By Antonio Malara
Meknès was the seventh Moroccan city that I visited during a trip taken together with my sister and a group in January 2019. We reached Meknès after lunch, on a day where in the morning we had visited first Volubilis and then Moulay Idriss. Unfortunately it was not planned to spend the night in Meknès because it was not considered of particular importance or rather it was considered a smaller version of Fès. However, as I wrote in one of the first posts about Morocco, I was very curious about Meknès after reading an article where it was said that this city was even more characteristic and beautiful than Fès.
Before arriving in the center of Meknès, the guide took us in a panoramic point from where we could see the city. It was a bit reminiscent of what I described in Fès, however Meknès was a little smaller but no less beautiful. Although the city was located on a hill, from the panoramic point we could see it a little flattened to the horizon and this was because we were not very high up. The city was yellow in color, "leaning" against the green vegetation with a minaret which from my perspective remained right in the center of the scene. The view was pleasant and it gave me a particular sensation because seeing a city in its entirety before even exploring it up close gave me an idea of wandering like in cartoons set in the nineteenth century, where the protagonist often had the same approach. with the city, or from a panoramic point of view. That kind of view was an invitation and a challenge at the same time, that kind of approach to a city was definitely something for adventurers.
The bus dropped us off right near “Bab El Khemis”, the entrance to the city, a work that certainly did not go unnoticed. This majestic gate was sand colored, with two large towers on the sides and a central door decorated in arabesque. The style was very reminiscent of the royal palaces that I described in both the Marrakech and Fès posts but if I'm honest, Bab El Khemis seemed bigger to me. The gate immediately caught my attention, so much so that I immediately started taking dozens of photos, however it was considered normal by the guide who didn't let us stop to admire it better. Right in front of the door there was a sort of square with greenery, I'm sure that from there the view would have been even more beautiful and majestic, increasing the perception of grandeur. We went through the door from a side entrance where I was always at the back of the group because I was so fascinated by that work and I couldn't stop photographing it even from the less beautiful part, that is, the one from inside the city. After crossing Bab El Khemis, we immediately found ourselves in the heart of the Medina, characterized by the typical narrow streets which in this case were totally pedestrian. What I immediately perceived in Meknès was that the Medina had something that the others did not have and that not even that of Essaouira could match; colors. Much more varied, decorative and present everywhere, combinations born from the soul; fuchsia and blue together with yellow, light blue or combinations such as yellow and pink. All the houses were completely colored in the most complex combinations. In general, even because of colors, the narrow streets looked newer than those I had seen elsewhere but the more run-down streets gave more of a poetic sense than of poverty and abandonment.
But the real surprise was when we entered the market street; The colors of the houses had a more worn look, with parts of the plaster missing, in the market street the magical colors blended in an unreal way with the fruit and vegetables that the sellers had displayed in what looked like a city rainbow. The colors of Meknès were the fifth essence of those seen in the other Medinas of Morocco, even more saturated and bright than those of Essaouira, the people there had a predisposition for colors and their combinations because even the bowls with fruit or the benches where street artists placed their works, they were of vibrant and refined colors, nothing was left to chance. There are dozens and dozens of photos that I have taken during my travels and that I love very much, but in my room, I actually have two prints of the Medina of Meknès, two photos with surreal colors. Beyond the chromatic uniqueness of the city, another fun thing that I noticed while walking through the market were the counterfeit clothing and accessories but in a personal way as if to circumvent illegality. Original accessories where for example a socks sneakers it had the Balonciaga brand.
Our walk inside the Medina and through the narrow and busy market street lasted about half an hour, the road ended in El Hedhim square which opened up to our eyes suddenly and without warning. This square even in the way we saw it, it was unreal! Very wide, deep and rectangular in shape, the square ended on a large road with a lot of traffic, beyond which you could glimpse the Bab Mansour gate. El Hedhim had two yellow surrounding walls along the sides, at the foot of these walls there were large turrets, five on each side. These structures looked like giant gazebos except that the ones that were properly visible were only on one side because on the other there was an endless line of shops that partially covered these turrets. In these bazaars they sold everything, especially typical accessories such as the terracotta pot for cooking tajin but there were also restaurants and bars. The square was very populated by both local people and tourists but it never gave a sense of claustrophobia because the place was very large and articulated so the people were spread out evenly. There too, first alone and then together with my sister, I took many photos. The square had positively surprised me and I wanted personal memories, a vision of the place that was only mine.
