Meknes (Arabic: مكناس, romanized: maknās, pronounced [maknaːs]; Berber languages: ⴰⵎⴽⵏⴰⵙ, romanized: amknas; French: Meknès) is one of the four Imperial cities of Morocco, located in northern central Morocco and the sixth largest city by population in the kingdom. Founded in the 11th century by the Almoravids as a military settlement, Meknes became the capital of Morocco under the reign of Sultan Moulay Ismaïl (1672–1727), son of the founder of the Alaouite dynasty. Moulay Ismaïl created a massive imperial palace complex and endowed the city with extensive fortifications and monumental gates. The city recorded a population of 632,079 in...Read more
Meknes (Arabic: مكناس, romanized: maknās, pronounced [maknaːs]; Berber languages: ⴰⵎⴽⵏⴰⵙ, romanized: amknas; French: Meknès) is one of the four Imperial cities of Morocco, located in northern central Morocco and the sixth largest city by population in the kingdom. Founded in the 11th century by the Almoravids as a military settlement, Meknes became the capital of Morocco under the reign of Sultan Moulay Ismaïl (1672–1727), son of the founder of the Alaouite dynasty. Moulay Ismaïl created a massive imperial palace complex and endowed the city with extensive fortifications and monumental gates. The city recorded a population of 632,079 in the 2014 Moroccan census. It is the seat of Meknès Prefecture and an important economic pole in the region of Fès-Meknès.
Volubilis, a major Roman-era settlement in Morocco and one of its early urban centres, is located near the site of the current city of Meknes. The current city and its name, however, originate with a Berber tribe called the Miknasa who dominated this region and much of eastern Morocco as early as the 8th century. Some sources attribute the effective founding of a settlement here to a group of small Miknasa villages known as miknāsat al-zaytūn in the 10th century. The Almoravids founded a fortress or fortified settlement just south of these villages after conquering the area in 1061, originally called Tagrart or Taqrart.: 176 Some sources attribute the founding of the city of Meknes to this Almoravid foundation. The city's first main mosque (the current Grand Mosque of Meknes) is in turn believed to have been first built by the Almoravids in the 12th century. The Nejjarine Mosque, often reputed to be the oldest mosque in the city, also dates back to the Almoravid period.: 212–213
The fortress resisted the military advance of the Almohads, who destroyed the city after a long siege in the 12th century. However, at the beginning of the 13th century the Almohad caliph Muhammad al-Nasir (ruled 1199–1213) rebuilt the city and its fortifications, as well as its Grand Mosque. The city enjoyed relative prosperity in this period, before being conquered again by the new Marinid dynasty in 1244. The first kasbah (citadel or governor's district) of Meknes was created afterwards by sultan Abu Yusuf Ya'qub in 1276 CE – the same year that the citadel of Fes el-Jdid was built in nearby Fes, the new capital. During this period, Meknes was frequently the residence of Marinid princes (often appointed there as governors) and especially of viziers.: 55 The Mosque of the Kasbah (the later Mosque of Lalla Aouda) was also founded and first built in 1276. The Marinids also carried out major restorations to the Grand Mosque in the 14th century and built the major madrasas of the city near it. The latter included the Bou Inania Madrasa (built in 1336) and two other madrasas, Madrasa al-Qadi and Madrasa Shuhud, all built by Sultan Abu el-Hassan.
After the end of the Marinid and Wattasid periods, however, Meknes suffered from neglect as the new Saadian dynasty (16th and early 17th century) focused their attention on their capital at Marrakesh and neglected the old northern cities of Morocco.The reign of Moulay Isma'il (17th–18th centuries)
It wasn't until the Alaouite dynasty in the second half of the 17th century that Meknes received renewed attention. Under Moulay Rashid (ruled 1666–1672), the first Alaouite sultan to unite Morocco under his rule, Fes became the capital once more and his brother, Moulay Isma'il ibn Sharif, governed Meknes. Upon Rashid's death in 1672, Moulay Isma'il became sultan and chose Meknes as his new capital. In addition to his possible attachment to the city as a governor, a number of reasons may have favoured this choice.: 129 One may have been the fact that Ismail had to fight hard to reconquer both Fes and Marrakesh from his rival nephew (Ahmad al-Mahriz, son of Moulay Rashid) during the first years of his reign, which may have rendered him skeptical towards both cities as possible centers of power.: 467–468 Moreover, Moulay Rashid had garrisoned much of Fes with his own contingents from the Tafilalt and eastern Morocco while Moulay Isma'il was forming his own personal royal guard composed of Black slaves ('abid) from Sub-Saharan Africa, and there may have been concerns that not all these contingents could be garrisoned simultaneously in Fes. The ulema (religious scholars) of Fes were also particularly disapproving of his ways, including his use of slaves (many of whom were of Muslim background), and maintained tense relations with him throughout his reign. Choosing Meknes thus removed him from the influence of traditional elites and allowed him to build a fresh base from which he hoped to exercise absolute power. The threat of Ottoman attacks from the east (from Algeria) and the increasing insecurity in central Morocco due to tribal migrations from the Atlas and Sahara regions may have also persuaded Ismail that Meknes, situated further west, was more defensible than Fes.: 234 : 129, 138
Whatever the reasons, Ismail made Meknes the center of Morocco in his time and he embarked on the construction of a new monumental palace-city on the south side of the old city. Its construction continued throughout the 55 years of his reign, beginning immediately after his accession to the throne in 1672. Existing structures dating from the earlier medieval kasbah of the city were demolished to make way; the name of the large public square in front of the Kasbah today, el-Hedim (or Place el-Hedim), means "the rubble" and came from the masses of rubble and debris which were piled here during the demolition. Labour was carried out by paid workers as well as by contingents of slaves, particularly Christian prisoners of war. Estimates on the total number of workers involved range from 25,000 and 55,000. Nonetheless, frequently-told stories about the tens of thousands of Christian slaves used for labour and the large underground dungeons where they were kept are somewhat exaggerated and originate from the accounts of European ambassadors who visited Isma'il's court (often to negotiate the release of prisoners from their countries). In reality, the number of Christian slaves was likely closer to a few thousand at most and the chambers popularly called "prisons" were actually storage rooms for grain and supplies.: 106 : 267
