In September 2018, my boyfriend and I took an 8 day trip to Morocco. Our flights were to Rabat, and we chose to use trains to visit other cities. The cities we visited were Rabat, Meknes and Fes. We stayed in some gorgeous airbnbs, meeting very kind owners who made us food, shared stories, and arranged transport.
This is the second post in the series of cities in Morocco. I highlight travel costs and timings, cultural places to visit, and recommend food.
Languages spoken: Moroccan Arabic, Berber, French
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Meknes was a prominent city in the 17th century and much of its stunning architecture come from this time period during which it was the country’s capital. Settlement occurred much earlier, with Berber and Medieval occupation, and remnants of these still remain and hold influence on later work.
Outside of the city is the Roman city of Volubilis, and interest in visiting these ruins was one of the many reasons I chose to visit the less well-known city of Meknes.
Far less busy than other cities, I found people kept to themselves more in Meknes and it has a chilled vibe than the much more hectic Fes, and there was greater emphasis on historic architecture than Rabat. If you are visiting Morocco, I would definately reccomend visiting Meknes if you wish to experince the stunning history, food, and architecture at a more relaxed pace.
There was a lot To See and we were able to stay in a beautiful home in the medina. The medina owner made us feel very comfortable, cooking us amazing food and making us fresh peppermint tea from her garden. Please contact me if you would like to know the people we stayed with.
Explore the medina
The medina at Meknes is old and beautiful. It did not feel very commercialised. My partner and I found ourselves getting lost quite a lot, but there were so much great historical architecture to observe as we were doing so! Going through the medina led us to…
El Hedim (Lahdim) Square
The large square is full of shops selling Moroccan goods and those keen for tourist money, including people with animals to pose for paid photos. The square separates the medina from the Mannsour Gate, the 18th century gate fronting the old town of the city. The gate is one of the largest in Morocco and considered to be one of the most impressive. It appears to be the archetype of Moroccan gate architecture and stunning to look at. We walked the edge of the old town as well as through the centre.
For 70 DH, you can access the Royal Stables, which are about a 10 minute walk from the main square. Built in the 18th century, the stables for the sultan was said to hold up to 12000 horses.
Dar El-Makhzen Royal Palace
We wandered about the Imperial Palace complex, another stunning piece of architecture from the Sultan Moulay Ismail era. It was rather empty and rather chill.
Prison de Kara
The Prison de Kara is a spacious area, used to hold prisoners and those captured by pirates to be sold as slaves. Above ground were glass laced holes for prisoners to have access to food and water. Going below ground, you can explore the subterranean space, a large, 18th century vaulted space, which is now decorated with haunting modern art.
The entry cost is 60DH
One of the main reasons for visiting Meknes was so we could have a good base to go to Volubilis.
Entry cost: 70DH
Volubilis is a Roman city just outside Meknes, and is also visitable from Fes.
Originally established in the 3rd century BC by the Berbers, it was the capital of the Kingdom of Mauritania. From the 1st century AD, the Romans took control, creating the gorgeous arches and mosaics that you can explore. Following the end of the Roman empire, the city was occupied for several more centuries including those establishing Meknes. Sadly, an earthquake in the 18th century destroyed much of the then-standing city, and it was in the end of the 19th century that archaeological investigations took place.
In order to get to Volubilis, we headed to the main taxi rank, just beyond El Hedim Square. We negotiated with a driver to take us to Volubilis, wait for an hour or so, and then drive us back. This cost us 300DH. The driver insisted on an hour, but if you are a history lover PLEASE INSIST ON STAY LONGER, IT IS WORTH THE COST. You are likely to get a better deal with your accommodation provider, though sadly ours was absent for our trip.
The scenery around the city is stunning, with cyprus trees lining your walk. Once you see the gorgeous sloping hills, you can see how the ancient city made its fortunes cultivating vinyards.
I loved walking through these practically empty ruins and exploring so many remains- the level of preservation on the multitude of mosaics was beyond compare. It is absolutely worth the visit.
Please remember to bring plenty of water and sun protection as it is quite an unsheltered spot.
There is also the option to stop at the town of Moulay Idriss which we did not, much to my regret. The mausoleum (although not accessible to non-Muslims) and the medina are said to be worth a visit.
We found the restaurant of Ya-Hala in Meknes to be one of our favourite of the whole trip. It appeared to be in the family home of the owner, and the tables were laid out with large cushioned benches around the wall. The vibe was friendly and personal and the cost was very reasonable.
I ordered the pastilla, which is a Moroccan chicken pie (though the more traditional recipe uses pigeon) in filo pastry and it is DELICIOUS. I recently remade it in England as I was craving it so much, well over a year since I had it.
The first class carriage consist of 6 seats in a private compartment. There is no smoking allowed although standard class does allow this. We bought our tickets at the station. We worked out a lot of our train journeys prior to going, the ONCF train website was very useful.
Rabat to Meknes:
We caught a 13 minute past the hour Train and had a booked first class Train ticket. The Train from Rabat to Meknes was predicted to take 2 hours to 2 hours 20 minutes. Our Train was over an hour late and there were some confusion with the seat bookings. First class on way Rabat to Meknes cost 95 DH.
It was a 45 minute walk from Meknes Am Amir station, but of course there are lots of taxis willing to take you.
Meknes to Fes:
The first class train from Meknes to Fes cost 33 DH and took 40 minutes.