According to best-medical-schools, the city, about 60 km west of Fès, is one of the four royal cities in Morocco. It experienced its heyday in the 17th and 18th. Century under Sultan Moulai Ismail, who ran a magnificent residence there with pompous court keeping. The old town with its mosques, tombs and palaces is surrounded by a 40 km long wall and provided with bastions and city gates.
Meknes medina: facts
|Official title:||Meknes medina|
|Cultural monument:||former residence with pompous court keeping: 600 harem ladies, 12,000 horses and a foreign legion of African slaves; surrounded by a 25 km long wall; Medina with the Great Mosque with 12 portals and the Nejjarin Mosque; Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail; City gates such as the Bab es Khemis, flanked by 2 bastions, Bab el Berdain (»Gate of the Packsaddle Manufacturers«) from the 17th century and Bab Mansour, the triumphant entrance to the »Ville Impériale«|
|Location:||Meknes, between the foothills of the Middle Atlas and the upstream chains of the Rif Mountains, southwest of Fès|
|Meaning:||the medina and former royal seat an example of the harmonious combination of medieval and early modern Islamic architecture|
Meknes medina: history
|10th century||probably foundation|
|2nd half of the 11th century||Conquest by Almoravids and building of a fortress|
|around 1145||Conquest by Almohads under Abd el Moumen|
|1214||decline beginning with the death of the last Almohad ruler, Mohammed en Nasir|
|1276||Construction of a new kasbah under the rule of the Merinids|
|1331-51||under Abou el Hassan Foundation of the Medersa Bou Inania|
|1351-58||Completion of the Bou Inania Medersa|
|1672-1727||heyday as the capital under the Alouit Sultan Moulay Ismail; partly from demolition material from Volubilis and Marrakech Construction of the Ville Impériale – five times larger than the medina|
|1682||Friendship treaty between Louis XIV and Moulay Ismail|
|1695||Renovation of the Great Mosque|
|1755||Destruction by earthquakes, including Collapse of the Heri es Souani|
|1756||Redesign of the 12th century Nejjarin Mosque|
|2010||After days of rain, the minaret and parts of the roof of the Bab Berdieyenne mosque built by Sultan Mulay Ismail collapse, killing 41 people|
Medieval streets and palace buildings of superlatives
Two old towns and yet one city: the medina with its narrow, winding streets and the juxtaposition of living, work, trade and religion; Opposite it is the royal seat, the “Ville Impériale” of Moulay Ismail, probably the most important, but at the same time the most unscrupulous ruler of Morocco, who chose Meknes as the new capital shortly after he took office, as he found greater scope for his thirst for action here.
The most important building in the medina, along with the Great Mosque, is the Medersa Bou Inania, built around the middle of the 14th century, a highlight among the country’s Merinid Mederses. Geometric tile mosaics on the floor and in the pedestal area of the wall pillars as well as magnificent stucco work and wood carvings with highly abstract floral motifs or Koran verses in the upper zones give the inner courtyard with its central fountain bowl an extremely representative atmosphere. A medersa not only served to study the teachings and commandments of the Koran, but was also an administrative school for future state officials – religion and state were and are almost inextricably linked in large parts of the Islamic world to this day.
Towards the end of the 17th century, Moulay Ismail had part of the old medina torn down and began building a monumental palace city, which the French later called “Ville Impériale”. From reports from his ambassadors he had a rough idea of the Versailles of Louis XIV, his great contemporary, whose daughter, Princess Anne Marie de Bourbon, he was to marry and whose courtly architecture he sought to surpass with his new capital. Huge, up to ten meters high and several meters thick walls made of rammed earth surrounded the palace city, which was only accessible through a few gates. The greatest example of such a gate system is the Bab Mansour, which is not by chance reminiscent of a Roman triumphal arch – columns and capitals were from ancient Volubilis, the capital of the Roman province of Mauretania Tingitana. Christian prisoners built a huge underground prison in sufficient numbers within the new city; the often enormous ransom payments by the prisoners’ families or by charitable orders such as that of the Trinitarians contributed significantly to the financing of his construction work. Little has been preserved of his actual palace, for which he had the magnificent buildings of the Saadian dynasty in Marrakech plundered.
Despite all his power, Moulay Ismail never felt safe from attacks by Berber tribes who had plundered the cities of Morocco on raids over the centuries and which he now intended to subordinate to his absolute claim to power in various campaigns. The mighty walls of the palace city offered sufficient protection from enemy intruders in the event of a siege, but the supply of the court and its bodyguards with food and weapons as well as water and feed supplies for thousands of horses and camels had to be considered. The oversized storage facility of the Heri es Souani and the neighboring Bassin de l’Aguedal were built for this purpose – further evidence of Moulay Ismail’s gigantic building ideas.
At his death – despite his long reign – many of the construction work that had been started was still unfinished. His sons fell apart in the struggle for power, and Fez soon became the capital of the country again. The earthquake of 1755, which destroyed large parts of Lisbon, also brought the vaults and walls to collapse in Meknes, so that today only ruins are reminiscent of the former size and importance of the “Ville Impériale” Moulay Ismail.