Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail

Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail

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The Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail in Meknes is the final resting place of one of Morocco’s most notorious sultans.

History of the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail

Moulay Ismail was a member of the Alaouite Dynasty and the ruler of the country from 1672 to 1727. In a break with tradition, he made the city of Meknes his capital, and embarked on several massive building projects.

In his time as sultan, Moulay Ismail gained a reputation for ruthlessness, earned due to his purges of anybody unwilling to support him and for megalomania, particularly when it came to creating monuments and palaces at the expense of destroying those built by others. One famous casualty of Moulay Ismail is the El Badi Palace in Marrakesh, demolished for its materials.

Nevertheless, Moulay Ismail was also known as a very effective leader, and his accomplishments included taking areas such as Tangiers and al-Mamurah from the British and the Spanish respectively. He ended attempts by the Ottomans to get a foothold in Morocco and established a firmer diplomatic relationship with Europe through the ransom of Christian captives at his court.

Created by masses of slaves and criminal prisoners, the sultan oversaw the initial construction of his tomb. The Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail is a good example of the opulence of the sultan’s building style. Built around grand courtyards and fountains are rooms with intricate tiling and stucco walls adorned with fine objects such as clocks gifted to the sultan by his friend, the French king, Louis XIV.

Moulay Ismail was laid to rest in the mausoleum together with one of his (five hundred) wives and two of his (eight hundred) children. The mausoleum was restored and opened to the public by Sultan Mohammed V in the 20th century.

Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail today

The mausoleum complex is arguably the highlight of Meknes, and is well worth a visit. Non-Muslims cannot enter the actual tomb, but can explore the entry hall and front courtyards. You’ll need to dress modestly, and women are recommended to cover their heads.

The complex was undergoing major restoration work from 2016 onwards: it’s best to check before visiting what’s actually open and available to visit.

Getting to the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail

The mausoleum is on Avenue Bab Marrah, in the Cite Imperiale district of Meknes, about a 20 minute walk from the main madrassa. Depending on where in the city you’re coming from, a taxi can be quite convenient.

Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail

Our Rating Neighborhood Rue Palais, Dar el Kebira, Medina Hours Sat-Thurs 8:30am-noon and 2-6pm Prices Free admission, though 10dh donation appreciated

This peaceful and spiritual resting place of Sultan Moulay Ismail is one of the few sacred sites in Morocco open to non-Muslims. Constructed during his lifetime, Ismail chose this location as it had once housed Meknes's Palais de Justice (courthouse), and he hoped in death to be judged in his own court by his own people. Although it's a nondescript building from the outside, the serenity of the series of pale-yellow courtyards leading to the tomb is in contrast to the turbulent and cruel reign of Ismail while he was alive. In the far left corner of the last courtyard is a door that leads into the sanctuary -- completely renovated in the 1950s by King Mohammed V -- in which the sultan is buried. Respectfully remove your footwear before entering. The anteroom to the tomb has walls with a series of levels consisting of exquisite zellij, enamel-painted wood, elaborately carved plaster, graceful arches, and marble columns. This is a beautifully cool and tranquil room, and grass mats on the floor allow for rest and quiet contemplation. To the right of this is the tomb itself, of which non-Muslims cannot access, but it's visible from the anteroom through a Moorish doorway. Two antique clocks, one on each side of the doorway, were gifts from Louis XIV, which the king is said to have sent when he refused Ismail's request to add his daughter, Princess de Conti, to the sultan's harem.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail

The great Almohad sultan, Moulay Ismail made Meknes his imperial capital and it is there that he is entombed. Although his mausoleum lies stone’s throw from Place El-Hedim and Bab al-Mansour, it’s not easy to find because it’s not marked. You will have to ask for help.

When you enter in the mausoleum, you step inside a small entry room, painted buttercup yellow with a small fountain marking the center of the room. The entry room leads to the first of several interconnected open aired courtyards, each of which is also painted buttercup yellow. Surrounded in all directions by bright yellow walls, it’s hard to believe you’re actually in a mausoleum.

The last courtyard fronts the tomb room and unless you’re a Muslim, you cannot enter. But not to be disappointed, the ante room will simply take your breath away. It soars up several stories high with a row of windows at the top that lets the sunlight filter in. Intricately carved plaster and delicately patterned zellij tiles adorn the walls. In the center of the floor is a small fountain collared by the eight pointed star that is classic to Moroccan design. There is perfect symmetry in all the design elements. It’s just a magnificent space!


Background, early life, and accession to power Edit

Born in 1645 at Sijilmassa, [alN 1] Moulay Ismail ben Sharif was the son of Sharif ibn Ali, prince of Tafilalt and first sovereign of the Alaouite dynasty. His mother was a black slave. [L 1] He claimed descent from Hassan ad-Dakhil, a 21st generation descendant of Muhammad, [3] and from Az-Zakiya, a 17th generation descendant of Muhammad who had installed himself at Sijilmassa in 1266. [L 2]

After the death of the Saadi Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur, Morocco entered a period of unrest, during which his sons fought with one another for the throne, while the country was parcelled up by the different military leaders and religious authorities. [ArcI 1] [L 3] From the beginning of the reign of Zidan Abu Maali in 1613, the Saadi sultanate was very weak. The Zaouia of Dila controlled central Morocco, the Zaouia of Illigh [fr] established its influence from Souss to the Draa River, the marabout Sidi al-Ayachi took possession of the northwestern plains, the Atlantic coast as far as Taza, the Republic of Salé became an independent state at the mouth of the Bou Regreg, and the city of Tétouan became a city-state under the control of the Naqsis family. [4] At Tafilalt, the Alouites were appointed by the local people in order to check the influence of the Zaouias of Illigh and Dila. They were an independent emirate from 1631. [L 3]

Three rulers preceded Ismail ben Sharif: his father, Moulay Sharif, then his two half-brothers. As the first sovereign of the Alaouite dynasty from 1631, Moulay Sharif succeeded in keeping Tafilalt outside the authority of the Zaouia of Dila. [L 4] He abdicated in 1636 and his eldest son, Moulay Muhammad ibn Sharif succeeded him. Under the latter's reign, the Alaouite realm expanded into the north of the country, to Tafna and the Draa river. [alN 2] His half-brother, Moulay Rashid rebelled against him and managed to kill him on 3 August 1664, in a battle on the plain of Angad (near Oujda). [ArcI 2] Moulay Ismail chose to support Rashid and was rewarded by being appointed governor of Meknes. There, Ismail devoted himself to the region's agriculture and commerce, in order to increase his wealth, [L 1] while Moulay Rashid reigned as Emir of Tafilalt and then as Sultan of Morocco after his conquest of Fez on 27 May 1664. [ArcI 2] Rashid further entrusted Ismail with military control of the North of Morocco and made him feudatory caliph and vice-roy of Fez in 1667, while he fought in the south of Morocco. Rashid conquered the Zaouia of Dila in 1668 and then took two years to overcome rebels at Marrakesh before he broke into the city in 1669. [5]

