The name Meknes goes back to the Miknasa people, a great Berber tribe that dominated Eastern Morocco and settled here in the 9th century. Moulay Idriss I, founder of the Moroccan state and the Idrissid dynasty, was a member of this tribe. Nowadays in Meknes you can see much of the legacy that Moulay Idriss left behind, including his hilltop tomb, one of the country’s most significant historic sites.
If you’re looking to explore an off-the-beaten destination in Morocco, Meknes is definitely it.
Unique Things to See and Do in Meknes
- Go shopping in the colourful carpet shops and bazaars of the Medina
- Visit a Hamman (a traditional bathhouse)
- Eat Moroccan cuisine
- Take horseback riding lessons on an Arabian horse
- Try belly dancing
- Get some henna tattoos
- Witness Ramadan celebrations
Places to Visit in Meknes
- The Medina
- Old Jewish Quarter
- The Dar Jamai Museum, a place built in 1882
- The Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail
- The Heri es-Souani and Agdal Basin
- The Place el-Hedim
- The Bab el-Mansour and Bab Berdaine gates
Everywhere you turn in Meknes, you’re reminded of the city’s cultural significance. Two of the most important structures are the Medina and the Kasbah, the walled area of the city and the citadel, respectively. Both fortified by impressive ramparts, within these walls you’ll find unique Moroccan architecture, lavish gardens, and civil, military and cult buildings. The imperial city (new city) is differentiated from the Medina by its long corridors between high blind walls, the somber maze of Dar el-Kbira, the wealth of Qsar el-Mhansha, the extensive gardens and the robustness of the towers and bastions. There’s also a Mullah, a walled Jewish Quarter, where the Jewish population was once confined.
Be sure to check out the Bab Mansour, a gate named after the architect, El-Mansour. It was completed in 1732, five years after Moulay Ismail’s death. The gate is impressive, and uses Almohades patterns with tiled mosaics of gorgeous quality. Although the gate was completed after Moulay Ismail’s death, the more popular story goes like this: Moulay Ismail inspected the gate and asked El-Mansour if he could do better. El-Mansour said he could, and was promptly executed. Ask a local about this story, and you’re bound to get a variety of answers!
Also worth checking out is the Royal Stables, a massive stable yard constructed to house no less than 12,000 royal horses. Ismail had great respect for these animals, and although he could be a tyrannical ruler, he was oddly compassionate in this case.
Morocco is a Muslim country, and although it’s much more westernized than most, it still makes sense to respect their culture. Dressing modestly is advisable, especially when visiting religious sites. When it comes to gender relations, Moroccans are very open to friendships between men and women; however, physical contact is much more conservative than in the west. Some English is understood, but French and Arabic are the more dominant languages.
Getting around Meknes
Taxis are quite common and cheap in Meknes, and are known as petit taxis. In Meknes, petit taxis are marked as light blue. It’s a good idea to negotiate the price before you get in the cab. Grand taxis are bigger vehicles that will often pick up more people along the way. The grand taxis tend to follow a more public transit-like route.
Public buses run frequently between the medina and the new town, while the CTM line runs between major Moroccan towns. There’s also a rail system in Morocco that has two stations in Meknes.
Best time of year to travel to Meknes
Morocco’s climate depends on the geographical diversity across the country. Meknes is surrounded by the Atlas Mountains, which greatly influences temperatures and climate in the area. Rainfall is high here, but summers tend to be dry and warm. Temperatures can get quite high, however – August’s average daily temperature is 33 degrees Celsius. January is the coldest month.
Remember: Morocco is a Muslim country, and if you come during Ramadan, you may find yourself surrounded by empty restaurants and food stops. However, you’ll also play witness to a wonderful part of Moroccan culture that otherwise goes underappreciated.
Ready to plan your visit to Morocco? Check out these popular guides and trips.