Meknès: Not the Average Tourist City

The 18th century gate of Bab Mansour marks the entrance to Meknes’ Old Medina, where the traveler can walk through the old square into the souks within. Snake charmers, singers and dancers perform in the square, surrounded by people watching. Sub-Saharan Africans who have traveled to Morocco to sell their wares dot the open space, relatively ignored by the Moroccan crowd.

Go one way, and you’re in the heart of the olive souk, the meat souk, the spice souk. Piles and piles of food are there, flies and bees swarming around the shops.

It’s always busy in the Medina, and it’s still nothing compared to Fes or Marrakesh.

Go another, and you’re in a warehouse of cheap goods made in factories—Knock-off Burberry print is a must, and most Moroccans seem to own something printed in the material. Shopkeepers try to pass off cheap jewelry in cellophane printed with Chinese characters as “genuine Moroccan.” There is shouting and pointing, salespeople desperate to make money on their goods.

The deeper you get into the Medina, the more inclined you are to find wondrous, beautiful artisanal craftsmanship. It’s also home to a 14th Century Koranic school, mosques galore and other ancient sites from the imperial days of Meknes.

Metal working
A man hammers silver wire into a steel plate. This is one of the art forms Meknes is most known for.

After a long day of shopping, the Medina is full of cafes, where you can drink mint tea on a terrace and talk with your friends and Moroccans and listen to the music from the square below. I’ve spent hours in this place, just interacting with people and falling deeper in love with the city I’ve come to call home.

View from cafe
The view from one of our favorite cafes.

There is no way to describe Meknes. There are not “must-see places” as one would typically consider a “must-see place.” It’s one of those cities you just have to go to and live like a Moroccan.

Meknes’ Medina is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so I don’t know why there aren’t more tourists here. Probably because we’re a stone’s throw from Fes and an overnight train from Marrakech. Let’s be real. The Travel Channel doesn’t exactly highlight Meknes as much as it does those other cities.

I think that’s part of why Meknes’ Medina is so peaceful—Less tourists and more Moroccans actually doing their daily shopping.

You definitely get Morocco here. There’s no doubt that this is the Morocco from television. It’s just quieter, I think, than places like Fes and Marrakech. The lack of tourists gives you the opportunity to really interact with locals, practice your French and Arabic and pretend to be a Moroccan for a little while.

Meknes is not a tourist city, and I think that’s a part of why it’s become home for me. Even traveling outside of the city makes me realize how lucky I am.

If you’re traveling to Morocco, find ways to live like a local, even if you’re only here for a short period of time. Meknes is definitely a place to do that. There is no tourist guide that can adequately describe Meknes. The only way to find what’s there is to go there.

Happy travels.

Katie Gillespie
Meknes, Morocco
Spring 2012

You can follow Katie’s other adventures on her personal blog

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