On 6 April 1670, Ismail celebrated his first marriage at Fez, in the presence of his brother Rashid. [alN 3] On 25 July, he put to death sixty brigands from Oulad Djama, by crucifying them on the wall of the Borj el-Jadid in Fez. [alN 4] While Rashid continued his campaigns against the independent tribes of the High Atlas, he was killed on 9 April 1672 at Marrakesh, after falling off his horse. On 13 April, [alN 1] after he had learnt of Rashid's death, Moulay Ismail rushed to Fez, where he took possession of his brother's treasury and then proclaimed himself Sultan of Morocco on 14 April 1672, at the age of twenty-six. [L 1] [alN 1] [L 5] This proclamation occurred around 2pm and a grand ceremony followed. [alN 1] The whole population of Fez, including the nobles, intellectuals, and sharifs swore to be loyal to the new sovereign, as did the tribes and cities of the kingdom of Fez, who sent embassies and presents to him. Only Marrakesh and the region around it did not send an embassy. Ismail fixed his capital at Meknes, on account of the water supply and climate of the town. [alN 5]

Difficult early reign Edit

After seizing power, Moulay Ismail faced several rebellions: most significant was the revolt of his nephew Moulay Ahmed ben Mehrez, son of Moulay Murad Mehrez, then the rebellions of his brothers, including Harran ibn Sharif, who assumed the title of King of Tafilalt. The Tetouan warlord Khadir Ghaïlan also resisted Sultan Ismail, along with several tribes and religious groups. [L 6]

When the news of Rashid's death reached Sijilmassa, Ahmed ben Mehrez rushed to Marrakesh, in order to have himself proclaimed sultan. The tribes of Al Haouz, the Arabs of Souss, and the inhabitants of Marrakesh joined him and he was able to assume control of the area. He rallied the southern tribes and was proclaimed sultan at Marrakesh. In response, Moulay Ismail launched a campaign against his nephew on 27 April 1672. [alN 6] Ismail was victorious as a result of his artillery. He entered the city of Marrakesh and was recognised as sultan there on 4 June 1672. [L 6] [alN 6] [ArcI 3] Ahmed suffered a bullet wound and fled into the mountains. [L 1] Ismail pardoned the inhabitants of Marrakesh and reorganised the city's defences. [L 7] He then went back to Fez to collect his brother Rashid's coffin and inter it in the mausoleum of Sheikh Ali ibn Herzouhm, before returning to Meknes on 25 July 1672. [alN 6]

Moulay Ismail arranged the organisation of the empire and distributed goods to the soldiers of his army in preparation for an expedition into the Sahara. The project was abandoned however after a revolt broke out in the city of Fez, during which the Caid Zidan ben Abid Elamri, the intended head of the expedition, was killed and the sultan's forces were expelled from the city, on the night of 26 August 1672. Moulay Ismail immediately arrived and encamped outside the walls of the city. After several days of conflict, the noble clans of Fez appealed to Ahmed ben Mehrez in despair. He responded favourably to their appeal and travelled through Debdou to Taza, where he was proclaimed Sultan again. In the meanwhile, Khadir Ghaïlan sent a messenger to Fez and notified the inhabitants of his arrival by sea from Algiers to Tetouan, where he was welcomed by the Ennaqsîs family that governed the city. These events sparked serious unrest in the country. Moulay Ismail marched on Taza, which surrendered to him after a siege of several months, and forced Ahmed ben Mehrez to flee into the Sahara. While the siege of Fez continued, [alN 7] Ismail turned northwest to face Khadir Ghaïlan, who had taken control of the Habt region (the Gharb and Khlot plains and part of the Jebala territory) with the help of the Ottomans in Algeria. With a force of 12,000 men, Ismail suppressed the rebellion and pacified the northern provinces, [L 6] killing Ghaïlan on 2 September 1673 at Ksar el-Kebir [ArcI 4] He returned again to Fez, which was still under siege by his forces. The heart of the city, Fez Jdid, finally opened its gates on 28 October 1673, after a siege of fourteen months and eight days. Ismail granted a pardon to the inhabitants of Fez. He reorganised the city and appointed governors in charge of the suburbs of Fez el Bali and Fez Jdid. [alN 7]

On returning to Meknes, Moulay Ismail continued construction work and built several palaces. [H 1] He was disturbed once more by his nephew Ahmed ben Mehrez, who seized Marrakesh sometime after May 1673. [L 8] [6] [7] When Ismail learnt of it in 1674, he first launched a campaign against the Arab tribes of the Angad region who were engaging in banditry. He severely defeated the Sgoûna tribe and then put in place the preparations for a major campaign against his nephew. Ismail marched at the head of his army into the Tadla region and encountered Ahmed ben Mehrez's army at Bou Agba, near Oued El Abid. Ismail was victorious over his nephew's army and killed its commander, Hida Ettouïri. Ahmed was chased by his uncle all the way to Marrakesh, where he entrenched himself. Ismail besieged the city and took it by force in 1674, forcing Ahmed to flee to the province of Drâa. The sultan then led a number of operations against the Chaouia tribes. [H 1] In this same year, the Sanhaja of the High and Middle Atlas revolted and massacred the envoys of the Sultan, after having refused to pay tribute. Moulay Ismail launched a first expedition and attempted to dislodge them from the mountain strongholds where they had entrenched themselves. [Arc 1] The sultan's troops were repulsed by a force of 8,000 Berber infantry and 5,000 Berber cavalry. A second expedition followed, and this time the Sultan's forces inflicted a heavy defeat on the rebels, seizing substantial booty. [Arc 2]

In 1675, with the help of the inhabitants of Taroudant, Ahmed secretly returned to Marrakesh, expelled the royal army, and reoccupied the city. [L 9] Ismail placed Marrakesh under siege once more. The fighting was bloody, with very high casualties on both sides, especially in June 1676. [alN 8] Ahmed eventually had to flee the city on 26 June 1677, heading for Souss. [alN 9] This time, Ismail violently sacked the city as punishment for supporting Ahmed. [L 6] [L 9] [7] [8]

While still at Marrakesh, Ismail learnt that Ahmed ben Abdellah ad-Dila'i, grandson of Mohammed al-Hajj ibn Abu Bakr al-Dila'i, had gathered a large army of Sanhaja tribes from the mountains, crossed the Moulouya River and was raiding the Arab tribes of Tadla and Saïss, forcing them to flee to the cities of Fez, Meknes, and Sale. Ahmed was attempting to revive the defunct Zaouia of Dila and was supported by the Ottomans in Algiers, who had previously given him refuge. Since Ismail was busy with Ahmed ben Mehrez at Souss, he sent an autonomous force of 3,000 cavalry. They were defeated by the Berber army of Ahmed ben Abdellah and the force's commander, Caid Ikhlef, was killed. Ismail then sent two further armies, numbering 4,000 men each, which were also beaten - the first near Meknes and the second at Kasba Tadla, which was then seized and destroyed by the Sanhaja. Meanwhile, Ismail also learnt that three of his brothers, Moulay Harran, Moulay Hammada, and Moulay Murad Mehrez (the father of Ahmed ben Mehrez) had revolted and attacked Tafilalt. The sultan decided to deal with the unrest at Tadla first. He personally intervened and routed the Berbers in a battle which say 3,000 Berbers dead and several hundred soldiers of the imperial army. [alN 10] He retook Tadla, stabilised the Middle Atlas region with his artillery and an enveloping manoeuvre carried out by the guich of Oudaya. [Arc 2] The heads of nearly 700 rebels were nailed to the walls of Fez by the Caid Abdellah Errousi. [L 10] Moulay Ismail returned to Meknes at the end of 1677 and ended his brothers' rebellion. He captured Moulay Harran but chose to spare him. [alN 11]