It was also in Moulay Ismail's reign that the Jewish inhabitants of the city were moved to a new Mellah or Jewish district to the west, near the Kasbah, not unlike the Mellah of Fes or that of Marrakesh.: 234 The Mellah was located between the old medina, west of Place el-Hedim, and the more outlying quarter of Madinat al-Riyad al-Anbari. Both the Mellah and Madinat ar-Riyad were part of an urban extension ordered by Isma'il in the western angle between the old city and the Kasbah.: 54 Moulay Isma'il also undertook works throughout the old city too. He refortified the walls and built new monumental city gates such as Bab Berda'in and Bab Khemis. He also built several other kasbahs or garrison forts throughout the city to house his 'abid troops and help protect (and control) the rest of the town, such as the Kasbah Hadrash and the Kasbah Tizimi.: 142 He carried out renovations to the Grand Mosque and the nearby Madrasa al-Qadi (which he devotes to students from the Tafilalt), and founded the Zitouna Mosque. Khnata bent Bakkar, one of his wives who was vizier (minister) under him (and briefly became de facto ruler of Morocco in 1728 after his death), was responsible for founding the Bab Berda'in Mosque, completed in 1709.
One of the last constructions before his death, carried out between 1721 and 1725, was the Heri al-Mansur, a palace on the far southern edge of the kasbah which included vast stables. The monumental gate known as Bab al-Mansur al-'Alj, overlooking Place al-Hedim, was only finished in 1732 by his son Moulay Abdallah. His son and brief successor, Moulay Ahmad ad-Dhahabi , carried out modifications to his father's mausoleum during his two brief reigns (in 1727–28 and 1728–29) and was himself buried here in 1729.Later Alaouite period (18th–20th centuries)
Following Moulay Isma'il's death, however, the political situation in Morocco degenerated into relative anarchy as his sons competed for power. Meknes lost its status as capital and suffered damage in the 1755 earthquake. The city was neglected and many parts of the enormous imperial kasbah fell into disrepair. The site received only occasional royal attention in the following centuries. Sultan Muhammad ibn Abdallah, who ruled between 1757 and 1790, built a number of projects in the city. He added the Dar al-Bayda Palace in the Agdal garden to the southeast of the main palace complex, which was later turned into a royal military academy. He constructed the Er-Roua Mosque in the southern part of Moulay Isma'il's Kasbah, which became the largest mosque in Meknes.: 391 He also renovated and added a qubba over the tomb of Sidi Mohammed ben Aissa (just outside the city walls) and built the current minarets of the Grand Mosque and the Nejjarine Mosque in the old city. The Dar al-Kebira, however, was abandoned and progressively transformed into a residential neighbourhood where the inhabitants constructed their houses within and between the former palace structures of Isma'il's time. In the early 19th century, Sultan Moulay Abd ar-Rahman added a loggia structure in front of Bab al-Mansur which served as a meeting place for ceremonies and the governor's tribunal, though this structure was later removed.Recent history (20th–21st centuries)
After the installation of French colonial rule in Morocco in 1912, the French administration created a new city (Ville Nouvelle) on a nearby plateau across the valley on the northeast side of the old city. The capital of Morocco was moved from Fes to Rabat, further marginalizing cities like Meknes (which is near Fes). Some traditional Muslim authorities and officials were retained, but Meknes was reorganized under a new French municipal and military regime. This also leads to a greater influence of the cities over their surrounding countryside and growing urbanization. The city became a transportation hub for people and goods traveling from east to west or from north to south across the country, in addition to hosting extensive military barracks. The population of Meknes grew from 25,000 at the beginning of the century to over 140,000 by the mid-20th century.: 191–192 Some roads in the old city were widened to accommodate greater circulation, but most of the new development took place in the Ville Nouvelle. The new French authorities took interest in the conservation of historic monuments in the old city; the madrasas, for example, were restored in 1922.: 199 During this period Meknes also became a center of agriculture and viniculture, led mainly by French colonists who appropriated large amounts of land nearby.
Nonetheless, Meknes, like other cities, also hosted resistance to French authority. In 1937, a particularly serious and violent revolt erupts following attempts to divert the local river to benefit the French settler population during a time of food shortages for the native Moroccan population. A violent suppression of protests takes place in the city which results in 13 dead and more injured.: 63 Following Morocco's independence in 1956, the changes which began or accelerated under French rule still continue to run their course. Large scale rural migration increases the population of the city and intensifies the urbanization process (as elsewhere in the country). Industries develop around the city's perimeter, but at the same time the old elites and bourgeois families move away to the coastal cities like Casablanca and Rabat.
These changes have also contributed to the relative neglect of the old city. According to the ICOMOS Heritage at Risk report of 2000, the historic city of Meknes contains insufficient drainage systems, and as a result, suffers from inundation and leakage in certain areas. Still, some conservation and restoration efforts have taken place in recent years, motivated in part by the revenues of tourism.: 222