As I said before, the square on the opposite side to where we had arrived overlooked Bab Mansour. This gate was made up of three arches; a larger central one that served as an entrance while the smaller lateral ones seemed to be designed as decorative. On the sides of the arches there were also two white columns. The gate was set in a pink surrounding wall, however it was decorated with a predominance of green so although there were other colors, looking at it both from afar and up close, it looked green. It was majestic, wide and tall with people who could be seen very small in front of the entrance. What gave the gate a somewhat strange and disturbing appearance was its location on a sloping street, Bab Mansour seemed as if cut or shortened on one side, the door had an appearance that was both masterful and precarious at the same time. From an aesthetic point of view, that uneven location bothered me a little bit.
Just a few steps from Bab Mansour the bus picked us up to take us to the last destination of Meknès. In reality the visit was not guaranteed, it seems to me that there was a problem regarding the closing time and in any case our guide had given us a maximum time to respect if we wanted to make the last visit. He welcomed us very hastily, telling us to hurry because there was time to visit the famous royal stables. To be honest I didn't know anything about these stables, I found myself in the vortex created by the guide and in the general excitement of the group. After just fifteen minutes of travel, the driver dropped us off at the royal stables. The complex of structures we entered was so large that almost everyone scattered, me even before the others. Inside there was a continuous design of arches, both the shape of the ceiling and that of the doors where one passed from one "room" to another. But the thing that struck me and that immediately pushed me to take photos, even forgetting where I was, was the size. Even though it was a place intended to house and care for horses, the interior of the structure was decidedly gigantic and I mean everything from the doors to the exaggeratedly high ceiling. I don't know if the horses of that time were of other sizes but the fact is that those rooms were proportionally large, as if they had been created for much larger people and animals. One aspect that I personally liked was the fact that there was nothing in the individual rooms, a sort of residential desert. I enjoyed wandering around those empty, sandy and disproportionately sized rooms but my amazement reached its peak when I found myself in front of an absurdly high door. It was a decorated wooden door which in the lower part saw two other small doors which were the access for those of our size. There I asked for my sister's help to take some photos of me next to the door, a way to perceive its grandeur. As I continued walking around, I noticed that doors of that size were normal in that place.
The complex also had an external part or at least there were an infinite series of walls with arches but without any roof, I don't know if there was one originally. The external part always maintained exaggerated proportions and the large walls were more striking for their thickness than their height. From some points I could see the perspective of the series of arches one behind the other, a very unique perception of diagonal depth also due to the size of those arched structures. There too I started taking photos playing with both perspective and symmetry, it was impressive how I could create photos by immortalizing the series of arches even diagonally, for me it was a play but the structures were really large. In total we stayed there for about fifteen minutes but it was an unexpected visit, one of those that surprised me precisely because I knew nothing about the place and its existence. Since then I have taken both photos and reflections on that place only now to write this post. I must say that the royal stables deserve a more in-depth and independent study because even if we admit that they were built for the maintenance of horses, we would have to ask ourselves the reason for those disproportions.
Unfortunately our visit to Meknès ended after seeing the royal stables, after which our journey continued towards Rabat, the last stop on that long journey through Morocco. Meknès left me more satisfied than I thought even though I had high expectations. It is clear that seeing it, rather than comparing it to Fès, I personally feel like placing it for what it is; a city with its own personality. From the large gates to the colors both natural and artificial, the city not only offered many things to see but also a positive energy, a sort of city with a carefree and creative soul, which did not respect the classic rules. It was as if everything was allowed in Meknès, coloring the walls and embellishing its shops in a multi-chromatic way, like in a rainbow the symbol of life and freedom. That time in Meknès was very relaxing and stimulating for me, something not planned but an external state of mind that was independent of my will. When this happens it means that there is something magical in the place I visit, probably Meknès had this characteristic which rather than diminished has increased over time.
Pictures: Antonio Malara
Camera: Fujifilm XT-3