Royal Stables in Meknes

Moulay Ismail (born 1645 and lived until 1727) was known as one of the more ruthless leaders of Morocco. Slaves created his magnificent visions for the architectural masterpieces that have become popular tourist attractions, and laborers that were often treated inhumanely and suffered under Ismail’s rule. But one of the most impressive memorials to this time has survived in Meknes, namely the Royal Stables.

The Royal Stables in Meknes are an amazing site, as this massive stable yard was constructed to comfortably house no less that twelve thousand of the royal horses. Ismail had a great respect and admiration for these gracious animals, even more than he did for his human counterparts. His horses were waited on hand and foot, with a groom and a slave for each horse, to ensure that all their needs were met, stables kept in immaculate condition and his horses being taken care of. It is even said that after a horse had completed a journey to Mecca, slaves were forced to catch the urine in a bowl, as even the earth was too undeserving for the horse to urinate on. It is easy to say that Moulay Ismail was fanatical about his horses.

Today, most of the stables are in ruin and due to an earthquake during the eighteenth century, the roof of the stables no longer provides protection. Even though it is not in the pristine condition that Ismail would have approved of, visitors will still be amazed at its sheer size and the effort that was put into the construction. A few horses are still kept here, purely for tourists, so they are able to familiarize themselves with the breeds such as Berbers, Arabs and Berber Arab crosses that once filled the stable yard.

Another feature that makes the Royal Stables in Meknes one of the finest tourist attractions in Morocco is the planning and location that was specifically chosen to accommodate the horses. There is a canal that ran fresh water through the stables constantly, so the horses never lacked clean water. Also, the sultan was concerned about the feed supply for his stables, and constructed a granary, known as the Water Palace (Der el Ma), behind the royal stables. The granaries were built on a reservoir and were designed to be able to store grain for the horse feed. To feed twelve thousand horses is already a great feat, but the granaries stored enough grain to feed the horses for twenty years! To store such large amounts of grain, the granaries needed to be kept cold, and for this, the granaries were constructed with thick walls and a suspended forest was grown on the roof. Water from the reservoir below, was forced through ducts in the floor, to maintain a low temperature and keep the grain from rotting.

The ruins are testament to the sultan’s love for his horses and the great lengths he went to, to ensure that they lived comfortably and were well fed. Filmmakers have also marveled at this amazing structure, which led to scenes from the movies Ishtar and The Jewel of the Nile, being filmed here. It is a magnificent sight and a spectacular part of the history of Morocco.