Stabilisation of the empire Edit

Between 1678 and 1679, Moulay Ismail attempted an expedition over the Amour mountain range into the region of Cherg, accompanied by a large contingent of Arab tribes, including the Beni Amer. The Turkish artillery put all the Arab tribes in the expedition to flight and the Sultan was forced to set the border between the Ottoman empire and Morocco at Tafna. [9] [10] Moulay Ismail restored and reorganised Oujda on his return. [alN 12] He reorganised the south of the empire following an expedition in 1678, from Souss and the oasis of Touat to the provinces of Chenguit on the border of the Sudan region in modern Mauritania. [Arc 3] During his journey, Ismail appointed caids and pashas and ordered the construction of forts and ribats to demonstrate his control to the makhzen in these regions. [11] During this expedition, the Sultan received embassies from all the Maqil tribes in the Saharan provinces of the country, which stretched all the way to the Senegal river. [alN 13] Moroccan control over the Pashalik of Timbuktu was established in 1670 and continued throughout Moulay Ismail's reign. [L 3]

Around the end of Ramadan 1678-1679, Ismail's three brothers, Harran, Hashem and Ahmed, and three of his cousins revolted with the help of the Sanhaja confederation of Aït Atta and the tribes of the Toudra [fr] and Dadès valleys. Moulay Ismail launched a massive expedition and seized Ferkla, Gueria, Toudra and Dadès in quick succession. The rebel tribes abandoned their oases and fled into the Jbel Saghro in the eastern Anti-Atlas. With a large army, Ismail fought a difficult battle in the Jbel Saghro on 3 February 1679. [alN 14] [L 6] The heavy casualties included Moussa ben Ahmed ben Youssef, commander of the Moroccan army and 400 soldiers from Fez. It was a partial failure. The battle was ended by an agreement in which the rebel tribes granted the people of Tafilalt free passage back to Marrakesh through the Saharan rebel tribes' territory and promised future aid against the Christians. [Arc 4] On their return journey, a blizzard struck the force as it crossed the Atlas at Telwet or Elglâoui on the Jbel Ben Deren, destroying nearly three thousand tents, part of the army and the booty. [Arc 4] In a fury, Moulay Ismail executed his vizier in order to avenge those who had been travelling with him, even though the vizier had had nothing to do with this catastrophe. [alN 14] [L 9]

A plague struck around this time that killed several thousand people, mainly in the plain of Rharb and Rif. [L 9] [12]

After he had achieved the unification of Morocco, Moulay Ismail decided to end the Christian presence in the country. He first launched a campaign to recapture the city of Tangiers, which had been under English control since 1471 - initially Portuguese, the city had passed into English hands after the marriage of Catherine of Braganza to Charles II. The city was strongly fortified and had a large garrison of 4,000 men. [13] Moulay Ismail assigned one of his best generals, Ali ben Abdallah Er-Riffi [fr] , to besiege Tangier in 1680. [L 11] At Tangiers, the English resisted, but, as a result of the high cost of maintaining the garrison, they decided to abandon the city, demolishing their fortifications and harbour over the winter of 1683. The Moroccan army entered the city on 5 February 1684. [L 11] [L 9]

In 1681, while the siege of Tangiers was still ongoing, Moulay Ismail sent part of his army under the command of Omar ben Haddou El-Bottoui to conquer the city of La Mamora. [14] This city had been occupied by the Spanish in the period of chaos in Morocco after 1614. Ismail besieged the city, which had no water source, and captured it, along with all the Spaniards in the city, who numbered 309. [alN 15] Caid Omar had told the Spaniards that they would not be sold into slavery if they surrendered unconditionally "Although they would be captives they would spend their days without working, until the first redemption." However Moulay Ismaïl saw no reason to honour Kaid Omar's promises and had no intention of allowing the captives from al-Mamurah to be redeemed so they, including fifty "poor girls and women", were forced to walk to Meknes as booty along with their possessions, arms and artillery (88 bronze cannons, 15 iron cannons, fire-pots, muskets and gunpowder) which Germain Mousette wrote was "more than he had in the rest of his kingdom". [15] The city was renamed al-Mahdiya. [16] Omar ben Haddou died of plague on his return journey and was replaced by his brother Ahmed ben Haddou. [alN 16]

While his generals were undertaking these operations, Moulay Ismail was focussed on stabilising the country. After an expedition to the Cherg region against the Beni Amer, he learnt that Ahmed ben Mehrez had made yet another agreement with the Turks in Algiers. He also learnt that the Turkish army was approaching Tafna and had already reached the territory of the Beni Snassen [fr] . Ismail immediately sent a large force to the south of the country to face Ahmed and prepared an expedition against the Ottomans, which did not end up taking place because the Turkish army withdrew. [alN 16] He then marched south to confront his nephew at Souss in 1683. A battle took place there in April. After twenty-five days of fighting, Ahmed fled to Taroudant and entrenched himself there. Another battle on 11 June 1683 cost more than 2,000 lives. Ahmed and Ismail were themselves wounded. The clashes continued until Ramadan. [alN 17] Moulay Ismail undertook two expeditions which succeeded in pacifying several Berber regions. [alN 18] · [alN 19]

While Moulay Ismail was occupied with these tribes in the Atlas, Ahmed ben Mehrez forged an alliance with Moulay Harran in order to destabilise Ismail's empire. When Moulay Ismail learnt, in 1684/5, that the two rebels had taken control of Taroudant and its hinterland, he immediately set out to besiege the city. Ahmed went out with a group of slaves to visit a sanctuary and was confronted by some members of the Zirâra tribe, who were soldiers of Ismail. Although they did not recognise him, the Zirâra attacked him, sparking a short battle, which ended with the death of Ahmed. The sultan's soldiers only realised who he was after his death around the middle of October 1685. Ismail ordered that he be given a funeral and buried. [alN 20] [7] Moulay Harran continued the resistance until April 1687, when he fled into the Sahara. The population of Taroudant was massacred and the city was repopulated with Rifans from Fez. [H 2] Many of Ismail's military commanders had lost their lives in this war, [alN 20] but after this date, no one else challenged the power of the Sultan. The war between Ahmed and Ismail had come to an end after thirteen years of fighting. [L 6]

