Meknes, « the olive tree princess »
Travel to Meknes, only 65 km south west of Fes to reawaken the legends of Sultan Moulay Ismaïl, who decided to make it into his sumptuous capital in the 17th century. Meknes is thus the youngest of the imperial cities, but her beauty rivals those of her sisters (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Located between coastal plains and the Atlas’ peaks, the city has been a commercial and cultural crossroads since Antiquity.
The city’s medina was founded in the ninth century. It is where you’ll find the most authentic souks and artisanal shops. The Kasbah unfurls around the medina, an extravagant royal town that shelters the city’s most celebrated moments within its walls. Entering the city through one of its magnificent gates, travellers will discover the sultan’s unfulfilled dream.
The medina: medersas and places of worship
We recommend that you start your visit by Bab El Khemis, the happy gate: it was the main entrance to Medinet Er-Ryad El’Anbari, “the city of the amber garden”. Not far from here is Meknes’ ancient Mellah.
- Meknes, “the city of a hundred minarets”, houses many structures. Walk around the medina’s narrow streets; they all lead to the Grande Mosquée and the Nejjari mosques, two buildings of great beauty in the heart of the city’s historic centre.
- You must take a detour to the Idrissides Palace (El Mansour), one of Meknes’ astonishing curiosities. The ancient fourteenth century bourgeois residence now houses a colourful bazaar that is worth checking out!
- Not far from here is the medersa Bou Inania, a Hispano-Moorish masterpiece. Today visitors have replaces students, but her teachings subside.
- Next, head to south to the El Hedim Square: art history lovers will relish the Dar Jamaï ethnographic museum. Don’t miss its remarkable exhibit about the Tafilalet region.
The imperial city: monuments and museums
Enter the city through the gate of Bab Mansour. This superb gate and its marble columns are ranked among the world’s four most beautiful, a treat for the eyes not to be missed “rosettes, stars, and tangles without end” (Pierre Loti).
- Make your way directly to the mausoleum of Moulay Ismaïl. The Sultan’s tomb is a rare Moroccan religious monument open to non-Muslims (except on Friday mornings). Make sure you see the huge open air halls and their precious mosaic ornamentation. The clocks still ticking away in the funerary room were a gift offered by Louis the 14th.
- Sahrij Souani: 500 m south of the royal palace and the Mechouar square, this structure was used to stock the city’s foodstuff reserves. The sight over the city’s hanging gardens from the roof is incredible. From a shady terrace you can admire the Agdal basin, a perfect copy of the Manara basin in Marrakech.
- South of the imperial city, take the Azrou road towards the Royal Academy and visit Meknes’ famous haras: this breeding centre of pureblood horses opens its doors freely to visitors. You will love this rural setting so close to the imperial city!
Excursions and hikes around Meknes
- Meknes is the best base camp for visiting the stunning ruins of Volubilis (30 km north). A magnificent visit, not to be missed!
- Moulay-Idriss: this holy city less than 5 km from Volubilis is worth a small detour. Come on Saturday to take advantage of the souk. In the end of August, don’t miss the religious ceremony of the great national Moussem: a lively atmosphere and lots of music!
- The Dar El Makhzen palace: in the town of El Mechouar Stinia was the Sultan’s official palace.
- The Lahboul gardens: in the medina of the Al Ismaïlia village are home to a zoo and an outdoor theatre.
Access and practical information
The closest airport is that of Fes, 65 km away. From Rabat, it is about 120 km.
The climate is Mediterranean but summers can be rather dry. If you plan on visiting Meknes during this time of year, bring hats, sunglasses and a bottle of water.
Don’t miss the festivities of Mouloud Meknes and its famous Fantasias! These huge gatherings are complemented by all kinds of light and sound shows, and are among the kingdom’s most celebrated. The festivities commemorate the birth of Mohammed on the lunar calendar, meaning there is no fixed date. Contact us for more information!