In the first two parts of this short series I wrote about our time in Moulay Idriss and at Volubulis, the ancient Roman city. Part 3 – Imperial Meknes will be the final chapter of this short odyssey.
We were having a great time all weekend in Moulay Idriss and Volubulis but one subject had come up again and again since our last visit to Meknes. The Chicken Palace. Hanane absolutely loved the place the first time we visited and she told me on Saturday evening that she was thinking of not eating until the next day when we had lunch there so she could eat more. Sadly, this time I suggested that we sit inside and the waiter was a bit of an asshole when we said that we didn’t want to sit next to the toilet. We got up and moved out of his section, but the truth is, his rude comments ruined the meal for us and even though the food was still good, we won’t be going back.
The rest of our time in Meknes was wonderful though. We arrived at about noon and immediately took a taxi to the Medina Kadima (ancient Medina) so that we could have a wander around and compare it with the Medina’s of Fez, Sefrou, and other cities we’ve visited.
Before I get into that though, I should give those who aren’t familiar with Meknes and its history a bit of background (via wikipedia of course!)
The original community from which Meknes can be traced was an 8th century Kasbah. A Berber tribe called the Miknasa settled there in the 9th century, and a town consequently grew around the previous borough.
The Almoravids founded here a fortress in the 9th century. It resisted to the Almohads rise, and was thus destroyed by them, only to be rebuilt in larger size with mosques and large fortifications. Under the Merinids it received further madrasas, kasbahs and mosques in the early 14th century, and continued to thrive under the Wattasid dynasty. Meknes saw its golden age as the imperial capital of Moulay Ismail following his accession to the Sultanate of Morocco (1672-1727). He installed under the old city a large prison to house Christian sailors captured on the sea, and also constructed numerous edifices, gardens, monumental gates, mosques (whence the city’s nickname of “City of the Hundred Minarets”) and the large line of wall, having a length of 40 km.
The taxi dropped us off in the Place Hedim which reminded me a lot of Jmma el Fna in Marrakesh but without the circus atmosphere or the touts. There were the usual merchants selling hats, fake adidas, djellabas, blankets, and trinkets. The square itself is beautiful and we were approached by exactly zero touts!
From there we wandered into the Dar Jamai museum. This old riad has seen a lot of history and now houses a beautiful collection of Moroccan handicrafts. The architecture, gardens, and displays were beautiful, but sadly it looked as if some of the restoration work was done by second rate apprentices. concrete patches slapped on beautiful zellij and mosaic floors unevenly retiled. Hopefully in the future, all of this will be restored to the quality of work it deserves.
Leaving the museum I informed Hanane that it was time for us to get lost in the Medina. She didn’t like the idea but when I explained that we could catch a taxi from wherever we ended up back to the train station so that it really didn’t matter, she willingly set our with me. Entering the medina we saw a French family being told by a shop keeper that what they were looking for was closed today at which point they started to shop. Leaving them behind, we ten minutes later found what they had been looking for, the Mederasa Bou Ininia…and it was open. Nice shop keeper trick, that one!
I was a beautiful Quranic school once but now is a sight to see. I’m sure there are young men who are very thankful they aren’t being locked in the tiny cubicles each day so taht they could memorize surras. The locks on the outside of the doors tell the story clearly.
From the roof of the school we had great views of the medina and the mosque of the medina.
From there we took this turn and that turn and encountered lots of daily Moroccan medina activity. Donkeys, woodworking, and my favorite, an entire rummage sale street souk.
After a good long wander we just about where we had entered the medina. When Hanane expressed her surprise about not being lost, I winked at her. I was starting to feel hungry but we hadn’t worked up our appetites enough yet so I suggested that we take a carriage ride through Imperial Meknes to see the sights. It was Valentines Day and I figured my princess deserved the treatment.
Our first stop was the tomb of Moulay Ismail. it was filled with Chinese tourists who certainly didn’t understand why Hanane giggled every time they spoke. Funny to be laughing in a tomb. Moulay Ismail was the father of today’s Morocco and had 500 wives, a thousand children, 60,000 slaves, and 20,000 horses. Suffice to say that he is probably represented in the genes of nearly every living Moroccan…if the kids were actually his.
All of that aside, the tomb was beautiful, of course.
Back to the carriage and our next stop was the granaries and stables of Moulay Ismail.
Heri es-Souani was big, grand, impressive, and despite the funny stories and picture taking of the guide who assigned himself to us, it was boring.
To me anyway…a big stone barn.
From the barn the carriage took us past the slave quarters, the very beautiful Agdal Basin, past the Mellah, or Jewish quarter of Meknes where our guide pointed to an old woman and said, “Look, she is a real Jew!” and back to the very impressive (and built with part of Volubulis) Bab Mansour, the main gate across from the entrance to the old Medina.
After this we visited the Chicken Palace then we went to the Ice Cream Palace and then we got to the train station just in time to catch the train, then the taxi, and arrive safely back in the Casbah.
As you can see and probably read, it was a lovely Valentines.