Monday, June 6, 2011

Meknes, Morocco

Apologies for the lack of updates folks, but unfortunately this month I find myself staying very little in Italy.  I will still be updating, but I will be posting about the things I found or will find myself within the next few weeks.  First, Morocco.  I went to Fez, but its tendency to harass its tourists into submission (not merely by having no tourist infrastructure, which would be great, but for having a rampant cottage tourist industry with all that the term "cottage" implies) makes me not have much interest in talking about it.  But only 40 kilometers away is Meknes, another imperial city whose shorter time in the limelight compared to Fez made it have much less name recognition and thus more latitude for enjoyment...
Although its medina is smaller and its building not as jaw-droppingly beautiful in comparison to Fez, it's a city that is more alive and vibrant, smaller, more manageable, and further away from the tourist trail.  As a result, it is a much more relaxing place to visit. 

Dar Eljamli Museum, a great example of a jewel-box riad, albeit on a grander scale.
The mile-long drag between the the Masoleum of Molay Ismail and the Royal Palaces.  I chose to ride down it on a kalesh to recreate the feeling of Moulay Ismail riding down it on a carriage pulled by his many wives.  Yes, the guy was a little eccentric.

Most of the town is associated with the rule of Moulay Ismail, whose weirdly extreme authoritarianism and megalomania defined Meknes.  Unhappy with making Fez or Marrakesh his capital, he moved his courts to Meknes and proceeded to build the "Versailles of Morocco".  Time and circumstance however were not to be Meknes' friends.  By 1755, an earthquake has damaged much of the compound.  Before that a battle between Moulay Ismail's son for succession occurred; instead of rebuilding, his successor simply moved the capital to Marrakesh.   Until the advent of colonial French tourism, Meknes was reduced to a dusty provincial town.
Moulay Ismail's mausoleum is one of the few religious monuments in Morocco that is accessible to foreigners and non-Muslims.  Built on an equally monumental scale as the rest of the palace grounds, it displays the respect that the country still has to this king, who despite his brutality managed to repel foreign invaders and unify the country's warring and disparate tribes, imbuing the country with a sense of nationhood. 

Although not as labyrinthine as Fez, Meknes' medina is still lively, crowded, and easy to get lost in.  Not too many exotic souvenir shops, just shops selling everyday things.  Not too many false guides either, so it is easier to feel like the offers for directions are completely sincere. 
More so than Fez, I saw many people making things using their own hands, be it welding, rolling spools of thread, cooking, carving, and sewing.  It truly is a place supported by makers and doers making things for each other, a self-sustained community where someone will provide for a deficiency that may exist. 

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