0218. A Truly Royal Moroccan City (Mor 066--revisit)

Meknes Travel Blog

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Meknes is one of the "Imperial Cities" of Morocco, because it was the capital of Morocco during a period of its history and it definitely lives up to that title.  In fact, it might actually be the most "royal" of all the Royal Cities! 

Remembering back…

It’s been a while since I’ve had a “flashback town”, been chartering just new territory for quite a while.  But Meknes brings back some vivid memories from September 1997, when I was invited to participate in an informal music conference here with musicians from around Morocco.  It was a fantastic time, staying on a beautiful old ryad in the old medina, and spending the day fusing western, eastern, and Moroccan folk music… A couple of times in the evening we’d go on a stroll through the old medina or the modern part of town and I remember being fascinated by it’s mix of bustling, crowded alleys and peaceful, green areas… but that was just enough to pique my curiosity—now I’m going to really discover the city.

As soon as I get off my taxi kbir, and catch a glimpse of a huge, majestic gateway with it's decorative mosaics glistening with the reflection of the lights, I know this is going to be a very special experience...  I enter the gateway towards what seems to be the old city only to come to another enormous wall zigzagging its way up a slope... I soon figure out that I’m in a city within a city--and beyond is a city within a city within a city with layer after layer of walls, palaces, large courtyards, cramped old medinas and many more glorious gateways just like the one I’ve already seen.  Meknes is truly a unique and magnificent experience.  In fact, I might add it to my list of "most underappreciated Moroccan cities"--simply because it doesn't get the same international attention as say, Fes or Marrakesh.

.. but on the flip side, with a relative shortage of tourists, there are almost no street hustlers... so you can explore the sprawling castles undisturbed--except for an occasional helpful citizen who will point out to you that you're heading towards a dead end...

I soon find a cheap little hotel--where I ended up staying for 3 nights.  I just can't leave this city until I feel I’ve fully explored it. 

Meknes is basically divided into three sections.  the middle section is the "Old City" which is itself divided into several sections.  To the west you have an old medina with a bustling marketplace, some very regal looking buildings with fancy latticework and then some pretty gritty areas... Then there's an large open plaza in the middle with a mini "Jamaa Fna"--but with no snake charmers or dancing monkeys and a rather limited food selection.

.. The there's the famous "Bab Mansour" the grandest gateways of them all which leads to another courtyard (all these courtyards give Meknes an unusually spacious feel--sometimes it's hard to tell if you're inside the walls or outside the walls)... then there's another walled-in section--very quiet since all the alleys are dead ends... with walkways underneath these massive walls...

...Then around this section you pass the royal palace and another gateway to another section which is simply magnificent.  I almost don't notice this tunnel over to one side--this tunnel that winds around INSIDE the massive walls and then leads to another fort-like section of the city.  The tunnels have a very Roman-like feel with their arch ceilings... Clearly folks felt very secure within these massive walls.

.. A lot of dead ends in this fort as well--but I don't mind one bit--every single alleyway has some unexpected surprise to it.

... Once outside the fort... past a couple of regal government buildings--I head out to explore the poorer and livelier eastern sub-section--also surrounded by a outer wall...

The Southern section of town stretches on for miles--and much of it is also surounded by another wall--not quite as well maintained as the inner walls, but impressive nonetheless. A hi-light of this section--which I happened on quite by accident is the enormous Mansour Palace--which is in the process of being repaired... I don't generally go for guided tours, but there doesn't seem to be any other way I can get into this place--so I let the watchman show me around the vast storerooms, courts and courtyards--still giving you a sense of what a majestic place this once was.

...After another hike around the Old Medina, a short parkbenching session (due to the rain) and another short hike up north I decide to call it a day...

 September 27 

  I get back from my trip to Moulay Driss and Volubilis at about 4:30 only to be hit by a monsoon like storm.  Thousands of Meknesians are faced with the dilemma of either getting home late for their Ramadan ftor or getting soaked--many choose the latter.  I stand with a crowd of cowards under shelter cheering anyone who dares cross the street a.k.a. river... Who says it never rains in Morocco?

Finally the rain stops and I head up to thoroughly the modern, north section of the city.  It's separated from rest of the city by a lush green valley which includes a small zoo.

.. On the other side is a very modern shopping district with a few mid-rises... then an area of apartment complexes going up and fancy villas to the east... to the north, another lively residential area with a large, very muddy street market... 

...Love this city... I could keep exploring more--but I think it's time to move on...


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photo by: baidanbi