Sunday, September 25, 2011

Meknes. مكناس

Founded in the 11th century by the Almoravids as a military settlement, Meknes became a capital of Morocco under Sultan Moulay Ismaïl (1672–1727).

The sultan turned it into a impressive city in Spanish-Moorish style, surrounded by high walls with great doors, where the harmonious blending of the Islamic and European styles of the time are still evident today.



 Tens of thousands, mainly Christian,slaves kidnapped from European villages as far north as Iceland by Moroccan pirates, worked and died to complete the more than 50 palaces, the 20 gates and a city wall 45 km long.  In recognition of its architectural beauty, 
Meknes was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996.

Luckily for us, Meknes is located only about an hour's train rid from Fes so I'm planning a day trip for us.  There's so much stuff to see though that I have to get a map of the city, with key sights highlighted, before I leave!  We also have the option of hiring a guide to take us around.....we'll see if it has to come down to that or not.

There's so much to see in Meknes and with just a day to spend, it's hard to pick but I think these are some of the top sights.  Now, the question is are the located near one another other?  :-)

Photo by gjehle
"Bab el-Mansour "
Bab means "gate" or "door" in Arabic, and Bab Mansour is the largest and most striking of Meknes' many gates and is its most famous historic landmark. 

Bab Mansour was built starting in the 17th century and was named after its architect, El-Mansour, a Christian renegade who converted to Islam.  The gate has has three arches and is decorated with beautiful ceramics. The marble columns are from the nearby Roman ruins at Volubilis.

The gate once led into the imperial city but today, it is an arts and crafts gallery.
 
"Place el-Hedim "
Place el-Hedim is the large square facing Bab el-Mansour which lies on the southern side of the square. Built by Moulay Ismail and originally used for royal announcements and public executions, it's a good place to sit and watch the world go by.

On the western side of the square is a covered produce market that catches the spill-over from the souqs to the north. Might be a good place to pick up some munchies for snacking when we get back to Fes.

"Dar El Makhzen "
Although several royal palaces were built by Moulay Ismail, Dar El Makhzen was his official palace.  It is still being used as a royal palace today although the king rarely travels to Meknes.
Because it still serves as a royal residence today, the public is not allowed to step inside Dar El Makhzen.  However, parts of it can be seen through the gates of its crumbling walls so we'll be doing our share of peeking.



"Mausoleum of Moulay Ismaïl "
As you would expect from its name, the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail houses the tombs of Moulay Ismail, his family and prominent members of Moroccan society of his time.

Moulay Ismail’s stature as one of Morocco’s greatest rulers means that non-Muslim visitors are welcomed into the sanctuary. Entry is through a series of austere, peaceful courtyards meant to induce a quiet and humble attitude among visitors.

In contrast to the serene courtyards, the tomb hall is lavishly decorated, a showcase of the best of Moroccan craftsmanship. Photography is permitted, however non-Muslims are not permitted to approach the tomb itself.

"Heri es Souani"
Heri es Souani were the royal stables and granaries, large enough to house twelve thousand pure bred horses as well as the grain and hay to feed them.  The stable is an enormous room supported by hundreds of pillars.  The granaries themselves are ingeniously designed.  Tiny windows, massive walls and a system of underfloor water channels kept the temperatures cool and air circulating, effectively creating cool storage conditions.

Next to the Heri es Souani is a large reservoir, the Agdal Basin, now a pleasant park with benches under trees, sculptures and a fountain in the middle.

"Dar Jamai"
Located near the Place el-Hedim is Dar Jamai.  Built in 1882 to be the residence of the illustrious Jamai family, the building now houses the Museum of Moroccan Arts.  The Dar Jamai has a magnificent interior, decorated with sculpted plaster and painted wood that is matched by exquisite gardens on the outside.  It gives one an idea of the luxury that was once enjoyed by the upper class in Meknes.

If we're not exhausted yet exhilarated by the end of this day, I will be truly surprised!