Moulay Ismail now prepared a strong army, estimated at 30,000-50,000 men, [C1927 1] under the command of Ali ben Abdallah Er-Riffi [L 12] and Ahmed ben Haddou El-Bottoui, to seize the city of Larache, which had been under Spanish control since 1610. [L 13] The Sultan, who announced his plan in 1688, forced the Spaniards to fortify the city heavily, with 200 cannons and 1500-2000 men. [C1927 1] The campaign began on 15 July 1689 and the siege began in August. [L 12] The Moroccan army eventually took the city on 11 November 1689, at an estimate cost of 10,000 dead. The Moroccans captured 1,600 Spanish soldiers including 100 officers and 44 cannons. The Spanish army lost 400 soldiers in the battle. [C1927 2] A prisoner exchange was arranged at a rate of one officer for ten Moroccans, so the hundred officers were exchanged for a thousand Moroccan prisoners. The rest of the Spanish garrison remained in captivity, as slaves in Meknes, except for those who converted to Islam. [C1927 3] To celebrate the triumph Moulay Ismaïl issued an edict banning the wearing of black shoes because the Spanish were said to have introduced the custom into Morocco when they first acquired Larache in 1610. The mufti of Fez was so elated by the victory he wrote,

How many infidels at dusk have had their heads severed from their bodies! How many were dragged away with the death rattle in their throats! For how many throats have our Lance's been as necklaces! How many lance-tips were thrust into their breasts! [ citation needed ]

Shortly after Larache was conquered, Ismail sent Ahmed ben Haddou to besiege Assilah. Exhausted, the Spanish garrison evacuated the city by sea and the Moroccan army occupied the town in 1691. [L 13]

In 1692-3, Moulay Ismail organised a very large expedition against the last unconquered tribes. These were the Sanhaja Brâbér tribes, Berbers in Fêzzâz, a region in the west part of the Middle Atlas. These tribes formed the last pocket of the Bled es-Siba (area that did not accept the authority of the sultan). [alN 21] Ismail's army was very numerous and equipped with mortars, balistae, cannons, and other siege weapons, which were dragged by Christian slaves all the way from Moulouya to Ksar Beni M'Tir. Meanwhile, the Moroccan forces gathered at Adekhsan. Ismail divided his army into three groups. The first was commanded by Pasha Msahel, with 25,000 infantry, and marched from Tadla to Oued El Abid, bypassing the Aït Isri. The second army was led by Caid Ali Ou Barka and consisted of Aït Imour and Aït Idrassen, who had to occupy Tinteghalin. The third and final group was commanded by Ali ben Ichchou El-Qebli, caid of Zemmours [fr] and Beni Hakim, and was concentrated in the High Moulouya. [Arc 5] The unconquered tribes comprised the Aït Oumalou, the Ait Yafelman and the Aït Isri. [alN 21] They were surrounded by Mulay Ismail who used all his artillery to break up the Berber rebels. A terrible battle followed, the Berbers were dispersed and fled into the ravines and valleys. After pursuing them for three days, 12,000 Berbers had been captured by the Sultan and 10,000 horses and 30,000 guns as booty. [H 3] Moulay Ismail had now conquered the whole of Morocco and forced all the tribes of the country to recognise his authority. He was the first Alaouite Sultan to achieve this. He quickly organised the defence of the captured regions through the construction of several dozen fortresses throughout the country, which helped the central power to reach distant regions like Fêzzâz. With this victory, the conquest of Morocco was over. In 1693, according to Ahmad ibn Khalid al-Nasiri:

The sultan had not left a single tribe of the Moroccan Maghreb with either horses nor weapons. Only the Black Guard, the Oudaias, the Ait Imour (a guich tribe) and the Rifans, while the Fezzans began a holy war against Ceuta [alN 22]

The Guerouans learnt this the hard way. Some men of this tribe who carried out raids in the upper course of the Ziz River, on the road to Sijilmassa, drew the attention of Moulay Ismail. He ordered the caid Idrassen Ali ben Ichchou El-Qebli to massacre them. In Ahmad ibn Khalid al-Nasiri's Al-Istiqsa, it is reported that Moulay Ismail provided 10,000 horsemen to Ali ben Ichchou, the caid of the Zemmour and Bni Hakem tribes and told him "I do not want you to return, until you have fallen upon the Gerrouans and unless you bring back to me a heads for each man here." So they left to kill as many of the Guerouans as possible and to pillage their encampments. He offered 10 mithqals to anyone who brought back an additional head. In the end, they collected 12,000. The Sultan was very happy with this and extended Ali ben Ichchou's command to include the Aït Oumalou and Aït Yafelmâl territories, which had just been conquered. [alN 23]

Jean-Baptiste Estelle, the French consul in Salé wrote to his minister, the Marquis de Torcy in 1698,

. that the vast extant of the Sharifan Empire is a single unit from the Mediterranean to the Senegal river. The people who live there, from the north to the south, are Moors who pay the Gharama to the Sultan.

At its height, the Moroccan army contained 100,000 [L 14] to 150,000 black soldiers in the Black Guard, [Arc 6] as well as thousands more in the Guich of the Udaya, [L 11] European renegades and vassal tribes which received land and slaves in exchange for providing soldiers. [L 2]

Later reign and death Edit

The rest of Moulay Ismail's reign was marked by military setbacks and family problems relating to the succession. In May 1692, Moulay Ismail sent his son Moulay Zeydan with a large army to attack Ottoman Algeria. He was defeated by the Ottomans who counter-attacked and advanced as far as the Moulouya River. Ismail had to send an embassy to Algiers to make peace. [H 4] In 1693, Moulay Ismail raided the Oran region and attempted to pillage the Beni Amer which was successful. The city of Oran resisted two attacks, leading to the sultan's retreat. This time, it was the Turks who sent envoys to make peace, at the initiative of the Ottoman Sultan, Ahmed II. [H 3] In 1699, Moulay Ismail participated in the Maghrebi War and was successful in capturing the Beylik of Mascara and advanced as far as the Chelif River, he was then pushed back in the Battle of Chelif in 1701. Moulay Ismail fought other minor conflicts with the Ottoman Algeria such as Laghouat in 1708 which turned out successful.

Ismail attempted to besiege the city of Ceuta with an army of 40,000 soldiers, but the strength of Spanish resistance meant that the siege dragged on. [L 15] [18] Part of Ismail's army also besieged Melilla from 1694 to 1696, but the city's fortifications were too much for them. [L 15] In spring 1701, Moulay Ismail launched another expedition against Algeria. The Moroccan forces advanced to the Chelif River before they were intercepted by the Ottoman army in Chediouïa. With a force of 10,000-12,000 men, the Algerian army managed to defeat the 60,000 soldiers of the Moroccan army. [L 14] The Moroccan army suffered a heavy defeated and fell into disarray. Moulay Ismail himself was wounded and barely escaped. The heads of 3,000 Moroccan soldiers and 50 Moroccan leaders were brought to Algiers. [H 5] In 1702, Moulay Ismail gave his son Moulay Zeydan an army of 12,000 men and instructed him to capture the Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera. The Moroccans razed the Spanish fortress, but failed to retain la Isleta. [L 16] Meanwhile, the English admiral, George Rooke joined in the siege of Ceuta, blockading the port in 1704. [L 15]

