque, Cheikh El Kamel Mausoleum, Medersa Bouanania and Medersa Filalia. Museums of the city Meknes: the Dar Jamaï Museum and the Rif Pottery Museum. Gardens of the city of Meknes: Lahboul Garden and Agdal Basin. Monuments of the city of Meknes: Koubat Al Khayatine, Bab Lakhmis, Bab Berdaïne, Bab Mansour, Dar El Beida, Fandouk El Hanna, Ksar Mansour, Le Haras, Grenier et stables, Cara Prison, Dar El Makhzen palace and Royal Golf . In addition to its monuments, the city hosts the Morocco International Agricultural Show (S.I.A.M) every year, at the historic Hri Swani site near the Sahrij Swani basin.
The surroundings of Meknes:
Moulay Driss Zerhoun: 25Km from Meknes, this small town shelters the tomb of the founder of the Idrisside dynasty, the first dynasty to have ruled Morocco, “Idriss 1st”
– Volubilis: “Walili” in Berber, it is an ancient Roman city located not far from Moulay Driss Zerhoun, this site takes its name from the abundance of the flower bearing the same name, some monuments of the Roman city are still present .
– Spa resort of Sidi Hrazem: about twenty kilometers from Meknes, the resort of Moulay Yaacoub is the most important spa resort in Morocco with its natural waters which emerge at 54 ° C chlorinated, sodic and sulphurous, of an exceptional content, with its layout and accommodation establishments specializing in Hydrotherapy and Medicinal Tourism, the Moulay Yacoub resort is a resort highly prized by both Moroccan and international clients in search of well-being and recovery. form.
– Moulay Yacoub Thermal Resort: with its mineral water reputed to have curative properties for liver and kidney diseases. It is a low mineralized, magnesium bicarbonate still water from a hot spring of 35 ° C. SIDI HARAZEM is one of the two thermal spas in the region of Fez, which lies about 30 km to the east.
Visit of the city of Meknes
As often, a visit to a Moroccan city begins with the medina, in other words the old town. This is where you can really immerse yourself in the local atmosphere. In Meknes, the medina is not excessively large and it is pleasant to walk around. The starting point is the immense El Hédim square, twin square of the Djamaa Lafna square in Marrakech.
Bab Mansour el Aleuj gate:
Bab Mansour El Alj which opens onto the immense El-Hédim square, a beautiful painted canvas 200 m long and 100 m wide. “Bab Mansour” is considered the most beautiful of the doors of Morocco. “Its symmetry is remarkable, and its surprising size. Like all the achievements of the visionary Sultan, what emanates from it is elegance, robustness and power. ” In front of this square we can admire the most beautiful gate in Morocco: the Bab Mansour el Aleuj gate. Magnificent, it stands to the south of the square. You will admire the finesse and complexity of the ornamentation! Completed in 1732 by Moulay Abdallah son of Sultan Moulay Ismaïl, Bab Mansour el Aleuj is by far the most beautiful gate in Meknes. According to legend, this gate is the work of a Christian convert to Islam, hence its name: “gate of the renegade”. Architecturally, this monument is incredible. The symmetry is remarkable for such a large door. Dominating the immense El-Hédime square, it is framed by two superb bastions whose arches are set on marble columns. The decorations that adorn the facade are magnificent. Like the city and the buildings of Moulay Ismaïl, this door combines strength and robustness with a touch of elegance. It is often considered to be the most beautiful door in Morocco! North of the square, you can contemplate the Dar Jamaï palace.
Dar Jamaï Palace: Located north of El Hédime Square, Dar Jamaï Palace was built in the 19th century by the Vizier Jamaï. This house is typical of the dwellings of the Moroccan upper middle class at that time. Since 1920, this pretty monument has housed a Museum of Moroccan Traditions. It is by visiting it that one can realize the luxury enjoyed by the vizier. In fact, the vizier’s apartments have been restored. In this museum, you can also admire the Meknassi crafts: ceramics, carpets, embroidery, sculptures and jewelry. The artistic tradition of the city is highlighted in this dream setting. The different buildings surround an interior courtyard and its Andalusian garden. One would almost want to become a vizier instead of the vizier! In front of the Dar Jamaï palace, the famous Medersa Bou Inania passing in front of the Great Mosque.
Medersa Bou Inania: Built in the 14th century by Sultan Abou el Hassan of the Merinid dynasty, the Medersa Bou Inania is a Koranic school giving courses in law and Muslim religion. The central courtyard is a symbol of oriental elegance. The finesse of the glazed earthenware mosaics and the beauty of the carved cedar wood ceiling are remarkable. This beauty contrasts sharply with the tiny cells that served as bedrooms for the students. From the central courtyard, each small wooden window on the 1st floor indicates a bedroom.Finally, from the terrace, one can admire one of the most beautiful views of the city on the medina and on the minaret of the Great Mosque. Arrived in front of the madrasah, the Kissaria, a seven-century-old open market. Many traditional artisans work there. You can admire their most beautiful pieces, the fruit of centuries-old know-how. In the afternoon, the auctions put on a real spectacle.
