Like a "fata morgana" (mirage) looming up out of the rock in the heart of the Moroccan countryside, the former royal city of Meknès is yet another unexpected delight this country has to offer. One of Morocco's most beautiful historical cities, its twenty-two kilometres of town wall, monumental gates and the ruins of an immense palatial complex form an impressive and curious backdrop for the meeting point of Morocco's main roads. The 17th century sultan Moulay Ishmail wanted to create a royal capital here that would rival Versailles. He had an army of bricklayers, black slaves and several hundred captured Christian slaves build 120km of town wall, dream palaces, stables for 12,000 horses, hanging gardens watered by a 4 hectare pond and immense storage sheds. After almost a century of construction, he left one of the most beautiful cities in Moorish-Arabic style in the world.
Meknès was chosen as an UNESCO world legacy of civilization, for its medina and the ruins of the royal palace. A crowd of merchants, fire-eaters and acrobats gather together at dusk, in Place El-Hedime with its huge market.
With its intricate horseshoe shape and beautifully decorated detail, the Bab al-Mansour gate in Meknès is the most beautiful in Morocco-and one of the most iconic in the Muslim world.
The ruins that surround the gate of Bab al-Mansour stretch out for miles along the town walls, watch towers and adjacent complexes that once formed the heart of the town's defences.
From Meknès, rolling green hills extend towards Mount Zerhon, where the holy city of Moulay Idriss lays perched against a slope. Famous for its green rooftops, it offers one of the most picturesque views of Moroccan town life.
A short drive from Meknès lays Volubilis, the most important Roman site in this part of North Africa. Built in AD 40, this formerly imposing and sophisticated Roman town, inhabited not just by Romans but also by Greeks, Berbers, Jews and Carthaginians, built its wealth and power on the wheat trade.