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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Morocco -- Meknes: World Heritage Site

Meknes, a walled city. occupies a plateau overlooking the Bouefekrane River, which divides the medina from the Ville Nouvelle.  Meknes' three sets of imposing walls. architectural Royal Granaries, symmetrical Bab Mansour, and spectacular palaces are highlights in this well-preserved imperial city.  Less inundated with tourists and more provincial than Fez, Meknes offers a low-key initiation into the Moroccan processes of shopping and bargaining.  The pace is slower than Fez and less chaotic.  Whether it was post-Moulay Ismail exhaustion or the 1755 earthquake that quieted Meknes down, the result is a pleasant middle ground between the Fez brouhaha and the business-as-usual European ambiance of Rabat.

Moulay Ismail Mausoleum
One of four sacred sites in Morocco open to non-Muslims (the others are Casablanca's Hassan II, Rabat's Mohammed V Mausoleum, and Rissani's Zaouia of Moulay Ali Sherif), this mausoleum was opened to non-Muslims by King Mohammed V (grandfather of Mohammed VI) in honor of Ismail's ecumenical instincts. An admirer of France's King Louis XIV—who, in turn, considered the sultan an important ally—Moulay Ismail developed close ties with Europe and signed commercial treaties even as he battled to eject the Portuguese from their coastal strongholds at Asilah, Essaouira, and Larache. The mausoleum's site once held Mekn√®s's Palais de Justice (Courthouse), and Moulay Ismail deliberately chose it as his resting place with hopes he would be judged in his own court by his own people. The deep ochre-hue walls inside lead to the sultan's private sanctuary, on the left, heavily decorated with colorful geometric zellijtiling. At the end of the larger inner courtyard, you must remove your shoes to enter the sacred chamber with Moulay Ismail's tomb, surrounded by hand-carved cedar-and-stucco walls, intricate mosaics, and a central fountain.

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