Located in the heart of Morocco, Meknes is one of its four ancient imperial cities. Meknes has a harmonious blending of Islamic and European styles of the 17th century Maghreb. It has a strong sense of history. Moulay Ismaïl turned Meknes into an impressive city in Spanish-Moorish style, surrounded by high walls with great doors which is evident even today. Situated on a hilltop this beautiful city of Meknes has many architecturally rich structures which include stunning gates, UNESCO stamped ancient Medina and many more.

Here is a list of 15 places to visit in Meknes for the travelling architect:

1. Bab Mansour

Bab Mansour, Morocco’s incredible grand gateways were built in the 1730s and were designed by El Mansour under the ruling of Sultan Moulay Islamiis considered to be one of the most beautiful gates in the world. An inscription in Arabic along the top of the monumental gateway translates as “I am the most beautiful gate in Morocco. I’m like the moon in the sky. Property and wealth are written on my front”. The wooden gateway which is 16m tall and 8m wide was intensely adorned by green and white zeillij tiles and engraved Koranic panels. Alternating concave and convex ceramic design decorate the greater part of the gate and creates a wonderful illusion of an intricately embroidered cloth.

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2. Meknes Medina

The Grand Mosque of the twelfth century with green tiles roof is designed to be right in the middle of the Medinas core to make the navigation easy was built during the Almoravid period. A sunken courtyard inside features tiles of white, grey, black, and blue, and a decorative ablutions fountain is at the center. Numerous curved archways with ornate wooden fittings lead through the gleaming white walls that surround the interior open-air courtyard. The medina is in the old town full of colors and vibrancy with local shopping souks in the lanes offering plenty of variety of the traditional craft shops for the tourists. In 1920, it was made into the Museum of Moroccan Art.

The museum still has the same interior design as the house originally did. Most of the art is from around the Morocco region and there is a room decorated like it would have been in the 19th century. The museum is located in the El Hedim Square.

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3. Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail

One of Meknes’s most sumptuously decorated splendid buildings, the opulent Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail is the final resting place of the city’s founder and a previous ruler of Morocco. The interiors are gorgeous and stunning and showcase the exuberance of the Moroccan religious decoration. The lavish rooms feature detailed tiling and plasterwork, along with expensive and luxurious objects. Rooms surround sweeping courtyards, complete with tinkling fountains. The complex also contains a mosque. The wall and floor tiles, inner fountains, chandeliers, sculpted plasterwork, carved wood, arches, colonnades, high ceilings, and symmetry are all in unity. However, the actual mosque is not open to non-Muslims but the outer part of the complex can be visited including the tomb hall itself.

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4. Dar Jamai

Dar Jamai was built in 1882 to be the grand palace of the Jamai family. It was later used as a hospital for sick and wounded military personnel. But in 1920 it was converted into the museum of Moroccan Art. The museum depicts the rich traditional décor of the 19th-century Moroccan high-class society with all the glorious details inside, with carved wood, finely sculpted plaster, and colorful tiles. Every part of the museum is rich with gorgeous floors, ceilings, walls, and doors, elegant columns, wrought ironwork, grand arches, and exquisitely carved projections above the windows. It is devoted to the arts and crafts of the region.

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5.  Volubilis

The UNESCO listed complex, about 29kms from Meknes has the best Roman-era remains in Morocco. The remarkable site is on the hilltop which proudly holds the remains of the columns, monumental gateways, the temple fragments, well-preserved mosaics, the foundations of many now-crumbling buildings, an old railway track, part of an aqueduct, arches, carvings, and statues. The ruins give a glimpse of the grandeur of the wealthy Roman empire.

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6. Bab el Khemis

One of another Meknes’s stunning gateways Bab el Khemis features traditional Islamic designs was built in 1673, near the quarter of Riad and Mellah. Traditional Moroccan craftsmanship is evident in the design details of tile work, woodwork, and plasterwork of the well-preserved gate. The sand-colored gateway is contrasted with blues, greens, and browns. Two towers with small windows flank the gate, and vehicles and pedestrians can pass through the arch.

