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Meknes, Morocco surrounded by Palm trees and towering mountains

Meknes Morocco and Fez

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You just know Meknes Morocco has to be an interesting place to visit since it has been recognized by UNESCO. Rabat and Fez give Meknes a lot of competition, yet this storied city keeps bringing back the same loyal travelers, and more become loyal visitors each year.

rooftop dining room in traditional Morrocan HomeMeknes has plenty to make your trip worthwhile. Atop a scenic hill, you'll find intricately worked gates that give you access into museums and mausoleums that are a marvel to behold. Meknes is almost two cities today, the old medina and the new city. These two centers are only about three miles apart, yet each creates its own ambiance.

The medina takes you back in time with its historic sights as well as arousing memories of such films as “Casablanca” and “Algiers”. In the Nouvelle Ville, you'll be in a totally different world with the city's modern homes, new automobiles speeding about the avenues and plenty of souvenirs.

Highlights of the Medina

In the medina, you can find anything from souks that specialize in the sale of artisan work, uncountable rolls of beautiful textiles, carpets, as well as souvenirs and more. And at the medina's very heart stands the Grand Mosque, built around 1100 AD. Unfortunately, this mosque is closed to non-Muslims.

For a wonderful place to relax for a moment, you can take tea in a secret courtyard while you view riads (traditional Moroccan homes). Just as interesting are the tough little donkeys that add color to the scenery. Many of the roof sections have been renovated with new cedar wood panels. These have been carved into the intricate patterns for which the Arabic people are famous. They add filtered sunlight to illuminate the narrow passages of the medina.

Meknes Morocco is a shopper's delight. In the medina, you'll find an open market that separates the medina from the old Jewish quarter or Mellah. You'll want to visit that quarter, too. You'll find rich juicy oranges, red chilies and dried grains by the cartloads. A colorful array of bowls of olives in precarious stacks in a jumble of kitchen appliances, children's toys and clothing, all in piles.

Bab el-Mansour of Meknes Morocco

With such an intriguing name, we don't know where to start. Apparently, most visitors begin their exploration of the medina from the Place el-Hadim. If you're an experienced traveler, you might think of the Jemaa el-Fna in Marrakesh, only on a smaller scale.

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This is always a major point for visitors. Bab el-Mansour was completed in 1732. Bab translates to ‘door' or ‘gate'. This impressive gate's main feature is its columns along with traditional inscriptions. It is amply decorated with zellij tile in green and white as well. This is a traditional Moroccan mosaic from the architectural tile work.

You can relax and enjoy a mint tea while listening to Moroccan pop music that blares in competition with the speakers. Okay, the music may only create a harsh discordant mixture of sounds that makes your ears turn red. But, that only adds to your memories. When you've had enough tea and music (?), you can take the next entry into the medina which is next to the Dar Jamal Museum.

This museum is well worth the few dirhams entry fee. This was at one time a palace. Built sometime in the nineteenth century it has become a museum displaying room after room of amazing crafts in the original traditions. This mosaic of ceramics, costumes, jewelry, and brass work is a true feast for the eye. And you won't be able to miss the unbelievable tiles on the dome as well as the floor. Even the doorways are interesting.

The Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail is one of the city's most visited sights. This tomb belongs to the man who raised Meknes to its imperial status. His ornate tome is a testament to the reverence with which the Moroccans hold his memory. Fortunately, this mausoleum is open to all, non-Muslims as well to “Infidels”. The only condition is that lady visitors wear a scarf for your heads. Non-Muslims are not permitted to get too near the tomb or the mausoleum. The best viewing time for visitors is early in the day.

Dar Jamal Museum

You can get a twofold experience here by visiting Heri es-Souani and the Agdal Basin. These sites are only about a mile away from the medina.

In Meknes, the original purpose of the Royal Granaries (Heri es-Souani), was to store immense reserves of grain. But in addition to that, some 12,000 horses were stabled there as well. Unfortunately, the roof collapsed after an earthquake at some time in the 1700s. You can still get a rough idea of the immensity of this construction, attributed to the engineering genius of Moulay Ismail.

After having your fill of the Royal Granaries, you'll want to visit Agdal Basin nearby. This reservoir and lake now have a lining supplied by remnants of the original walls.

The World's Greatest Aerial View

The UNESCO site at Volubilis, the ruins of a Roman city that date from around 1200 BC. This site is located a short drive from Meknes. At the time, Meknes marked the western boundary of the great Roman Empire. Here, in those days, a person would have believed this to be the end of the world.

You'll surely find it worthwhile to stroll through the paved streets that zigzag between buildings. You'll see olive presses and see the wonderful tiles and mosaics which remain open to the public as well as to the elements. Most visitors to Volublia stop at the scenic whitewashed town of Moulay Idries. This is the locale of the tomb of Moulay Idrisa. The views of the surrounding countryside are a wonder. An even more impressive view of the surrounding country is from the air. Well worth considering.

Getting Around

Getting around the Medina is undoubtedly easy. City walls continue to encircle the old town and the only way to properly get around is on foot. Once you become familiar with the gates (bab), that give access to the medina, getting around is no problem at all.

There are also plenty of taxis. Petits for short hops and Grands for longer travel. Buses are plentiful but often crowded.

How Long Should You Plan to Stay in Meknes?

If you have only a little time, you can get a flavor of Meknes Morocco in a day. Perhaps a trip to Volubilis. For a more informative stay and a greater appreciation of Meknes, it was better to plan for a little longer visit, making Meknes as a base. From there you can explore the area via bus or train to visit such cities as Fez, Marrakesh, Tangier, Casablanca, Rabat, and Kore.


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