Between 1699 and 1700, Moulay Ismail divided the provinces of Morocco between his children. Moulay Ahmed was given responsibility for the province of Tadla and a force of 3,000 Black Guards. Moulay Abdalmalik was entrusted with Draâ province, with a kasbah and 1,000 cavalry. Moulay Mohammed al-Alam received Souss and 3,000 cavalry. Moulay El-Mâmoun commanded Sijilmassa and received 500 cavalry. When he died, he was replaced two years later by Moulay Youssef. Moulay Zeydan received command of Cherg, but he lost it after the Ottomans attacked and Ismail made peace with them. [alN 24] He was then replaced by Moulay Hafid. This division of the realm provoked jealousy and rivalry between Ismail's sons, which sometimes degenerated into open clashes. In one of these, Moulay Abdelmalek was defeated by his brother, Moulay Nasser, who took control of the whole of Draâ. [alN 25] Moulay Sharif was appointed governor of Draâ by his father in place of Abdelmalek and succeeded in retaking the region from Nasser. [alN 26]

In response to the intrigues, slanders and opposition of Lalla Aisha Mubarka, who wanted her son Moulay Zeydan to succeed his father as Sultan, Ismail's eldest son Moulay Mohammed al-Alam revolted in Souss and took control of Marrakesh on 9 March 1703. When Moulay Zeydan arrived with an army, Mohammed al-Alam fled to Taroudant. His brother besieged the place and captured it on 25 June 1704, and took him to Oued Beht on 7 July. [alN 26] Mohammed al-Alam was harshly punished by his father, who amputated one hand and one arm, executing both the butcher who refused to spill Mohammed al-Alam's blood on the grounds that he was a Sharif, and the one who agreed to do it. [L 17] He subsequently eliminated a caid of Marrakesh who had been responsible for Moulay Mohammed al-Alam's acquisition of the city, with exceptional violence. [C1903 1] Moulay al-Alam committed suicide at Meknes on 18 July, despite precautions that his father had put in place to prevent this. [alN 27] On learning of the atrocities which Moulay Zeydan had committed at Taroudant, especially the massacre of the city's inhabitants, [alN 26] Moulay Ismail organised for him to be murdered in 1707, having his wives smother him when he was black-out drunk. [L 17] Moulay Nasser also revolted in Souss, but was eventually killed by the Oulad Delim, who remained loyal to Moulay Ismail. [alN 28]

To prevent further trouble, Moulay Ismail rescinded the governorships that he had conferred on his sons, except for Moulay Ahmed, who retained his post as governor of Tadla and Moulay Abdelmalek who became governor of Souss. [alN 29] Since Abdelmalek behaved like an independent and absolute monarch and refused to pay tribute, Ismail decided to change the order of succession - this was aided by the fact that Abdelmalek's mother was no longer close to him. [L 18] Abdelmalek belatedly apologies, but Ismail remained hostile to his son. [L 19] As a result, Moulay Ismail chose Moulay Ahmed as his successor. [L 20]

In 1720, Philip V of Spain, who wanted to get revenge on Morocco for having aided the Grand Alliance in the War of the Spanish Succession, sent a fleet commanded by the Marquess of Lede to raise the siege of Ceuta which had been ongoing since 1694 and to force the Moroccans to give up on retaking the city. The Spanish fleet managed to raise the siege, but Moulay Ismail resumed it in 1721, after the Marquess of Lede had returned to Spain. The Sultan further planned a large armada for an invasion of Spain, but it was destroyed by a storm in 1722. The siege of Ceuta continued until Ismail's death in 1727. [L 17] [L 15]

Moulay Ismail ibn Sharif finally died on 22 March 1727 at the age of 81, [L 17] from an abscess in his lower abdomen. His reign had lasted 55 years, making him the longest reigning Moroccan monarch. [H 6] He was succeeded by Moulay Ahmed. [L 20] Both he and Ahmed were buried in the same mausoleum in Meknes. [19] The empire immediately fell into civil war, as a result of a rebellion of the Black Guards. More than seven claimants to the throne succeeded to power between 1727 and 1757, some of them repeatedly, like Moulay Abdallah who was Sultan six times. [L 21]

Appearance, personality, and contemporary assessments Edit

The main character traits of Moulay Ismail, according to the chronicles and legends of his period, were his "tendency to order and authority, as well as his iron will." He put his strength and power at the service of this unyielding will, "If God gave me the kingship, man cannot take it from me," he is reported to have said. This will was always apparent in his actions and decisions. [20] According to Dominique Busnot, the colour of his clothes was linked to his mood,

Green is the sweetest colour white is a good sign for those appealing to him but when he is dressed in yellow, all the world trembles and flees his presence, because it is the colour that he chooses on the days of his bloodiest executions.

By contemporary Europeans, Moulay Ismail was considered cruel, greedy, merciless and duplicitous. It was his cruelty and viciousness that particularly attracted their attention. Legends of the ease in which Ismail could behead or torture laborers or servants he thought to be lazy are numerous. According to a Christian slave, Moulay Ismail had more than 36,000 people killed over a 26-year period of his reign. [C1903 2] [21] According to François Pidou de Saint Olon, Moulay Ismail had 20,000 assassinated people over a twenty-year period of his reign. [C1903 3] He was described by many authors, including Dominique Busnot, as a "bloodthirsty monster." [C1903 4] [22]

He was also a very good horseman, with great physical strength, agility, and extraordinary cleverness, which he maintained even in his old age. [L 17] [C1903 3] "One of his normal entertainments was to draw his sword as he mounted his horse and decapitate the slave who held the stirrup."

His physical appearance is almost always described in the same way by the Europeans. He had "a long face, more black than white, i.e. very mulatto," according to Saint-Amans, ambassador of Louis XIV, who added that "he is the strongest and most vigourous man of his State." He was of average height and he inherited the colour of his face from his mother, who had been a black slave. [L 17] [L 1]

According to Germain Moüette, a French captive who lived in Morocco until 1682:

He is a vigourous man, well-built, quite tall but rather slender. his face is a clear brown colour, rather long, and its features are all quite well-formed. He has a long beard which is slightly forked. His expression, which seems quite soft, is not a sign of his humanity - on the contrary, he is very cruel. [L 22]

Religion Edit

"A faithful and pious follower of his religion," [C1903 5] he attempted to convert King James II of England to Islam, sending him letters whose sincerity and religious feeling are inarguable. [C1903 6] Dominique Busnot, who was generally critical of Ismail, asserted that "he had a great attachment to his Law and publicly practised all the ceremonies, ablutions, prayers, fasts, and feasts with scrupulous precision." [C1903 7]

He enjoyed debating theology with the Trinitarians in Morocco on points of controversy. On many occasions when returning from the mosque on Fridays, he asked for Trinitarians to be brought into his court. During a debate with the fathers of Mercy, he said this:

I have said enough for a man who uses reason if you are stubborn, that is too bad. We are all children of Adam and therefore brothers it is only religion which creates a difference between us. It is therefore, as a brother and in obedience to the commandments of my law that I charitably advise you that the true religion is that of Muhammad, which is the only one in which one can find salvation. I give you this advice for the sake of my conscience and in order to be justified in charging you on the day of judgment.