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7. HabsQara

HabsQara is a huge underground prison beneath the streets of Meknes where Moulay Ismail allegedly kept prisoners. It was as big as to house about 60000 prisoners which also included slaves. The prison was designed by an enslaved Portuguese architect who was given his freedom in return for his work on the gigantic underground jail and thousands of Christian slaves were ordered to do the work. The slaves were often forced to work on Moulay Ismail’s grand construction projects. the visitors descend a flight of stairs adjacent to a small pavilion to enter a gloomy and spooky subterranean world. It is so big that one can get lost easily. The dimly lit corridors and cells, narrow ceilings, the passageways and chambers, low arches, narrow staircases, and lack of natural light add to the creepiness of the prison.

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8. BouInania Madrasa

Built-in the year 1341, on the orders of a former Moroccan sultan. BouInania Madrasa was a major Centre of learning for followers of Islam. Most of the decoration of the Madrasa is still preserved. The construction and the design details feature the Marinid era (13th to 15th century). The tiny, austere cells surround the central courtyard and Zelligetiles cover the lower sections of walls with ornate plasterwork above. Fine calligraphy of Quranic Inscriptions are seen on the walls and cedarwood detailed ceilings adorn the interiors.

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9. Heri es-Souani

Once served as the imperial city’s area for granaries and horse stables this massive and huge site of Heri es-Souani is partially restored. An earthquake of the 18th century caused the roof to collapse. The site still has its arched roofless doorways and the massive size of the complex that was designed to store large amounts of grains and house 12000 horses at a given time lets the visitors imagine what it was like back then when the complex existed.

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10. Moulay Idriss

About 27 km from Meknes, the town of Moulay Idess is spread over two hills of Khyber and Tazga at the base of Mount Zerhoun. The town is compact and its narrow streets give the feeling of the Medinas in other Moroccan cities. The design of the town let the buildings tumble down the slopes dramatically. The non-Muslims cannot enter the shrines of the town but are free to wander around up through Medina to the hillside path and experience the beautiful rooftop views of the entire settlement.

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11. BorjBelkari Tower

BorjBelkari tower was constructed in the 17th century as a part of the Ismailian walls built by Sultan Moulay Ismaïl. Since 2003 this sandy-colored tower has held the museum of pottery. Not quite tall, the rectangular tower is eye-catching and is crenelated at the top and has small slits set inside wider arched recesses in the walls. The permanent collection is composed of prehistoric, vintage, and Islamic pottery, and of pottery from different geographical zones of Morocco. It’s an interesting piece of architecture.

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12.  Riad Palais Didi

Previously home to a wealthy local family that was descended from Sultan Moulay Suleiman, one of the Alaouite rulers. Riad Palais Didi was once a palace. Known as Riads and Dars, Meknes has many stunning accommodations in restored traditional homes, this awesome structure of Palais Didi is one such hotel. The glorious building has been renovated and restored with traditional Moroccan designs and elements. Rooms sit around an interior courtyard with a lovely fountain, and the roof terrace provides terrific views of the historic medina and vibrant greenery of the nearby golf course.

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13. Koubat Al Khayatin

Koubat Al Khayatin, also known as the Ambassador’s Hall was built to serve Sultan Moulay Ismail during his reign. The Ambassador’s Hall was a pavilion in which Sultan Moulay Ismaïl received foreign ambassadors.

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14. Place Hedim

Also known as Hedim square, Place Him is Meknes’ main city square. Elegance buildings stand at one side of the square and there are small souks on the other side. It’s a popular interaction place for entertainment, refreshment, and leisure time. The food and activities that go on the street create an amazing atmosphere.

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15. Agdal Basin

Lies to the north of the Heri es Souani granaries and stables. The Agdal Basin is a massive stone-lined lake. Originally it was fed by a complex aqueduct system which was about 25km long. It served both as a reservoir for the sultan’s (Moulay Ismail) gardens and pleasure lake. Presently the water is stagnant, but it’s still a pleasant place to visit with a giant Giacometti like the structure of a traditional water-seller watching over it.

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Agdal Basin ©www.wikipedia.com

Ar. Barsha Kunda , An Architect from Guwahati, Assam has done her Masters in URBAN DESIGN from Sushant School of Art and Architecture. Currently working as an Assistant Professor at Guwahati College of Architecture and Planning. Her interests other than architecture includes Quantum Physics, Ancient Civilizations and Poetry.

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