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Last updated : Nov 2009
Imperial Cities
Imperial Cities - TravelPuppy.com
Marrakech, Fès, Meknes and Rabat are known as the Imperial Cities, each having been Morocco’s capital at some time during its history.

Rabat

Rabat, the present capital of the country, was founded during the 12th century. It is a town of trees and flowers, several monumental gateways, including the Oudaias Kasbah Gate and the Gate of the Ambassadors. There is a great selection of hotels and many pavement cafes. The nearby Mamora forest and the numerous beaches are very popular tourist attractions, particularly in the summer.

Other attractions include Tour Hassan, the grandiose minaret of a vast, unfinished 12th-century mosque, the Mohammed V Mausoleum, an exceptional example of traditional Moroccan architecture, the Royal Palace; the Chellah, with great monuments, delightful gardens and Roman ruins.

The Oudaias, the Archaeological Museum, the National Museum of Handicrafts and the antique Moorish cafe are also among the attractions. The battlements adjoining the town, and part of the new city, date from the mid-12th century. Also worth a visit is Salé, Rabat’s twin city, at the opposite side of the river, believed to have been founded during the 11th century.

Meknes

Meknes is confined by battlements, flanked by towers and bastions. The city suggests the power and the constructive genius of King Moulay Ismail, a contemporary of Louis XIV, who ruled Morocco for fifty five years.

The Djebel Habri and Michlifen are 2 ski resorts above Meknes. The city boasts a magnificent souk and the old town is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Excursions

About 30 kilometres (19 miles) from Meknes, the Roman ruins at Volubilis are on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. Excavations and ruins dating back to the 3rd century can be visited for a diminutive admission fee and there is also an interesting archaeological museum on site.

Fès

Fès is the most ancient and striking of the imperial cities, built in the 8th century, it has more history and mystery than anywhere else in Morocco. Officially consisting of 2 cities – El Bali and Jadid – Fès is famous for the the Er Rsif and Andalous (Al-Andalus) mosques, the Kasbah and Karaouine (Al-Qarawiyin) University, which is older than Oxford University, the Nejjarine Square and Fountain and the Royal Palace. The Dar Bath Museum is also worth visiting.

The old part of the city – Fès El Bali – still retains the magical, active atmosphere of an ancient time and it is centred around the 2 famous mosques of Al-Andalus and Al-Qarawiyin. It is a vast maze of winding streets and covered bazaars where, if one is not careful, it is easy to get lost and therefore it is a great idea to hire an official guide. There are magnificent examples of Hispano-Arabic architecture as well as several opportunities to see traditional craftspeople working.

The medina (market) in Fès El Bali is 1 of the biggest in the world and is also on UNESCO’s World Heritage list and one can buy almost anything. It is particularly good for rugs, carpets and metalwork. As in all of Morocco, the market business is conducted in a leisurely, although deadly earnest way, with the addition of endless glasses of mint tea.

Fès is, perhaps, 1 of the most fascinating cities anywhere in the Middle East or in north Africa.

The valley of Ouergha to the north is well-known for its souks and Morocco’s most celebrated gathering of riders, which is said to have been attended by Pope Sylvester II previous to his accession during AD 999 and resulted in him introducing Arab mathematics into Europe. Other attractions include the Mesbahai Medersa, an old school, notable for its traditional architecture and late afternoon auctions in the Kissaria and the Karaouine (Al-Qarawiyin) Mosque.

Marrakech

Founded during 1062, Marrakech was once the capital of an empire that stretched from Toledo to Senegal. Called the ‘Pink City’ because of the colour of the earth used in its construction, it is a city of labyrinthine alleyways, museums, secluded palaces, mosques and markets. Marrakech’s gardens are supplied with water from 11th century underground irrigation canals.

The Djemaa el-Fna (Place of the Dead), the city square, comes alive in the evening, thronged with dancers, musicians, fortune-tellers, acrobats, storytellers and snake charmers, it is an exciting and sometimes bewildering place – an outstanding exotic spectacle.

Koutoubia, the 12th-century mosque, as tall as the towers of Nôtre Dame and overlooks the Marrakech skyline. The Ben Youssef Medersa, with its marbles, mosaics and carved woodwork, is the biggest theological site in the Mahgreb. It forms part of Marrakech’s UNESCO-listed medina, now a World Heritage site, crammed with many architectural masterpieces.

Further interesting places to see include the beautiful Saadian Tombs housing the remains of rulers of the Saadian Dynasty, the Bahia Palace, the Dar Sisaid Museum the Menara and Aquedal gardens and the well known camel market.

Excursions

An hour’s drive from Marrakech is Oukaimeden, Morocco’s best ski resort and this trip can be combined with a visit to Ourika (which has a donkey market) and Asni. The latter is an brilliant place to stay whilst visiting Jebel Toubkal, Morocco’s highest mountain, set amidst the spectacular scenery.