Construction Edit

Moulay Ismail chose Meknes as Morocco's capital city in 1672 and carried out an extensive building program there that resulted in the construction of numerous gates, mosques, gardens and madrases. On account of the rate of construction, Ismail is often compared to his contemporary Louis XIV. The Saadian El Badi Palace in Marrakesh was stripped of almost all its fittings, so that they could be transported to Meknes. [C1903 9] Marble blocks and pillars were also taken from the ancient Roman ruins at Volubilis. [23] [C1903 7] At least 25,000 workers, mostly paid labourers along with a smaller number of Christian prisoners conscripted into forced labour, were employed on his major construction projects in Meknes. [24] [25] Ismail enjoyed visiting the building sites, to correct or revise whatever did not please him. He was sometimes cruel to the workers and did not hesitate to execute or punish those who produced poor quality work. [C1903 10] [ unreliable source? ]

He began the construction of his magnificent palace complex at Meknes before learning of the work being undertaken by Louis XIV at Versailles. According to European ambassadors present at Meknes in the period, the fortification walls of the palace alone were more than twenty-three kilometres long. Dar al-Kebira, the first of his palaces, was completed after three years of building and was immense, with hanging gardens modelled on those of Babylon. As soon as it was complete, he laid the foundations of Dar al-Makhzen, which linked together around fifty different palaces, containing their own hammams and its own mosque for his wives, concubines, and children. This was followed by Madinat er-Riyad, the residence of the viziers, governors, caids, secretaries and other high functionaries of Ismail's court, which the historian Ahmad ibn Khalid al-Nasiri called 'the beauty of Meknes'. [26] [alN 30]

In the economic sphere, Moulay Ismail built within his citadel the Heri es-Souani, a major storehouse of foodstuffs which was fed by wells, and the Agdal or Sahrij Reservoir which was dug in order to ensure a regular water supply for the gardens of Meknes. [27] [28] Massive stables with a capacity of 12,000 horses were located inside the Heri es-Souani. Ambassadors were received in the Qubbat al-Khayyatin pavilion which he built at the end of the seventeenth century. He also built prisons to hold criminals, Christian slaves, and prisoners of war. Finally, Ismail built or restored in Meknes a large number of mosques, madrasas, public squares, kasbahs, fountains, city gates, and gardens. Construction continued throughout his whole reign. [29]

In the military sphere, Ismail ordered the construction of a network of sixty-seven fortresses, which lined the main roads and surrounded mountainous areas. Meknes was protected by forty kilometres of walls, pierced by twenty gatehouses. [29] Control over the eastern part of the country was ensured by the construction of many strong forts along the border with Ottoman Algeria. Others were built in the territory of individual tribes, to maintain the peace. [12] He also built defensive structures along the route from the Oasis of Touat to the Chenguit provinces, [11] and reorganised or rebuilt the walls of some cities on the model of Oujda. [alN 12] Garrisons of the Black Guards were protected by the construction of Kasbahs in major population centres, modelled on the Kasbah of Gnawa in Sale. [L 23] [30]

Military reforms Edit

Army reforms Edit

Around 1677, Moulay Ismail began to assert his authority over the whole country. Once he had killed and disabled his principal opponents, he was able to return to Meknes in order to organise his empire. [alN 9] It was during this fighting that he had the idea of creating the corps of the Abid al-Bukhari or Black Guard. [alN 31] [L 14]

The Alaouite army was principally composed of soldiers from the Saharan provinces and the provinces on the margin of the Sahara, such as Tafilalet, Souss, western Sahara, and Mauritania - the home of Khnata bent Bakkar, one of the four official wives of Ismail. The Banu Maqil, who inhabited these areas in great numbers, thus represented the foremost contingents of the Alaouites until the middle of Moulay Ismail's reign, as they had under the Saadian dynasty. Several jayshes originated from these Arab tribes. The Alaouites could also count on the tribes of the Oujda region, which had been conquered by Muhammad ibn Sharif. [Arc 7] The jaysh tribes were exempted from import taxes in order to compensate them and were given land in exchange for their troops. [5] [L 2]

Additionally, Moulay Ismail was able to make use of European renegades' knowledge and experience of artillery, when he formed them into a military corps, [L 2] as well as the Arab-Zenata Jaysh ash-Sheraka, [31] which Rashid ibn Sharif had originally installed in the area north of Fez. [Arc 8] Khlot and Sherarda, tribes of Banu Hilal, were given the rank of Makhzen and formed several contingents in the Moroccan army. [Arc 8] He also founded Jaysh al-Rifi, an independent army of Berber tribesmen from the eastern Rif. This group later played an important role in the 17th-century Moroccan wars against Spanish colonization. [32]

However, Ismail could not rely solely on these tribes, because they had a long history of independence and could change sides or desert him at any moment. [Arc 8] Thus he decided to create Morocco's first professional army, the Black Guard or Abid al-Bukhari, who were entirely beholden to him, unlike the tribal contingents. [Arc 6] After the Siege of Marrakesh in 1672, he imported a large number of black male slaves from Sub-Saharan Africa and recruited many of the free black men in Morocco for his army. The initial contingent numbered perhaps 14,000 men. [L 23] The Black Guard was rapidly expanded, reaching 150,000 men towards the end of Ismail's reign. [alN 32] [33] [34] The guards received a military education from age ten until their sixteenth birthday, when they were enlisted in the army. They were married to black women who had been raised in the royal palace like them. [Arc 6]

Moulay Ismail also created the Jaysh al-Udaya, [alN 9] which is to be distinguished from the tribe of Udaya. [35] The guich was divided into three reha. The first of these reha was the Ahl Souss (house of Souss), which was composed of four Banu Maqil Arab tribes of Souss: Ulad Jerrar, Ulad Mtâa, Zirara, and the Chebanate. [alN 9] In the 16th century, these tribes had formed the core of the Saadian army, [35] against the Jashem Arabs of Rharb who were part of Banu Hilal and included the Khlot and Safiane, who had supported the Marinid dynasty of Fez. [alN 9] The second reha was the M'ghafra of Mauritania, who were descended from Banu Maqil. Khnata bent Bakkar came from this group. The third reha contained the members of the tribe of Udaya itself. They were a powerful desert tribe who were originally from the Adrar Plateau and were formidable camel riders. Shortly before Moulay Ismail's reign, they had moved north and they were found in Souss under Moulay Ismail. After he reconquered Marrakesh in 1674, Ismail encountered a poor shepherd of the Udaya called Bou-Chefra and learnt that his people had been forced to leave the desert because of the drought and were originally Banu Maqil like himself. Sympathising with their plight, the Sultan decided to turn them into an elite division of his army. [alN 33]

The Jaysh al-Udaya became a major portion of the Sultan's army, governed by the principle of makhzen in which land was granted to soldiers in exchange for military service. According to the historian Simon Pierre, "After the Alaouite conquest, the people of the Maghreb had been despoiled and disarmed and, except for one Berber tribe and the Rifians, only the Abid al-Bukhari and the Udaya exercised the monopoly on violence. Thirty years later, at the death of Moulay Ismail in 1727, it was the caids of the Abid al-Bukhari and the Udaya who joined with the ulama of Meknes and the ministers to choose sultan Moulay Ahmed Adh-Dhahabî!" [35] However, other sources state that Moulay Ismail had designated him as his successor before his death. [L 20] Regardless, during the period of anarchy after Ismail's death, the Udaya certainly played a major role in deposing several Sultans along with the Abid al-Bukhari. [35]

