One of the four Imperial Cities of Morocco, Meknes is in the northern central region of Morocco. It is also the sixth largest city in Morocco by population.
The city was first found in 11th century by Almoravids as a military base. Meknes was even the capital of the kingdom during the reign of Sultan Moulay Ismaïl. The ruler decorated the city in a Spanish-Moorish style and raised high walls around the city as a means of defense.
When exploring the city, you will still find the 17th century Maghreb’s reflections in the Islamic-European architecture of the city.
If you are heading to Meknes from Fes, you will it much quieter and smaller. Less visitors make it easy to roam around the city with no hassle.
Nicknamed as “City of a Hundred Minarets”, Meknes has a lot to explore in and around it. During the presence of the French, the city was so wealthy, prosperous, and beautiful, it was named as “Little Paris” or “Moroccan Versailles”.
Its fascinating and impressive heritage has earned the entire city the status of UNESCO World Heritage.
Located near Fes and Rabat, the city is easily accessible. If you are a history enthusiast, then visiting its mosque, palace, reservoir, and museum is a must!
Places to Go in Meknes
There is a lot to visit in this historical city. Here is a list that will give you an idea of what you want to add to your itinerary.
Bou Inania Madrasa
Dressed up in colorful zellige, this madrasa was the project of Abu Inan Faris and its construction was completed in the year 1358. The architecture of this Islamic institution is exemplary of the typical Moroccan mosaic tilework, zellige. There is a delicate stucco midriff complemented by a lavish cedar-wood ceiling.
The building has a ground floor, where once students of age 8-10 years used to live two to a cell. First floor has luxurious private rooms, where teachers and older students used to live. To the right is the school room with a deep niche or mihrab. It indicates the direction of Mecca.
You can climb to the terrace of the madrasa and enjoy the view of green-tiled roof and minaret of the Grand Mosque nearby.
Like the neighboring cities, Meknes too has an old fortified city called medina. It is a bustling place with lanes of lined-up shops. Apart from the daily utilities, souks in medina offer souvenirs for the tourists. Its Souk Nejarine is lined with textile stalls, while the Souk Sebbat hosts vendors selling traditional Moroccan craft shops. Clothing and Morocco’s famous slippers are also in the medina markets.
Sitting in the heart of the medina is the famous Grand Mosque of Meknes. This 12th century heritage has a distinctive green-tiled roof, which makes it easy to identify the place from far away. The mosque is enclosed by walls that are mostly crumbling but are intact at some parts.
Grand Mosque is yet another architectural achievement of Sultan Moulay Ismaily, who constructed the building when Meknes was the capital of Morocco.
Dar Jamai – Museum of Moroccan Art
Constructed in 1882, Dar Jamai was originally the mansion of the Jamai Family. It was only in 1920 that the place was converted into the Museum of Moroccan Art.
Located in Place el-Hedim, the museum displays rich historical décor including painted wood, wrought ironwork, and sculpted plaster, which were popular in 19th century houses of the elite Moroccans. There is a beautiful Andalusian-style garden just outside the museum. It offers a pleasant break from the hot sun of Morocco.
When you visit the museum, you will find a room, typical of Moroccan reception room from the late 19th century. It is a glimpse into the prosperity and wealth of Meknes in that period.
Imperial City District
The Imperial City district of Meknes has plentiful old ruins to explore. Many of these relics date back to the reign of Sultan Moulay Ismail. This was the era when Meknes enjoyed its halcyon days as the capital of kingdom.
The city’s old ambassador building, Koubat Al Khayatine is a great place to begin the expedition. People have access to a part of the building with small photography exhibits on Meknes.
A farther from the ambassador building is the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail. Its breathtaking interiors showcase the exuberance of Moroccan religious decoration. Though the actual shrine is not open for the non-Muslims, everyone can enter the outer parts and tomb hall.
Located near the Moulay Ismail Mausoleum is the Dar el-Kebir. It is the ruined palace of Moulay Ismail, who ruled Morocco in 17th century.
Take a long walk through the dusty path that takes you to the Dar el-Kebir buildings. Once the city’s granaries and stables, these mammoth buildings are a tunnel to the grandeur of this small city.
This ornate main gate between Meknes’ medina and the Imperial City district is a treat for the eyes. If you are looking for a photogenic landmark for a backdrop of your Meknes photographs, then Bab al-Mansour is it.
The beauty of this immense gate has been proclaimed as the finest by many experts. Finished in 1732, the gate was a project started by Sultan Moulay Ismail, but completed after his reign. The lavish use of zellige and carvings offer a sneak peek into the opulence of once-capital city of Morocco.
Today, it is not a functioning gate. It remains shut closed and a neighboring gate, which is much smaller and less lavish, is used to enter and exit. This allows the visitors to enjoy the beauty of Bab al-Mansour without the interference of traffic.
Places Around the City of Meknes
While, the city is small and easy to explore in a couple of days, it offers much more in the nearby areas. Both the places are a treat for history lovers. Their historical and cultural significance make for a fascinating day trip.
The ancient Roman ruins of Volubilis – It is located at a distance of mere 29 km from Meknes.
The holy city of Moulay Idriss – It is just 27 km away from Meknes.