Of the four imperial cities, Meknès is the most modest by far – neither capital (Rabat), trendy tourist hub (Marrakesh) or home to a famed medina (Fez). In fact, Meknès, which receives fewer visitors than it really should, is rather overshadowed because of its proximity to Fez. Quieter and smaller than its grand neighbour, it’s also more laid-back with less hassle, yet still has all the winding narrow medina streets and grand buildings that it warrants as a one-time home of the Moroccan sultanate. Sultan Moulay Ismail, the architect of Meknès’ glory days, might be a little disgruntled at the city’s current modesty, but visitors will find much to be enchanted by.
Encircled by the rich plains below the Middle Atlas, Meknès is blessed with a hinterland abundant with cereals, olives, grapes, citrus fruit and other agricultural products that remain the city’s economic backbone. In the midst of this agricultural region sit the Roman ruins at Volubilis and the hilltop tomb of Moulay Idriss, two of the country’s most significant historic sites. If you base yourself in Meknès you’ll find plenty to keep you busy.
The valley of the (usually dry) Oued Bou Fekrane neatly divides the old medina in the west and the French-built ville nouvelle in the east. Moulay Ismail’s tomb and imperial city are south of the medina.