Defensive organisation Edit

By the end of his reign, Ismail had built more than 76 kasbahs and military posts throughout his territory. Each kasbah was defended by a force of at least 100 soldiers drawn from the jaysh tribes or the Black Guard. [Arc 6] Moroccan forces were stationed in all the major cities and provincial capitals. For example, there were 3,000 Sheraka, 4,500 Sherarda and 2,000 Udaya stationed around Fez, which formed a defensive cordon against the unsubjugated Berber tribes in the area. [36]

The kasbahs ensured the defence of the eastern border, where there was a heavy Moroccan military presence, but they also protected the main lines of communication within the kingdom and facilitated the control of unsubjugated tribes, [Arc 9] by continuously raiding them. [Arc 10]


Idris I (known as Moulay Idris) was a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad who fled from Abbasid-controlled territory after the Battle of Fakh because he had supported the defeated pro-Shi'a rebels. [2] He established himself at Oualili (Volubilis), a formerly Roman town which by then was mostly inhabited by Berbers and a small population of Judeo-Christian heritage. [3] He used his prestige as a descendant of the Prophet to forge an alliance with local Berber tribes (in particular the Awraba) in 789 and quickly became the most important religious and political leader in the region. As the old site of Roman Volubilis was located on an open plain and considered vulnerable, the settlement moved up a few kilometers towards the mountains, presumably around the site of the current town of Moulay Idriss, leaving the old Roman ruins abandoned. [4] : 22

Idris I died soon after in 791, possibly poisoned on the order of the Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid, just before his son Idris (II) was born. [2] [3] Once Idris II came of age and officially took over his position as ruler in 803, he continued his father's endeavors and significantly expanded the authority of the new Idrisid state. As a result, the Idrisid dynasty was of central importance to the early Islamization of Morocco, forming the first true "Islamic" state to consolidate power over much of its territory. [2] They also founded the important city of Fes, about 50 kilometres away, which became the Idrisid capital under Idris II. [2] [5]

The early history of Moulay Idriss Zerhoun (sometimes called simply Moulday Idriss [6] [7] ) as a town is not widely discussed by historians. A mausoleum for Idris I presumably existed on this site, overlooking Volubilis/Oualili, since his death. The tomb was probably placed inside a qubba (general term for a domed building or structure), and the name Oualili was eventually replaced by the name Moulay Idriss. [1] [4] Some anti-Idrisid rulers in 10th-century Fes claimed that Idris II was also buried here (instead of in his alleged tomb in Fes itself), though he is widely believed to be buried in Fes, where his mausoleum and mosque is still a site of major importance today. [8]

Although the town became a site of pilgrimage early on, after Idris II it was quickly overshadowed by Fes, which became the most important city of the region. [4] The popularity of Idris I and his son as Muslim "saints" and figures of national importance was not constant throughout Morocco's history, with their status declining significantly after the end of Idrisid influence in the 10th century. [8] [3] The Almoravids, the next major Moroccan dynasty after them, were hostile to the cult of saints and other practices judged less orthodox under their stricter views of Islam. [2] It was only during the Marinid period, from the 14th century onward, that the Idrisid founders became celebrated again and that their religious importance redeveloped. [4] An early sign of this was the alleged rediscovery of Idris I's remains in 1318, at Moulay Idris Zerhoun, which apparently caused something of a sensation among the local population and attracted attention from the Marinid authorities. [9] [3] : 180 During this time, the annual moussem (religious festival) in August, celebrating Moulay Idris I, was instituted and began to take shape. [4] : 100

The mausoleum itself apparently remained little changed for many centuries. [1] Under the sharifian dynasties of Morocco, the Saadians and (especially) the Alaouites, who also claimed descent from the Prophet Muhammad, the status of Idris I and II as foundational figures in Moroccan history was further elevated in order to enhance the new dynasties' own legitimacy. [8] Moulay Ismail, the powerful and long-reigning Alaouite sultan between 1672 and 1727, ordered the existing mausoleum to be demolished and rebuilt on a grander scale. Adjoining properties were purchased for the purpose. Construction lasted from 1719 to 1721. [1] Once finished, Moulay Ismail ordered that the khutba (Friday sermon) be performed regularly in the mausoleum's mosque, which established it as the main Friday mosque of the city. [1] In 1822, the Alaouite sultan Moulay Abderrahman (Abd al-Rahman), purchased another property adjoining the mausoleum in order to rebuild the mosque on an even bigger and more lavish scale. [1] Under Sultan Sidi Mohammed (Mohammed IV ruled 1859-1873), some expert ceramic tilework decoration was added by the Meknesi artisan Ibn Makhlouf. [1]

Following Moroccan independence in 1956, the mausoleum was redecorated and the mosque expanded yet again by King Mohammed V and his son Hassan II. [1] To this day, Idris's tomb is a pilgrimage site and the center of a popular moussem (religious festival) every August. [1] [7] The gold-embroidered covering over his tomb is replaced regularly every one or two years during its own ritual attended by religious and political figures. [1] Due to its status as a holy city and sanctuary, the town was off-limits to non-Muslims until 1912, and non-Muslims were not able to stay overnight until 2005. [7]

Since 1995, Moulay Idriss Zerhoun has been on UNESCO's Tentative list of World Heritage Sites. [10]

The town is currently in the Fès-Meknès region. From 1997 to 2015 it was in Meknès-Tafilalet. [ citation needed ] The ruins of the Berber and Roman city of Volubilis are located just five kilometers away. [7] Idris I took many materials from here in order to build his town. Further away are the cities of Meknes (about 28 km away by road [1] ) and Fez (about 50 km away).

The town is located on two adjacent foothills of the Zerhoun mountains, the Khiber and the Tasga, which form the town's two main districts. [6] Between these is the mausoleum and religious complex of Moulay Idris. The Khiber is the taller of the two hills and its summit offers views over the religious complex and the rest of town. [6] The Sentissi Mosque and the Mausoleum-mosque of Sidi Abdallah el Hajjam are also located near the top of the Khiber hill. [6]

Zawiya of Moulay Idris I Edit

The zawiya (a religious complex including a mausoleum, mosque, and other amenities also spelled zaouia) of Moulay Idris is located at the center of town, with its entrance just off the main town square. [7] It is reached then reached via a long passage that leads to the main building. This includes the mausoleum chamber, recognizable from afar by its huge green-tiled pyramidal roof, and a mosque area. [1] [6] [7] It also has a tall minaret with a square shaft, typical of Moroccan architecture. The decoration is rich and dates from the Alaouite period, including from the 20th century. [1] The zawiya is off limits to non-Muslims. [7]

Cylindrical Minaret Edit

The Sentissi Mosque, built in 1939 by a local man after his return from the hajj in Mecca. [6] [11] It allegedly has the only cylindrical minaret in Morocco. [6] [12] The minaret is covered in a background of green tiles with white Kufic-style Arabic letters spelling out a surah from the Qur'an. [6] The mosque is now a Qur'anic school (madrasa), and is also referred to as the Medersa Idriss. [6]

The Opulent Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail in Morocco

The Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail, Meknès, Morocco. Moulay Ismaïl Ibn Sharif, also known as the “Warrior King”, was the ruler of Moroccan Alaouite dynasty. During his reign he built Meknès and made it Morocco’s capital. The 18th century’s Mausoleum is the resting place of the most famous and notorious sultans of the country, including Ibn Sharif.

