Meknes - the essentials.

Racing through the streets of Meknes in a caleche

While there is a friendly bit of banter from time to time comparing Fez and Meknes, nobody takes it too seriously because it is not a comparison of equals. Meknes is smaller, there is less for a visitor to do and the tourist industry is not nearly as well organised as Fez.

Recently a major travel organisation sent a small team to check out Meknes and The View From Fez had the pleasure of tagging along. What we discovered was that it is certainly worth a visit.

Place el-Hedim

First of all, trying to get a map of Meknes from the tourist authorities in the major tourist locations was impossible. "Could we have a list of riads, hotels, restaurants?". Yes, but not to take away. They had one copy which was both limited and of little use. Eventually we tried in the regional tourist office in the new city - and there they let us keep the lists.

So what do tourists do in Meknes? They visit the Place el-Hedim and the Bab el Mansour which is one of the most impressive gates in Morocco. After a stroll through the covered market at the side of the el-Hedim square where the stallholders displays are snapped by every camera, it is usually straight back on the bus and off to the Heri es-Souani.

I spoke to the guide at the Dar Jamai museum at the northern end of the Place el-Hedim, who said that sadly, despite the fact that the is an interesting building with some fine exhibits and a beautiful Andalucian style garden, many tourists don't visit, preferring to sit in the Place el-Hedim and have coffee or orange juice.

On a two hour amble around the Medina we took in the major sites that are certainly worth a visit.

The covered market.

The market is off the Place el-Hedim and is famous for the displays of spices, fruit and vegetables. For those with a sweet-tooth, this place is a paradise of confectionery. There is also a meat and fish section. However, like many souqs in Morocco, the sale of chameleons and other small animals and reptiles is disturbing. While the use of chameleons in traditional medicine is part of the fabric of Moroccan culture, the conditions in which they are kept are both deplorable and ignorant. We saw dozens of chameleons in distressed conditions, dehydrated and without food.

Olives & preserved lemons - beautifully displayed.

Caged hedgehog

The downside - caged tortoise and chameleons.

Dar Jamai Museum.

Entry to the museum is the standard ten dirhams per person. Normally photography is forbidden, but we were given permission to take photographs without using flash. The ceramics and embroidered fabrics were superb, but the star of the show is the building itself with a fabulous domed sanctuary (koubba) and beautiful garden.

The museum entrance off Place el-Hedim

The magnificent koubba

Iraqi glass windows

The Andalusian garden

Medersa Bou Inania

This fine example of Merenid architecture (built in 1358) is certainly not as well maintained or as lavish as the one in Fez, but is still worth a visit. Do make certain that the guardian gives you a ticket and does not simply pocket the ten dirham entrance charge.

The central courtyard is superb as is the zellij and Arabic ceramic script on some of the walls. Make sure you find the stairs and make your way to the roof for the spectacular view

The two different scripts in ceramic

One view from the terrace

Heri es-Souani

Just south of the now restored Agdal Basin are the famous granaries - possibly the most impressive monument in Meknes. This vast storehouse was used to store the grain for feeding some 12,000 horses in the stables of Moulay Ismail. Film buffs will recognise the location from films such as The Last Temptation of Christ. While the location is on every tourist's agenda, our Meknes taxi driver took about forty-five minutes to find it.

Vast storerooms

One of the ancient grinding wheels

The storerooms go on ... and on..

Out and about

Setting out in search of lunch we headed to the ville nouvelle and went to the Pizzeria Le Four - not Pizza as we know it, but if you want a quiet place with good wine and ok salads it will do.

In the evening we found a place called La Casa. The menu looked good, but when ordering the smoked trout we were told - not available. This was repeated with other offerings until we settled on prawns, calamari and some white fleshed fish. All fresh and excellent.

Returning for a little shopping in the souqs we soon discovered that there is not as much variety although prices were generally the same or slightly lower and accompanied by slightly less hassling than is the case in Fez.

The mannequins rival those in Fez!

Strictly for tourists.

For those with some time on their hands and want to chill out a little, Meknes is a good place for a couple of days and of course handy to Volubilis and and the hill town of Moulay Idriss.