Dar el Makhzen and imperial city of Meknes
Dreaming of a “Moroccan Versailles”, Sultan Moulay Ismaïl undertook in the 17th century the construction of an incredible imperial city. 25 kilometers of ramparts were necessary to protect this magnificent city comprising endless avenues and gigantic squares, not to mention the size of the buildings. You understand better why it is impossible to come to Meknes without going through the imperial city. Note: the tourist circuit is more than 10 km on foot. The walk is really worth the detour! The start of the visit begins at Lalla Aouda Square, accessible from the Bab Mansour el Aleuj gate. From there, the visit will be done naturally and you will be able to successively see the monuments mentioned below The Mausoleum of Moulay Ismaïl
Mausoleum of Moulay Ismaïl which is one of the few Moroccan mosques open to non-Muslims.
This tomb is, in fact, a mosque which houses the remains of Moulay Ismaïl and his family. Rarely, this mosque is partly open to non-Muslims. You will admire the many open-air rooms decorated with superb mosaics. Only Muslims have access to the burial chamber. We can nevertheless see the two clocks offered by Louis XIV to the Sultan when he refused him the hand of his daughter. From there, we leave for dar el Makhzen, in other words the palace where the royal family regularly resides. This palace cannot be visited.
Dar el Ma: is literally the house of water. Built by order of Moulay Hassan, this huge building incorporates wells forty meters deep. Currently the roof of Dar el Ma is now converted into a terrace café. We will appreciate the overview of the imperial city and the Agdal basin (Similar to the menara basin of Marrakech but larger). Right next to it, stands the immense Héri es Souani or granary which housed the city’s food reserves as well as the grain for the sultan’s many horses. It is said that Moulay Ismaïl, fearing to be besieged, ordered the construction of this granary of titanic proportions to be able to supply the city for 20 years. The Aguedal basin is, in fact, a reservoir of water supplied by a pipeline approximately 25 km long. Spread over more than 10 hectares, this basin was used to irrigate the Sultan’s gardens. In wartime, this basin could have served as a water reservoir for the whole city. Let’s continue in excess with the visit of the stables. A huge hall supported by hundreds of pillars once housed the Sultan’s 12,000 horses. Today, the stud breeds only 450 thoroughbreds. Finally, you can end your walk along the ramparts to admire the many gates, all gigantic but all different. Everything here is majestic! Hollywood has understood this well since the Imperial City is a popular filming location.
The main doors of Meknes: Meknes with 70 doors and portals the best known after that of Bab Mansour:
Bab Berdaïne: opens onto the northern district of the medina. It has two square bastions decorated with green earthenware. It compensates for its massive allure with an ornamentation of predominantly green ceramics and a rich decoration of kufic characters in zelliges.
Bab El Khmis: was the main entrance to the city of gardens and the ancient mellah (the Jewish quarter). It is framed by two bastions adorned with corner pieces with green cartridges, has a rich decoration which combines very colorful curvilinear ornaments and Kufic characters. An inscription engraved on the pediment of the door, reflects the ambition of the Sultan who ordered it: “I am the door open to all peoples, whether they are from the West or the East”. A little further on, a beautiful stanza is discovered: “I am the happy door similar, by my glory, to the full moon in the sky”.
Built a few years before our era, Volubilis was conquered in the 1st century by the Romans who made it a true ancient city. Today, the size and setting of the site as well as the beauty of the mosaics make these Roman ruins the most beautiful in Morocco. Located west of the Zerhoun massif on the edge of the Oued Khoumane, Volubilis is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Eager to establish a “headquarters” to control the Maghreb, the Romans invaded the city around the year 40 AD. They build many monuments and squares which make the charm of a Roman city. Forum, basilica, capitol, triumphal arch, bourgeois houses, shopping streets, everything is there! The 40 hectares of the city are soon surrounded by a wall. A true crossroads between north and south, Volubilis thrives on the trade in olive oil. At the end of the 3rd century, the Romans withdrew towards Tangier and the decline of the city began. Despite a slight upturn in the 8th century with the Islamization of the inhabitants, Volubilis was completely deserted in the 18th century. Sultan Moulay Ismaïl who wants to make Meknes a “Moroccan Versailles” does not hesitate to plunder the riches of Volubilis to build his own palace. Finally, Volubilis was totally destroyed by the Lisbon earthquake in 1755, despite the distance.