A tour to the Imperial cities: Marrakech, Fez, Meknes and Rabat
The best way to get to know Morocco is to visit the four Imperial Cities: Marrakech, Fez, Rabat and Meknes. They have been the capital of the country at some point in its history and each has its own personality and appeal.
Your trip will start in Rabat, capital of Morocco since 1921 when Marshal Lyautey chose it as the seat of the administrative government of the French protectorate. Some of the reasons were its more or less central location within the country and, above all, the mild temperatures tempered by the Atlantic.
In the oldest part of the city you will find the Kasbah of the Udayas an impenetrable fortress with thick and photogenic walls. Inside, you will find a parallel universe of blue and white streets within the capital. The bicolor is broken randomly with ornamented house portals that add a yellowish ochre touch. Its resemblance to the noble doors of Spanish houses is explained because this neighborhood was built by Muslims who had fled the peninsula after the conquer of the Al-Andalus kingdom.
Another landmark in the city is the Mausoleum of Mohamed V and Tower of Hassan. The imposing Hassan Tower and the forest of thick columns are the remains of what was meant to be one of the biggest mosques on the planet. The building commissioned by the Almohad Sultan Yaqub al-Mansur in the 12th century was left incomplete after his death.
From the Hassan Tower Mohamed V announced the independence of Morocco in 1955. The symbolic value of the site triggered the construction of his mausoleum and the following Alaouite dynasty monarchs. In 2012 Rabat achieved the coveted label of ‘World Heritage Site’ thanks to its reinvention as a modern city but respectful of the past.
Your trip will continue to Meknes. The origins of Meknes date back to the 8th century, when a kasbah was built on the site. A Berber tribe known as Meknasa settled in that area in the 10th century and a village grew around the fortress.
It was the capital of the country from 1672 to 1727 under the rule of Sultan Mulay Ismail, however after his death the capital was moved to Fez.
The great work left by the Sultan was Bab Mansour the gateway to the city of Meknes, the largest in Morocco and North Africa. It is about 16 meters high and has a pointed horseshoe arch with mosaic decoration on its upper part. A great example of Moroccan architecture!
Photo: Chris Martin. Adapted under license (CC BY-SA 2.0)
In 1996, UNESCO included Meknes in the World Heritage Site list, for its representative character of an urban complex which harmoniously combines elements of Islamic and European design and planning.
For many, Fez is the religious and cultural capital of Morocco. Its medina is still the most unspoiled and less modernized medina in the Arab world and one of the largest vehicle-free spaces on the planet! The “official” transportation inside are donkeys just like in the 8th century when it was built.
The medina of Fez is pure chaos, you will get lost (many of its alleys are unnamed) but that is part of the charm, so just relax and enjoy. The main activity in the medina has been the craft of leather goods. The tanneries, where skins are treated and painted, are the most recognizable image of the city.
Among the organized chaos of the Medina a big wall with colorful doors and green roof tiles appears like a massive contradiction. It is the entrance to Al Karaouine Mosque and University. It was founded in 859 and it has been teaching students since then, what grants it the title of the oldest university in the world.
A very interesting visit and the only Muslim monuments where non-Muslims are allowed inside, are the madrasas or Koranic schools. The beautiful patios decorated with tiles and carved wood in different geometric and floral forms will give you a break of the hustle and bustle of the nearby streets.
A long road trip through the changing landscapes of the Moroccan countryside will take you to Marrakech, the last but not least stop in your journey.
Marrakech is the land of the Berbers, the walled imperial fortress that served as a bastion for the caravan routes to Black Africa, the pink city of Moorish tales and legends, the playground of sultans and emirs, the retreat and rest of kings.
Although it is known as the Red City, the truth is that Marrakech is the city of a thousand colors. Of the thousand contrasts, of the thousand aromas. At the moment you cross any of the gates of the wall that surrounds the Medina, you will enter a maze of narrow streets with squares, markets, mosques and palaces, on the whole is more tourist-friendly than Fez’s medina but not for that it lack of charm.
Walk without hurry, stop in the details, taste the local food and discover the history that hides each of its stones. The minaret of the Koutoubia, the 12th century Mosque will be your beacon and will help you find your way more or less easily!
Marrakech has a modern vibe, open to the world and shelter of many foreigners, artists and intellectuals that have given the city a bohemian and festive air.
Among them, the figure of Yves Saint Laurent outstands. The gardens of his home, Jardin Majorelle, are a realm of peace and a must see. Recently the Museum Yves Saint Lauren opened its doors to honor such distinguished citizen. The building is the perfect example of Morocco slowly opening to the world!