Website Category: Fortified Cities of the Maghreb
Criteria: (iv) icon of an era
Location and Values: The Historic City of Meknes is located on the highland plateau of north-central Morocco, about 60 km west of Fez. Although it was established as a military settlement in the 11th century, it is associated primarily with Sultan Moulay Ismail (1672-1727), who transformed it into a spectacular capital with 45 km of exterior walls, 20 gates and over 50 palaces. His main contribution was the creation of a new imperial city enclosed by high walls pierced by monumental gates, with enormous stables, a military academy, vast granaries and an elaborate water storage cistern.
Unfortunately the imperial city is completely off-limits to visitors, so the highlights are the massive 15m high walls (mostly built of rather crumbly tabia, an earth-and-lime mix), and their impressive gates, together with the vaulted granaries, the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail, and some of the typical elements of a fortified city in the Mahgreb – Islamic schools (medersas), multi-storey inns arranged around a courtyard (fondouks), and palaces (known as Dar).
Slideshow of the Historic City Of Meknes: The slideshow provides a ‘walking tour’, taking in the city’s main sights. It begins at the grand entrance gate of the imperial city, Bab Mansour, with its marble columns taken from the nearby Roman city of Volubilis. It faces the main square, Place el Hedim, which serves as a gathering place for story-tellers and astrologers, medicine men and snake charmers. At the far end of the square the Dar Jamai is a lavish late 19th century palace with sumptuous interior décor and a delightful courtyard garden. Beyond, the elaborate interior of the Bou Inania Medersa is shown, and the courtyard of a traditional fondouk with its ground-level shops and residential rooms above. Moving back towards the imperial city, the outside of the Koubba el Khayatine is shown, together with the underground ‘Prison of Christian Slaves’ (which was more likely used as a store than a prison); the Mausoleum and tomb of Moulay Ismail, and behind it, Ismail’s great palace complex, Dar el Kebira. This part of the city is rather derelict and has been adapted for residential use, but wandering through the area gives an idea of how it might once have been, its massive gates abandoned and rotting. A long walled corridor leads to the far end of the imperial city where the high vaulted granary, Heri es Souani, and the Agdal Basin Lake are shown.
Slideshow of the Historic City Of Meknes:
Comments and Impressions: It is unfortunate that the imperial city is not open to the public, given that it is reckoned to be Ismail Moulay’s greatest monument. Compared with Fez, the sights of Meknes are relatively few and low-key.
Google Earth View: To view satellite imagery of the Historic City of Meknes on Google Earth, click here. This opens a new window, so when you are finished, just close the Google Earth page and you will be straight back here to continue browsing.
Other Links: Official UNESCO Site Details