Tuesday, June 7, 2016


Meknes, known for its beautiful architecture, is sometimes referred to as "the Versailles of Morocco." Three places in particular stood out to us as exceptionally gorgeous.

1. BOU INANIA MADRASA OF MEKNES (Not to be confused with the Bou Inania Madrasa of Fes)

This madrasa, or Islamic school, was built in 1341 by Marinid leader Abu al-Hasan Ali ibn Othman, famous for seizing Gibraltar from the Castillians.  It has the typical center courtyard with an ablution fountain for cleansing and a ring of classrooms around the perimeter. I suppose the decoration is also typical, but again, "typical" in Morocco means "*Gasp!*" Standing in the center courtyard is like being transported into Aladdin's Arabian Nights. 

Can you believe this craftsmanship? WOW.

I'm guessing this niche in the wall is the mihrab, or the indication of the direction worshipers should face when praying:

We were able to go up the stairs, and the view from each level gave us new perspectives, including this view of the souk from one of the windows:

From the roof we were able to get a good view of the minaret:
The call to prayer began when we were on the roof, the quavering voice broadcast loud and clear from the speakers overhead. In spite of having had many experiences with the call to prayer in several different countries, it never loses its eerie quality for me. In Jordan the call to prayer is mechanized, a recording that plays simultaneously from all the mosques. In Morocco it is a live muezzin, and the various mosques intentionally stagger the sing-song voices. Each type of prayer call has its charms, but it's hard to top a live, sometimes off-key, performance. We could hear at least three other calls coming to us from distance places, all slightly different voices and just a bit out-of-sync with each other.
A close-up of the green tile roof we saw all over Morocco:
I looks like strings of nestled terra cotta pots.

A view of another minaret in the distance and the ubiquitous satellite dishes in the foreground:
Bert and his chimney sweeps might have a hard time doing their rooftop "Chim Chim Cher-ee" dance here.

The building this museum is housed in is actually a palace that was built in 1882 by the powerful Jamai family. The family fell out of favor in the 1890s and lost everything, including this palace, which became a French military hospital in 1912. Since 1920 it has been home to what is considered to be one of Morocco's best museums of traditional arts and craftsmanship. 

The structure itself has a certain genteel gracefulness:

This appears to be carved stone rather than plaster:

The collection is very nice, and includes a lot of jewelry:

. . . some ceramics:

. . . ancient Qur'an manuscripts:

. . . and many other treasures, but we kept coming back to our admiration of the building itself:

The upper floor has a model of a traditional salon:

My love for windows and doors, always some of my favorite architectural features, grew even greater in Morocco:

As noted in a previous post, Moulay Ismail Ibn Sharif ruled Morocco from 1672 to 1727. Although he is known as "the Warrior King," he should really be called "the Prolific Father." He supposedly fathered 867 children, the record number of verifiable children for any man in history (although it is said that Genghis Khan fathered over 1,000). 

Anyway, Ismail inherited a kingdom weakened by civil war and political instability. He spared no one in his quest to unify the country, and another nickname is "Ismail the Bloodthirsty." At one time he ordered that the city gates be adorned with the heads of 400 slain enemies. (Some sources say it was 10,000 heads.) It is said he had 30,000 people killed during his reign. Maybe he should be called "Ismail the Megalomaniac."

Moroccans seem to have a love-hate relationship with Moulay Ismail. They admire his achievements, but they also recognize his brutality. His mausoleum, unlike that of Moulay Idriss, can be entered by non-Muslims--although only the antechamber and not the tomb itself. Still, this was the first time we were allowed into a place in Morocco that involved removing our shoes. It was probably the closest we got to entering a "holy site" in Morocco.

Moulay Ismail had his final resting place built while he was still alive, no doubt to ensure that it was worthy of his royal personage. The mausoleum has a grand entrance:

. . . and an even grander interior:

This is the Moroccan version of the Sistine Chapel ceiling:

Intricate designs made by highly skilled craftsmen cover the walls and doors:

I have no idea why these palm fronds were placed on the floor here. Some kind of homage, perhaps?

As usual, there is a fountain in the center of the antechamber, but rather than an ablution fountain, this one is a drinking fountain, and we watched as visitors took turns drinking from it and filling their water bottles.
I can't find the picture I took of the fountain, so I borrowed this one from here.

Ismail was used to getting what he wanted, and when he wanted a few columns from Volubilis for his mausoleum, no one was going to tell him no. Two of the twelve columns surrounding the fountain were pilfered:

Moulay Ismail died at age 93 after ruling Morocco for 55 years, longer than any other ruler in history. We were allowed to stand in the antechamber and take a photo of his "tomb room," but we were not allowed to go in. I would have liked to see what is enclosed by that iron fence. It is not likely an effigy of the Moulay as Islam prohibits that, but there is something there.
See those two grandfather clocks against the rear wall? Those were gifts from France's Louis XIV. It is said he sent those in place of his daughter, whom Moulay Ismail had requested to add to his harem. 


  1. It is fun to see your post. For some reason Meknes doesn't really stand out to me, like Fes, Marrakech or the desert, or even Volubilis or Moulay Idriss. Yet I see your pictures and go "wow." I would love to see a genealogy chart of Moulay Ismail. He's probably the ancestor of half of Morocco.

  2. I just can't get over all of the beautiful pictures of these places. "Wow" is right! I would love to hear a live call to pray. Grandfather clocks instead of daughters sounds like a fair compromise to me.