City of Meknes, a haven of history and culture

Get ready for an adventure to Meknes, the stunning city in Morocco that will leave you breathless! Meknes, also known as Meknassi, is a city with a fascinating history and beautiful architecture that will transport you through time and space. As one of Morocco’s four imperial cities, it boasts an impressive list of historical landmarks and natural attractions, including the famous Volubilis Roman Ruins (Oualili). But that’s not all! Meknes is also known as the “City of a Hundred Minarets” due to the many mosques and more than 40 km of massive defensive walls. And let’s not forget about the strange sultan Moulay Ismail, who designated Meknes as the nation’s capital during his 55-year rule.

The best part? Meknes is one of Morocco’s most affordable cities, and its friendly population will make you feel welcome from the moment you arrive. Whether you’re exploring the city’s stunning architecture, sampling delicious Moroccan cuisine, or simply taking in the sights and sounds of this vibrant city, you’ll never be bored in Meknes. So pack your bags and get ready for an unforgettable adventure!

Meknes sights

Meknes is a city in Morocco that boasts a rich history and culture. Visitors to this city can explore many notable landmarks and attractions, such as the Mausoleum of Mulay Ismail, Bab El Mansur, Bab Berdain, and Bab El-Jemis gates, Adgal Pond, Medersa Bou Inania, the beautiful Sultans’ Gardens, the granaries (Heri es-Suani), the enormous stables, and the Museum of Moroccan Art in Dar Jamai. They can also stroll along the ramparts, wander through the medina, and bargain for goods in the souks.

Just 26 kilometers away from Meknes, lies the city of Moulay Idriss. This city is home to the busiest moussem in the region, which takes place during August and September. The moussem attracts thousands of pilgrims, creating a lively festival that is steeped in tradition and attracts curious tourists. Another attraction that visitors can explore is the ruins of the Roman city of Volubilis, which is located just 27 kilometers away from Meknes. This city served as the residence of the procurators of Mauritania Tingitana during the first century AD and is an impressive sight to behold.

Visit religious sites in Meknes

The Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail was built by Ahmed Eddahbi and is located in the Medina, on the far side of Hedim Square. It is one of three shrines in Morocco that can be visited by non-Muslims, alongside the tomb of University Mohamed V in Rabat and the Medersa Bou Inania in Fes. The mausoleum is the final resting place of one of Morocco’s most famous sultans, despite having over 550 wives and more than 4000 concubines, he tried to marry Anne-Marie de Bourbon, the daughter of Louis XIV, several times due to the close ties between the two rulers.

While all areas of the mausoleum are accessible except the room containing the sultan’s remains, non-Muslim visitors must follow the etiquette and dress modestly. The mausoleum is made up of rooms with basic designs which are decorated with zellij tiles and plasterwork. Visitors reach the sanctuary via a series of understated courtyards. The central chamber of the sanctuary is an exquisitely adorned space with a fountain in the middle and several Islamic elements throughout. Moulay Ismail was buried here with two of his more than eight hundred children, one of his five spouses, and one of his many wives. The belief that Moulay Ismail’s tomb can heal draws many Moroccans to the mausoleum.

The Nejjarine Mosque, which dates back to the tenth century, is located in the heart of Meknes’s Medina. The Great Mosque, founded by the Almoravids in the eleventh century, has 143 arches, 11 doorways, and beautifully sculpted roofs. The Jamai Roua Mosque was built in 1790 by Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdellah. The Sheikh Kamel Mausoleum, designed by Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah, houses the tomb of El Hadi Benaissa, who is part of the fraternity known as the “Aissaas.”

Visit Meknes's medersas and museums

The Dar Jamai Museum displays Moroccan society’s wealth and features Moroccan and ethnographic arts. Medersa Bouanania, built by Sultan Abu Hassan Marini, is an excellent example of Hispano-Moorish architecture and features zelliges mosaics and wood carvings. Medersa Filalia, built by Moulay Ismail, was used for religious and educational purposes. The Museum of Rif Ceramics is also worth visiting.

