Meknes, Morocco – Morocco’s Ancient Imperial Capital

31 03 2020
Meknes Gate resized

The “Thursday Gate”

We arrived in Meknes and hiked our gear to our hotel. Meknes seems to be another well-kept Moroccan city. Roads were smooth and traffic manageable. Meknes is a former capital of the country. Walking to dinner, the sunset foretold another day of perfect weather lay ahead.

meknes morocco at sunset

Meknes, Morocco Sunset

Our plan for the day would split our time with part of the day in Meknes, an afternoon stroll through the ancient Roman city of Volubilis, and then wind up in Fez. With so much to cover, I’m publishing one post for Meknes and another for Volubilis.

First thing in the morning we stopped at a cliffside viewpoint. The city’s history is dominated by the ruthless rule of Sultan Moulay Ismail (1672-1727), who made it his capital. The city’s lengthy walls, blended Moorish-Spanish architecture and huge gates are marks of his power. He built a huge underground prison where humans went in – not out. And he abolished the sales of slaves not so that the slaves could go free, but they would all be his own and work on his projects. Most of his slaves were Christians. Legend says he fathered 1,000 children.

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The tour then visited Bab El-Khemis, a.k.a. the Thursday Gate. This 17th-Century gate brings the visitor to the medina – which has 19 gates and is inside a 19 km wall. Watching the gate, I was amazed at the birds living there. I actually identified crows, swifts, sparrows, pigeons, cuckoos, starlings, storks, egrets and even small raptors living in the many holes in its wall.

We then began a lengthy morning walk. We came to an old reservoir which was overlooked by ramparts of Dar el Makhzen Palace, built by Sultan Moulay Ismail and still used today. We’d do a long walk along the walls of this palace. We also examined the “roof,” which is actually at street level, of Ismail’s notorious Habs Qara prison – which was estimated to contain 60,000.

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Just as at the Thursday Gate, I witnessed at least a dozen species of birds living in the palace walls.

Next, we tested our legs walking the 1,000 year old medina. Like others we saw, it is a challenge to navigate, and has entrances / doors / arches leading to wonders inside. This one was not as busy as some.


It was here that we had our much anticipated camel burger lunch! Actually, I really enjoyed it. Our restaurant seemed to be actually part of someone’s home, and we entered via one of those doors.

After lunch, we emerged into the open air Place el-Hedim. It is a large square with a buzz of activity from fruit sellers to a place selling thousands of tajines. Later, a snake charmer and monkey handler set up.

Then, it was off to Volubilis for some time in Ancient Rome.







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