Meknès is one of Morocco’s four Imperial cities, the base from which Moulay Ismail ruled from 1672-1727. A canny, but brutal leader who turned his kingdom into a formidable power, he also undertook grand building projects. In Meknès, he created an enormous imperial city, significant portions of which remain today.
Unfortunately, with our late arrival yesterday, we only have a short time to view those imperial remnants.
The first thing any visitor here is likely to notice is the walls. Both the medina and the imperial city are surrounded by massive walls with elaborate gates. They are overwhelming and inescapable. Thus, it is fitting that our first stop is at the Bab el-Mansour, constructed in 1732 by Moulay Ismail’s son and claimed to be the most elaborate of all Moroccan gates.
This can be a busy spot, with several stops for local buses and, of course, a stream of tourist coaches. We are lucky to arrive just ahead of the first tour buses of the day, giving us a bit of time to take a close look at the massive entry and its door, complete with water fountains, before slipping through a smaller entrance that takes us into a lovely courtyard garden swarming with office workers heading to work for the day.
Having arrived in the city after dark last night, I have almost no sense of what we should expect to see during our short time here and absolutely no sense of where we are. (I know there is a good museum and an amazing tomb here, but am unsure now whether either is actually on our itinerary.) Our driver just promises that we will see the things we need to see.
When he drops us off and directs us to cross a courtyard and enter through a grand doorway, I’m not quite sure where we are or what to expect.
It isn’t until we enter a second simple courtyard that I realize that this is the mausoleum of Moulay Ismail, the ruler who built this city.
In contrast to the simplicity of the courtyards, the burial chamber itself is all intricate elegance.
It’s so beautiful!
And then we are off again, zipping along between the city walls on our way to our next destination.
I feel like an ant between those magnificent walls.
The reservoir Moulay Ismail built to provide water to the imperial city reinforces that feeling of being an ant in this oversized city.
Our next stop is the Heri es-Souani, a massive granary and stable that allowed the sultan to feed and house 12,000 horses. While not beautiful in traditional terms, the ingenious granary is a perfect melding of form and function where massive walls, small high windows, and a system to circulate water below the floor create an ideal climate for storing grain.
The cool dark chambers would be the ideal place to relax on a hot summer day!
We see hints of sunlight as we work our way through the granary, eventually coming to their source at the remains of the stables. The roof collapsed in a long ago earthquake, leaving a structure that is more sculpture than building.
This is the end of our tour of Meknès. There is more I would like to see, but we have a bit of a schedule and the huge medina in Fés awaits us. It is time to get back on the road.