Meknes, ranked “World Heritage of Humanity”, with Volubilis, is a prized destination owing to its historic monuments, its medina, its surrounding areas, its cultural life, its rich rural products and its renowned gastronomy.
A town of memory, Meknes harbours outstanding patrimonial treasures: mosques, medersas (theological schools), palaces, gates, museums, mausoleums, fountains, galleries, souks and handicraft bazaars.
The town was founded in the 10th century bearing the name of Meknessa Ezzeitoun, by the Zénète Meknassa tribe. It combines tradition and modernity perfectly while offering the visitor a unique urban setting, a real open-sky museum with its medina, its ramparts and gardens.
Meknes has remained the town where Muslims, Jews and Christians lived and still live together in tolerance and total harmony.
The region of Meknes offers many exploring and leisure activities, where several historic
sites testify to its past glory since it is the cradle of the Idrissids, the founders of the
1st Kingdom of Morocco and of the present Alaouite dynasty which has been reigning for
about four centuries.
An Imperial city, Meknes reached its glorious height in the 17th century under the reign
of Moulay Ismail (1672-1727), an Alaouitedynasty king. Having chosen it as the capital, the sultan had 40-km long ramparts erected around the imperial city and its spectacular monuments: palaces, mosques, gardens, basins, granaries, stables which can accommodate 12,000 horses, grain silos, which are all today admired as achievements.
The Dar-el Ma, literally the “water palace”, with its huge Moorish-shaped arched silos.
The sultan made of Meknes an imposing Hispano-Moorish style city encircled with high walls with impressive gates built in them. This is the evidence of the harmonious alliance between the Islamic and European styles in the 17th century Maghreb, hence its nickname of “Versailles of Morocco”, further to the trips of its viziers in Paris at the times of Louis XIV.
The medina of Meknes is splendid with its dazzling colours and nice scents, its medersas,
its squares and its neat craftsmen’s shops. Its gates are monuments, its souks offer an
authentic and picturesque journey and its ruins remain imperial. A huge restoration work is underway so as to keep this heritage, a testimony of a glorious remote past.
The European town, “The little Paris”, founded by the French in the beginning of the last century is attractive, too, with its art déco style. Meknes offers also its unique neighbouring landscape and invites the visitor to discover the hilltop site of Moulay Idriss which white colour is in strong contrast with the ochre of the last buttresses of the Rif and Volubilis, a Roman town with its Houses dedicated to the Labours of Hercules, to Ephebus, the Venus Procession, of Dionysos and the Four Seasons or of Orpheus, its capitol, its triumphal arch and its forum.
Attracted by its fertile soil, its abundant reserves of water and its beautiful site in the heart of the Saïss lowlands, that tribe constructed several Berber-style villages and various farms: vegetables, olives, figs, etc… In the 8th century, the first dynasty of Morocco, the Idrissids (786 – 917) was established in the region of Meknes. It was founded by Moulay Idriss 1st, a descendant of the Prophet Sidna Mohammed.
In the 11th century, the Almoravids fortified the town. The Almohads had conquered it in the 11th century and built mosques, hammams, and kasbahs. Meknes then went through a prosperous period which was to continue when the Merinids acceded to the throne.
Numerous monuments were erected during the reign of that dynasty, among which the Royal
palace and the famous Bou Inania Medersa. In the 15th century the Ouatassids took over.
The arrival of the Alaouite dynasty marked a turning point in the history of Meknes. As
from 1672 Moulay Ismail linked his fate with Meknes and decided to make it the most beautiful imperial city and the capital of the kingdom.
For over 50 years, he erected palaces, mosques, granaries, stables, basins, gardens and
kasbahs. He wanted the town to be prosperous and wanted it to be a worldwide-recognized
capital. He was given the name of the “Moroccan Louis XIV”. The walls around most of
the old town are pierced with majestic richly-carved gates and trimmed with constellations (earthenware and mosaics). The Bab Mansour gate is the biggest and the most beautiful of all
the Arab-Moorish arabesques. Other monuments were added under the reign of his son Sidi
Mohammed Ben Abdallah (1757-1790): he had mosques built, mausoleums and the Dar Beida palace, the present seat of the Royal Military Academy
By Najib Senhadji