Famous Cities in Morocco Series (Episode 4 of 13): Meknes
By: Claire Boyle / Arab America Contributing Writer
The country of Morocco has so many interesting towns and cities as well as beautiful landmarks. From the astonishing city of Casablanca to Marrakech, Fes, and Rabat, Morocco has everything one might hope to experience. These places boast historical monuments, such as the Hassan II Mosque, the Jemaa el-Fnaa, and many others. In this article series, we will be featuring cities and landmarks in Morocco that are historically and culturally significant. In this fourth installment, we will be traveling to Meknes, and then we will tour the Royal Stables and the Heri es-Souani, the famous granary within the city. Finally, we will learn about the history of the cities themselves as well as some of their famous and associated landmarks.
Historical Synopsis and Background of Meknes:
The city of Meknes is a beautiful place and one that is rich in the history, culture, and politics of Morocco. In fact, it dates to around the time of 700 AD and like the rest of Morocco, the city has gone through numerous changes of governments whether it be by dynasty, protectorate, or an independent nation. Meknes’s original historical role was that of a “village consisting of a fortress or fortified settlement.” Meknes’s name has Berber roots and the city’s first rulers were the Almoravid dynasty and throughout a span of 800 years, other dynasties including the Marinids, Wattasids, and the Saadians. At one point, Meknes was one of the four capital or “imperial” cities in the country, but in the current day, that has all been consolidated under the current king, and now Rabat has been the capital for a very long time. Near the end of those numerous centuries, the city fell into disrepair and disuse, and in the 1600s, Morocco had a change of kingship which would become permanent as the Alaouites are the current Arab ruling family in the country. Alaouites trace their lineage to a relative of the Prophet Muhammad, and they have been largely responsible for “uniting and pacifying” Morocco.
Historical Landmarks—the Royal Stables and the Heri es-Souani:
The Royal Stables:
The Royal Stables of Meknes was an important institution in medieval Morocco. The stables served a very distinguished function because during the 1600s and 1700s as they housed the numerous horses that were owned by the Sultan Moulay Ismail. Furthermore, Meknes was the epicenter of governmental oversight because during this period it was the capital city. Perhaps, the most interesting tidbit about these stables is that they could hold up to “12,000 horses!” There is a funny backstory about when you go for a tour there, the guide says, “you must understand how amazing this place was,” and as a tourist, you are like, “why is that?” Then the tour guide tells you, “the Royal Stables of Meknes held 12,000 horses, Arabian, yes, 12,000 horses Arabian!” And then you keep hearing that line throughout the entire tour and at the end of it, he asks you, what is so amazing about these stables, and in perfect unison, everyone answers “it held 12,000 horses, Arabian!”
These stables have suffered much structural damage over the centuries as in “1755, Lisbon, Portugal had a major earthquake which destroyed most of Ismail’s royal palace and some of the stables as well; however, these have been largely preserved.” Additionally, it is thought that the Sultan treated and enjoyed the horses better than people because each horse had two of its own caretakers. Imagine how crazy that was since there were a total of 24,000 people caring for all the horses! Talk about dedication! And, finally, we see how this luxurious care leads us into the second significant landmark in Meknes. The Royal Stables also had an adjoined granary where they stored all the food supplies for the city, and this place is now considered a historical landmark as well. Come and join me, as we explore the Meknes Granary that was right next to the Royal Stables, you will not be disappointed especially by the gorgeous architecture of this town!
The Heri es-Souani was also known as the Meknes Royal Granary in Meknes. This granary stored all the grain supplies for the stables that were next door. As you can see in the picture above, the granary was an architectural wonder. Another interesting fact is that the granary is a(n) UNESCO World Heritage Site along with its nearby stables. When I visited these landmarks, I remember walking around and being in awe of how these magnificent structures were built. The city of Meknes is heavily fortified which is obvious given that its most famous landmarks are the Bab al-Mansour (Mansour’s Gate), the ruins of the royal palace and granary, and the stables of course. The granary mostly held the feeding materials for the 12,000 Arabian horses who were held in the stables, but another interesting feature inside were the water wheels which you can see below:
The water wheels that are shown in the above picture were used to pump the water sources throughout the granary. They sort of look like a boat’s steering wheel; however, they are much bigger and responsible for very heavy loads. As you can see here, this wheel has become a historical landmark within the granary-stables-royal palace complex. This is yet another example of the ingenious architecture and art that is quantifiable and found throughout the Arab World. Visiting Meknes showed me the amazing architectural and scientific prowess of Morocco as well as all the various countries that call the Arab World their home, and I continue to learn more about this beautiful area every day.
In conclusion, thank you for joining me on this fourth episode of the series “Famous Cities in Morocco.” This time we journeyed to the wondrous city of Meknes which in my opinion is one of the most stunning places on earth due to its beautiful architecture! Stay tuned for the next installment featuring the amazing port city of Essaouira! I hope you got to learn a little bit more about the majestic landscapes and landmarks that Morocco has to offer. If you are ever in Meknes, I highly recommend you visit the city itself, the exquisite Royal Stables, and finally, take a walk around the Heri es-Souani/Royal Granary of Meknes, you will not be disappointed!
This is the fourth installment in a series of thirteen focusing on cities in Morocco with an emphasis on its history and famous landmarks. Each article will feature a historical synopsis about the city and 2 to 3 significant landmarks. Keep an eye out for the next article about Essaouira, Morocco coming soon. Thank you for reading!
To read episode 3 which featured the city of Fes, the Bab Bou Jeloud (the Blue Gate), and the University of al-Qarawiyyin, please click here!
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