Meknes, Morocco (pt 1/2)

After exploring the hills of the Middle Atlas around Ifrane and Azrou, and before being lured into the impressive Fez medina, don’t overlook Meknes. The city has its own impressive monuments and sights for a variety of travelers to Morocco. Known as the Moroccan Versailles, it is not outwardly apparent what makes this city so special. But, because Moulay Ismail fortified it as Morocco’s capital, some of its magic has stood the test of time.

In his paranoia that the abundant Berber tribes would attack and take over his city, Moulay Ismail, the once dreaded sultan of Morocco, built nearly 30 miles of fortress walls around his city. In his preparations, he ensured that he had enough food, water, soldiers, and concubines that would last him nearly 25 years of battle. Ismail also kept his now well-known Black Guard army and his standing armies loyal through fear and also by selecting bountiful supplies of women to be their wives.

In addition to his armies and servants, Ismail had nearly 15,000 palace eunuchs and over 50,000 slaves, made up of prisoners, POWs, and captives, at his disposal. The book entitled White Gold discusses Moulay Ismail in greater lengths and discusses his thousands of white slaves taken from the sea along the European coastlines.

In 1755, an earthquake centered in Lisbon caused part of the city to collapse. In ruins, Moulay Ismail’s offspring pillaged the city and took much of his riches to Marrakesh, where he established Morocco’s new capital. However, much still remains for those tourists who have done a little homework before traveling. Many agree that Meknes, along with Volibulis and Moulay Idriss stands on the pedestal with Fez and Marrakesh as one of Morocco’s greatest Imperial Cities.

Before Moulay Ismail made the city the location where his empire would be centralized, Berber tribes who had migrated from the upper, northeastern Rif Mountains had settled Meknes. Known as the Meknassa tribes, these Berbers knew that it was in a prime location, as the settlement would stand strong between both mountainous regions – the Rif to the north and the Middle Atlas to the south. Additionally, going west and farther southeast, they knew that they stood between the Atlantic and the trade routes of the Sahara Desert. The Romans, who came and constructed Volibulis near Moulay Idriss, had the same idea, as did Moulay Ismail who pillaged the fallen Roman city for his own upon its demise.

(end of part 1)