Top 11 Things to See in Meknes

By Claire | Updated Nov. 10, 2021

Meknes is one of the four imperial cities of Morocco, located in the middle of the country and only about 50 minutes' drive from Fez. This splendid historical city mainly includes three regions: the imperial city where most of the highlights are located, the medina, which includes the souk, and the new city, which was built during the French colonial period. Below are the top 11 sites to see in Meknes that will provide you with a satisfying trip.

Volubilis

Volubilis is the most well-preserved ancient Roman relic in Morocco and is also the most famous one. It was built in the 3rd century BC and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's located about 29 kilometers (18 miles) away from Meknes and it's easy to visit while transferring between Fez and Meknes.

This old city was prosperous because of its agricultural resources, especially olive oil. The remnants of an oil press can still be found there. The Berbers used to live in this town after the Romans left but gradually abandoned it after the 11th century. An earthquake in the mid-18th century was the main reason this city became ruined.

Many of the fallen stones were used to build the imperial city in Meknes and many of the unearthed ones are displayed in Rabat's archaeological museum. However, the remaining columns and fragments of the temple, court, triumphal arch, and plaza along with the exquisite mosaics still make this area charming enough to visit.

Take advantage of its location, which is on top of a hill, to see the surrounding countryside views. You can take powerful atmospheric pictures there.

Bab Al Mansour

The city gate, Bab Al Mansour, is the symbolic structure of Meknes and is known as the most magnificent city gate in North Africa. It's the main gate that separates the medina and imperial city districts with admirable mosaic works and beautiful stone carvings. A tower stands on each side of the arch and they are supported by the marble columns taken from Volubilis.

In front of Bab Al Mansour is Lahdim Square, which was used for ceremonial events but is now similar to the Jemaa el-Fna public square where jugglers and street vendors gather. Place Lalla Aouda is behind the gate and is now mainly used to park britskas, which can be taken to go inside the imperial city.

Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail

This sumptuously built mausoleum was finished in 1703 and houses the tombs of the sultan Moulay Ismail ibn Sharif, his wife, and his two sons. It's one of the few Muslim sites in Morocco that allows non-Muslims to enter. The mosque inside is for Muslims only but the outer parts of the complex along with the tomb hall are more than enough to admire its essence.

After passing several Moroccan-style courtyards, you will reach the central hall used for the tombs. You will be required to take your shoes off and can wash your hands as Muslims do in the centrally placed fountain that is decorated in a mosaic design. At the four corners of the inner chamber for the tomb are four delicate French wall clocks, which were apology gifts from Louis XIV for refusing a royal marriage.

Prison de Kara

It's also called Prison des Chrétiens because Kara used to be a prison for Christians during the war. It was designed by a Portuguese prisoner named Kara, which is how it got its name. This large-scale tunnel facility located below the imperial city covers an area with a radius of 7 kilometers (4 miles).

Most of the facilities were destroyed in an earthquake but there are still three main halls left so you can get an idea of what it looked like before.

Dar al-Makhzen

Dar al-Makhzen is the Versailles of Morocco as it's lavishly built and partially modeled on the Palace of Versailles in France. It's the official residence of the Moroccan king and is guarded by the royal army.

It's not open to the public to protect the privacy and stateliness of the royal household. A small alley on the north side of the palace, located between the imperial city wall and the palace wall, is enjoyed by tourists for taking photos and appreciating the majestic aura.

The Madrasa (Medersa) Bou Inania

The Madrasa Bou Inania in Meknes was built in the 14th century by the sultan Abu Inan Faris who also built its sister madrasa in Fez, which shares the same name. It's one of the best-preserved madrasas in Morocco. If you missed the one in Fez, this is the perfect substitute.

Similar to the one in Fez, its classic Muslim-style courtyard is edged by complicated and elegant wood carvings and joinery. On the second floor, there are 26 dorms, which were used by students. The terrace is an exceptionally nice place to get a panoramic view of the city, which includes the Grand Mosque of Meknes.

The Medina

Similar to the medinas in cities like Marrakech and Fez, Meknes Medina also displays the area's history and culture as well as the vibrant Arabic way of life. People love to call it the most bustling medina in Morocco because of the vivid local authentic food stalls and traditional craft shops as well as those selling textiles and slippers.

Museum of Moroccan Art — Dar Jamai Museum

Dar Jamai was the residence of the Jamai family and it's considered to be the most representative example of a Moroccan aristocratic luxury residence used by the higher classes in the 19th century. The rich interior of this Andalusian-style building features mosaic-decorated walls, sculpted plaster pillars, and painted wood carvings.

It was turned into a museum in 1920 and now has vast collections of local and traditional Meknes artware, such as textiles, wood carvings, porcelain, and jewelry.

Moulay Idriss

Moulay Idriss is about 27 kilometers (17 miles) from Meknes and can be visited on the way to or from Volubilis. It's a holy city that was named after the Prophet Muhammad's great-grandson and is located on top of the Khyber and Tazga hills.

Because of its religious roots, it's an important pilgrimage site for believers and the annual religious festival in August attracts thousands of followers to go there.

The shrines in the town are not for non-Muslims — instead, you can walk along the hillside paths to enjoy the fascinating views of the landscape and the entire city.

The Agdal Basin

Inside the imperial city, the Agdal Basin is a reservoir that was excavated manually and was mainly used for the army's horses, to irrigate the royal gardens, and as drinking water for the residents during the dry season.

A canal of about 25 kilometers (16 miles) in length leads the water from the Atlas Mountains to the reservoir, which covers an area of 4 hectares.

Hri Souani

This huge complex of buildings was constructed at the beginning of the 18th century. It was used for grain reserves and as stables for the horses during the reign of the sultan Moulay Ismail. According to historical records, Moulay Ismail loved collecting horses and the enormous stables could accommodate about 12,000 horses. The grain reserves were stored underground.

Discover Meknes with Us

To discover more about a historical city like Meknes, an experienced private guide who can focus solely on your tour will be ideal. A private car and driver will be a great help to shorten the time spent on transportation or to avoid having to find your own way around.  

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