Historical monuments to see in Meknes

Sultan Mulay Ismail, a notable historical figure, utilized the Al Koubat Khayatine pavilion, commonly referred to as the Ambassador’s Room, to host diplomats and envoys from various countries. Meknes, a city of great cultural significance, boasts of several noteworthy landmarks. Among them are the Bab Lakhmis Gate, which dates back to the seventeenth century, and the Bab Berdaine Gate, which the esteemed Moulay Ismail erected during the XVIIth century. Notably, the Dar El Beida, a palace constructed by Sultan Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah in the 19th century, currently serves as the Royal Military Academy of Meknes. The El Fandouk Hanna, a cultural complex owned by the endowments, and the Ksar Mansour, a palace and granary belonging to the public domain, are other cultural landmarks that Meknes boasts of. 

Las Haras, an equestrian center that was established in 1914 as a military institution, was repurposed in 1947 as a center for horse breeding. The Barn and Stables, a massive architectural complex built by Moulay Ismail, served as storage space for food. Moulay Ismail, a visionary leader, also constructed the Bassin Agdal, a vast water storage pond that spans 319 meters in length and 149 meters in breadth. With a depth of over 2 meters, the pond was designed for irrigation purposes to support Meknes’ gardens. Lastly, the Cara Prison, also known as the subway silo, was named after a Portuguese architect who was imprisoned there.

The most well-known historical sites in Meknes

Meknes in Morocco is home to several historical landmarks. The palace of Dar El Makhzen was the official residence of Moulay Ismail. Bab Mansour gate is considered one of the most beautiful gates in the world. Lahboul Garden features a zoo and an open-air theater. Real Golf course consists of nine holes and is played with artificial light. These landmarks are a testament to the city’s rich history and cultural heritage, making Meknes a must-visit destination for history and culture enthusiasts.

The Place de l’El Hédime, which means “Ruin Square,” is a broad esplanade situated in front of Bab Mansour, the meeting place of the imperial city of Meknes. This picturesque square is essential for entry to the souks and somehow reminds us of Marrakech’s Jemaa el-Fna square. The surrounding architecture is more uniform than Marrakech’s larger sister, and the square is rectangular in shape. There are many restaurant patios all around this square, making it an ideal location to enjoy Moroccan tea and observe the square’s activity. At dusk, vendors, acrobats, storytellers, tourists, and people from diverse backgrounds gather in this square. A food souk encircles the southern side of the square.

Restaurants in Meknes

Rue Antsirabi is the main street in The New City, where you can find a variety of eateries and pubs. For tourist, Rue de Ghana has popular eateries that offer meals for 40 dirhams. Le Pub on Avenue Allal Ben Abdellah serves French cuisine and is open until midnight every day. Athenos on Mohamed V Avenue is the place for delicious Moroccan dishes. Mo Di Niro on Antsirabé Street serves American cuisine and is open until midnight. La Fine Bouche on Allal Ben Abdellah Avenue serves chawarmas and other delicacies and is open daily until 2:00 am. Gallery Label is a hub of several restaurants with international cuisine, and Marhaba serves regional cuisine.

Restaurants in Medina of Meknes

If you’re in the mood for some delicious Moroccan food, you should check out the restaurant located at 67 Rue Driba, in the charming neighborhood of Les Colliers de Colombe. It’s located near the medina, and if you follow the signs, you’ll easily find it. The restaurant is open every day, so you can stop by whenever you’re hungry. The menu features a variety of mouth-watering Moroccan dishes, including the famous bastilla, which is a delicious pastry filled with savory ingredients such as chicken, almonds, and spices. However, it’s worth noting that most dishes are priced above 100 DH, although prices may vary depending on the dish.

If you’re looking for fresh produce or other ingredients, you might want to check out the market near the main square of the Medina, in the Bab El-Mansur neighborhood. This market is known for its high-quality produce, and you’ll find a wide variety of olives, sweets, and other treats.

