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One of the four imperial cities of Morocco, Meknes divides the attention with its more famous sisters and it has plenty to offer, promising to let any curious visitor satisfied with its museums and mausoleums. Meknes is known as the "Versailles of Morocco", so you can have an idea of its beauty and importance.
The city is 36km southwest of Fez and 110km from the Atlantic ocean. Its position is very strategic because it is in the heart of the country. Meknes benefits from cedar forests and mountains of the Middle Atlas to the southeast and the oases of Tafilalt to the south. The surrounding region is known by the plantation of wheat, olives, citrus fruits and for raising goats.
When Meknes, Morocco was founded?
In the X century by a Berber tribe. By the XI century, the Almoravids (another Berber dynasty) founded a fortress in Meknes and the city would pass through the hands of the Merinids in the XIV century and the Wattasid dynasty.
In 1673 it became the Moroccan capital, and the ruler Moulay Ismail started the golden era of the city. He built many monuments around the city, such as beautiful mosques and palaces, thus it got to be known as the "Versailles of Morocco". He fortified the city with nine gorgeously ornamented gates and four-cornered towers that still stand until the current days.
Meknes has a lot of historical sites and natural sites too. You will get a good flavour of this city and be impressed with everything it can offer. Reserve at least a day to visit the attractions below:
Bab el-Mansour: It is a splendid gate at the entrance of Meknes, and it is famous for good reasons. Built in 1732, it impresses because of its size and it is all original: the green and white tiles, the Quran inscriptions, and the marble columns. Even though less famous, take the chance to also visit Bad el Khemis, which is another well-preserved gate and an example of Islamic craftwork that deserves admiration.
Dar Jamai Museum: It was a palace in the past but now displays its rooms and doorways to the public. The museum exhibits traditional costumes, ceramic, and jewellery .
Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail: A beautiful architectural construction, this is one of the most important spots in Meknes, the resting place of the ruler who gave the city its glorious status. It is a calm place and a symbol of Islamic architecture. Non-Muslims are welcome to visit - women should bring a headscarf.
Place Hedim: It is the Meknes version of Djemaa el Fna in Marrakesh, even though much less busy. Take the time to walk around the narrow alleys and admire the historical buildings. There are many local shops and markets selling the most varied traditional items, and stalls from where you can taste freshly-made juices. There are also other souks around Meknes, Morocco and you should not miss the opportunity to look out for damasquinerie products, a skilled process of Jewish heritage that currently only exists in Meknes. Damasquinerie is the technique of mixing silver on another metal surface, and producing an unique item from this combination.
Bou Inania Madrasa: It is located right in the centre of the old medina and it was both school and mosque. Its architectural style is truly beautiful, similar to Bab el-Mansour. The inner courtyard is serene and a nice spot to relax for a few minutes until your next visit.
Take a horse carriage ride: There are many spots to see in the city, and if you feel tired of walking or simply want to enjoy your touring in a more relaxed way, there are many nice horse carriages available in Meknes (in front of Bab el-Mansour), and they promise to take you where cars would not.
Enjoying the city at night: Don't be mistaken by Meknes' size. Even though it is a small city, it offers a vibrant nightlife. You can enjoy the many bars and pubs with local music and vibes.
There is more in the surroundings of Meknes:
The ruins of the Roman city Volubilis: Your visit to Meknes, Morocco will not be complete without a trip to the ancient Roman ruins of Volubilis. It dates to the III century BC and it is the most well-preserved archaeological site in the country. Located on a hill, most of columns and mosaics are still well-preserved.
Moulay Idriss: On your way to Volubilis you will pass by Moulay Idris, the white town that is home of the tomb of Idris I (first major ruler of Morocco), after whom the place is named. It is considered a holiest place. Its narrow streets and small size makes visitors feel familiar and comfortable.
Is it worth visiting Meknes, Morocco?
Yes. Meknes is one of the four imperial cities but receives less tourists than Marrakesh and Fez. Nevertheless if you are touring in Morocco and want to include the other sites around the city, Meknes is a place that deserves consideration.