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MEKNES (Morocco)

Meknes One of the kingdom's imperial cities, Meknes was founded in the 11th century and was chosen by Moulay Ismaïl in 1672 as capital of his empire. The city's unity of style lends it undeniable charm, enhanced still further by the beauty of the surrounding countryside. Moulay Ismaïl's creation was to be much talked of in the East and in Europe, most especially at the French court of King Louis XIV. The period was one of the high points in the city's rich history.

As well as its fabulous monuments, such as Dar El Makhzen palace, the Sidi Saïd mosque, Bab El Berdaine, Bab El Khémis, Bab El Mansour, Bab Jemaâ En Nouar, the Moulay Ismaïl Mausoleum and the Kouba El Khayatine, Meknes offers impressive views of the Agdal basin. Not far from Meknes, the Roman city of Volubilis is an unforgettable treat for the tourist. The city is surrounded by 2,5 kilomètres of ramparts, entered by six gates.

It was a thriving settlement until the 4th century, and fine mosaics, sculptures and kitchenware can be seen there. The city's architectural splendeur gives ample proof of its rich past. 27 kilometres from Meknes lies the holy city of Moulay Idriss, harbouring the sanctuary of the founder of the Idrissid dynasty. A yearly pilgrimage is made to the city in August and September, a great gathering of the region's multitude of tribes come to celebrate in solemn and meditative manner the moussem dedicated to the Saint of the city.

Visitors return from Meknes as if awakening from a dream-one might have been making use of the famous Time Machine. But one will never forget the skill of its goldsmiths, the dexterity of its merchants, the workmanship of its woodsculptors and the friendly hubbub of its souks.

An historic city whose splendour attracted architects, engineers and artists, Meknes and its surroundings have remained unchanged for centuries. At sunset the Imperial city glows as the ramparts reflect the fading light. You can relax in the col of its lush gardens. Or you can lose yourself in history at Moulya Idriss, by the tomb of the founder of the first Arab dynasty and among the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Volubilis.