Meknes is one of the 3 imperial cities of Morocco and by far the most disappointing. Mixed return on a fast passage.
Places literally mark history. Symbol of greatness and hollow of decadence, they attract their share of curious people impatient to relive key moments of a nation, a state or an empire. The Colosseum in Rome, Hagia Sophia in Istanbul or even Versailles have this evocative power.
Other cities have the history on paper but the imagination is barely there. This is the case of Meknes less than an hour from Fez.
Quick history of Meknes
The two cities, Meknes and Fez have with Marrakech, the status of imperial cities. They were all 3 capitals of the kingdom and King Mohamed VI has in each a forbidden palace surrounded by high walls.
The origin of the reigning dynasties and the geography made and unmade the capitals. Coming from the desert in the south, more austere, they would prefer Marrakech. In the north, more sumptuous and descending from El Andalus, they preferred Fez.
Meknes was the capital of a single king. The most powerful that Morocco has known. Are their names? Moulay Ismail. His work ? Transform a divided kingdom into a regional power.
Endowed with a powerful and loyal army, he was able to keep the appetites of the local tribes, the Portuguese and the Ottomans at bay. He strengthened the royal authority, enlarged the treasury and claimed to be the equal of the greatest in the world at the time: Louis XIV in the first place. He had over 1000 children.
The king chooses to establish his power far from the potentially hostile cities of Marrakech and Fez. Meknes developed haloed by the power of its “sun king”:
You will always find there one of the most monumental gates of Morocco: Bab Mansour.
The Bou Inania medersa not to be missed!
An endless wall: More than 40 km it starts to be a lot,
Gigantic stables in ruins or almost,
The El Badi Palace in Marrakech was completely dismantled and transported over 420 km to build that of Meknes in a delirium of absolute grandeur. It was also necessary to punish the former ruling dynasty: The Saadians linked to Marrakech.
The king wanted a city in his image. Whatever it was in its time, all that remains today, like all dreams of megalomaniac power, is emptiness, boredom and dust.
The Gate is there, the palace cannot be visited, neither are the religious buildings: Unless you are a Muslim (except the medersa). The walls can be walked for miles to the ruins of stables in an exercise as tiring as it is absurd. Everything seems disproportionate and pointless.
The medina is small compared to that of Marrakech or Fez and without particular charm. The central square would dream of having the soul and 1/10 of the energy of the Jemaa El Fnaa square. But you will find there all that one can detest of the first without finding anything admirable there. Pushy salespeople, overpriced coffees, snakes or monkeys who didn't ask to be photographed. So of course in comparison games, any city (or almost) loses.
A consolation prize: Temporary exhibitions are organized near the Grande Porte.
A second if the first is closed: Merchants in the main square offer incredible inflatable toys (made in China) with, for example, a duck-phoenix. A mythological rarity.