History of Meknes

Meknassa Ez-Zeitoun, also known as Meknassa of the Olives, was established by Berbers in the ninth century, but it was not until the Almoravids built a bastion and a fortress in 1069 that it flourished. Meknes reached its peak during the reign of Mulay Ismail, who endured numerous sieges, conquests, abandonments, and reconstructions. Mulay Ismail, a member of the Alaouite tribe, developed Meknes by adding ramparts with grand gates, gardens, mosques, citadels, and his first palace, Dar Kebira, during the same time as King Louis XIV of France. The result is one of Morocco’s most beautiful and fascinating cities.

During the reign of Sultan Moulay Ismail, Meknes witnessed the bloodiest chapter in its history. Ismail succeeded his brother Al-Rachid as the ruler of the kingdom and immediately moved the capital from Fes to Meknes, where he ordered the construction of the city’s renowned walls and a massive palace, which was staffed by an army of over 25,000 slaves primarily taken during pirate raids on European ships. He employed the Black Guard, a terrifying army of over 100,000 slaves from the Sudan, to drive out the foreigners who had settled along the coast and solidify the borders of the fledgling state of Morocco. Ismail was more feared than loved and is considered one of the most murderous sultans in history.

Things to do in Meknes: Nightlife

Please note that only a few bars in Meknes are suitable for travelers, despite the city having more bars than residents. Be aware that the prices listed online may not be accurate. One of the recommended bars is Le Pub, located on Avenue Allal Ben Abdellah. It is open every day until midnight and is one of the few places in Meknes where women feel comfortable ordering drinks. The bar has two levels and offers beer bottles ranging from 15 to 45 dirhams and cocktails for 50 dirhams. Wines from the Guerrouane and Amazir regions are worth trying. Shisha (a water pipe filled with tobacco) costs 50 dirhams.

The novelty bar, located above Paris Street, is open every day until midnight. Recently renovated, it is said that the owners are Italian, which may explain the decor. This is the only place in Meknes where draft beer is served. Beer bottles are priced between 15 and 45 dirhams, while cocktails cost 50 dirhams. Wine is only available by the bottle. Hotel Zaki is the only place in Meknes where you can drink outdoors. It is open until late.

Shopping in Meknes

This city is not a great place for shopping, but it is cheaper than Fes. The medina is full of traditional Moroccan clothing, rugs, and the famous bilgha shoes. It is also famous for its iron and other goods made by local artisans. You can find many shops catering to tourists behind Hedim, near Dar Jamai. When bargaining, always verify the price before agreeing to it and never accept the seller’s first offer. Offering half of the asking price (or 75% for expensive or large-scale items) is the easiest way to negotiate, especially if you don’t speak French or Arabic. The merchant will then lower the price a bit further until you agree on a price. If you can’t reach an agreement, pretend to leave, and usually, the seller will offer a lower price. Also, try not to be too cheap.

Surroundings of Meknes

Discover the ancient Volubilis Roman Ruins, also known as Oualili in Arabic and Berber, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located just a stone’s throw away from the city. Experience the magic of the little village of Moulay Idriss Zerhoun, perched on a hill and established by Moulay Idriss I. Revered by Muslims, this special place hosts an annual moussem that is not to be missed.

Hotels in Meknes

Looking for an affordable place to stay in Meknes? Consider checking out the riads, which are a type of accommodation known for their beautiful decor that harks back to the imperial period. A riad is a former palace or residence surrounded by a garden. You can find many of these types of accommodations in the area along Rue Rouamzine, just before the medina. One great option is riad el Yacout, which is only two minutes away from the Bab Mansour and el Hédime squares. The interior is lovely and the staff is friendly and helpful. Plus, it’s in a fantastic location that’s close to public parking. Highly recommended! For more information and to book your stay, check out the website.

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Tours passing through Meknes

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