Today it is believed that coming to the site will bring a divine blessing to the visitor. The building is also a fine example of Islamic architecture and opulent design. Non-Muslims are partly allowed to view the site, but not all of it – however, it is the only one building of the kind in Morocco, which would be open for the tourists at all.

Why to go there?

One of the most highly regarded architectural sites by the Moroccans themselves. Definitely one of the most popular and best attractions in Meknès.

When to go there?

The site is open daily at 9:00-18:00 except Friday.

How to get there?

It is located in the city center, a short walk from the Royal Palace. Get to Meknès by train or bus from various Moroccan cities. The best way to get around is by taxi.

Courtyard of the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail. - stock photo

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Agdal basin

The stone-lined lake of Agdal was both a reservoir and a pleasant lake. It was fed by irrigation canals 25 km long.
The basin still very much serves the function of being a local retreat, and families come out here frequently for picnics.

The medina of Meknes is just about big enough, and a lively place. The traditional organization of putting similar type of shops and professions in the same quarter very much lives on here.

Meknes has large areas known as qissariya, which are covered markets.
Quality of work here is generally of the better you will find in Morocco, and prices can be among the more affordable. Visitors to Meknes, who have good skills in haggling, should definitely consider picking up their souvenirs here.

Meknes has a very nice olive market — Morocco has some of the finest olives in the world — where olives from the region around the city, as well as other parts of Morocco, are sold.

Even if the quality is great, look out for high prices. This guy was reasonable, with 10 dh per kilo for most olives, and 12 DH for spiced olives. But just a few meters from him, prices were hiked up, and 30- 40 DH per kilo was the going price.

The Dar Jamaļ was built in 1882 to the vizier family Jamaļ. However, after the mansion’s completion, there were only 12 years more before they fell into disgrace. The mansion was lost in the same debacle.

Since 1920, it has served as a museum, and it now ranks among Morocco’s best. Its exhibits vary from time to time but focus on traditional items, ceramics, textiles, jewelry, and more.

To the mansion is also what is called the Andalucian Garden, where cypress and fruit trees dominate.
Admission is 20dh, open only 3 days a week, Monday-Wednesday, 9.00-12.00 and 15-18.30.

This Muslim school was completed in 1358 and named after Sultan Abu Inan. It has very nice examples of zellij mosaics and wood carvings. Look out for the ribbed dome over the entrance hall, which is the building’s most unique asset.

From its roof, there are nice views over the Great Mosque.
Typically Moroccan, non-Muslims are not permitted into large sections of the madrasa.

Kasbah of Moulay Ismail

The Kasbah of Moulay Ismail is a vast palace complex and royal kasbah (citadel) built by the Moroccan sultan Moulay Isma'il ibn Sharif (also spelled "Ismail") in Meknes, Morocco. It is also known, among other names, as the Imperial City (French: Ville Impériale) or Palace of Moulay Ismail, or the Kasbah of Meknes. [1] [2] [3] It was built by Moulay Isma'il over the many decades of his reign between 1672 and 1727, when he made Meknes the capital of Morocco, and received occasional additions under later sultans.

In addition to Moulay Isma'il's own importance in the history of Morocco, his imperial palace in Meknes was notable for its vast scale and its complex infrastructure. The area covered by the kasbah was significantly larger than the old city of Meknes itself and operated as its own city with its own fortifications, water supply, food stockpiles, and troops. Historians later nicknamed it the "Moroccan Versailles". [4] [3] [5] Today, many of the buildings from Moulay Isma'il's era have disappeared or fallen into ruin, but some notable monumental structures remain. A part of the area, the Dar al-Makhzen, is still in use as an occasional royal residence of the King of Morocco, while other sections of the complex have been converted to other functions or replaced with general residential neighbourhoods. [4]


A striking sight, visible for miles on the bends of the approach roads, the Roman ruins of VOLUBILIS occupy the ledge of a long, high plateau, 25km north of Meknes. Below their walls, towards Moulay Idriss, stretches a rich river valley beyond lie the dark, outlying ridges of the Zerhoun mountains. The drama of this scene – and the scope of the ruins themselves – are undeniably impressive, so much so that the site was a key location for Martin Scorsese’s film The Last Temptation of Christ.

Brief history of Volubilis

Except for a small trading post on an island off Essaouira, Volubilis was the Roman Empire’s most remote and far-flung base. It represented – and was, literally – the end of the imperial road, having reached across France and Spain and then down from Tangier, and despite successive emperors’ dreams of “penetrating the Atlas”, the southern Berber tribes were never effectively subdued.

In fact, direct Roman rule here lasted little over two centuries – the garrison withdrew early, in 285 AD, to ease pressure elsewhere. But the town must have taken much of its present form well before the official annexation of the Kingdom of Mauretania by Emperor Claudius in 40 AD. Tablets found on the site, inscribed in Punic, show a significant Carthaginian trading presence in the third century BC, and prior to colonization it was the western capital of a heavily Romanized, but semi-autonomous, Berber kingdom that reached into northern Algeria and Tunisia. After the Romans left, Volubilis experienced very gradual change. Latin was still spoken in the seventh century by the local population of Berbers, Greeks, Syrians and Jews Christian churches survived until the coming of Islam and the city itself remained active well into the seventeenth century, when its marble was carried away by slaves for the building of Moulay Ismail’s Meknes.

What you see today, well excavated and maintained, are largely the ruins of second- and third-century AD buildings – impressive and affluent creations from its period as a colonial provincial capital. The land around here is some of the most fertile in North Africa, and the city exported wheat and olives in considerable quantities to Rome, as it did wild animals from the surrounding hills. Roman games, memorable for the sheer scale of their slaughter (nine thousand beasts were killed for the dedication of Rome’s Colosseum alone), could not have happened without the African provinces, and Volubilis was a chief source of their lions – within just two hundred years, along with Barbary bears and elephants, they became extinct.

The site

The entrance to the site is through a minor gate in the city wall – or through a break in the wall further down, depending on construction work – built along with a number of outer camps in 168 AD, following a prolonged series of Berber insurrections. The best of the finds, which include a superb collection of bronzes, have been taken to the Archeological Mueseum in Rabat, though Volubilis has retained in situ the great majority of its mosaics, some thirty or so, which are starting to show the effects of being exposed to the elements. The finest mosaics line the Decumanus Maximus, the main thoroughfare through Volubilis, but aside from those subjected to heavy-handed restoration, the once brightly coloured tiles have faded to a subtle palette of ochres and greys. Similarly, the site requires a bit of imagination to reconstruct a town (or, at least, half a town, for the original settlement was twice the size of what remains today) from the jumble of low walls and stumpy columns. Nevertheless, you leave with a real sense of Roman city life and its provincial prosperity, while it is not hard to recognize the essentials of a medieval Arab town in the layout.

Watch the video: Visit Meknes: Grand Imperial City and Moulay Ismail Tomb