Your Guide To The Four Imperial Cities Of Morocco
The four King cities of Morocco are named as such because they were all once important cities to the first rulers of Morocco. They are the historical and cultural capitals of the country. Rabat, Meknes, Marrakesh and Fez have all four been capital of Morocco throughout history. If you wish to see the amazing diversity of this North African country, visiting all four of these cities will complete your experience. Morocco can get very hot and dry during the summer, so I would advise anyone travelling to Morocco to go in the spring or autumn months.
Fez (of Fes) is an ancient Moroccan city in the north of Morocco. It was founded in the late 7th century by King Idris I, whose dynasty spread Islam throughout the country. Fez was Morocco’s capital several times throughout history, including in the 13th, 17th and early 20th century, for different dynasties.
The oldest part of the town and market is called the Medina. As tourism is expanding, several projects have been started to restore and preserve the oldest buildings in town that are partially UNESCO heritage sites.
The most famous building in Fez is probably a madrasa called Bou Inania, built in the 14th century. A madrasa is an educational institution mostly focused on religious teachings. It is one of the few religious places in Morocco that is accessible to non-Islamic visitors and so you souks should definitely pay it a visit. The Bou Inania madrasa is well known for its typical Islamic architecture with geometrical patterns, tiles, and wood carvings.
In Fez, you can also visit a royal palace and in the city center there are fantastic narrow streets with fresh food. In these markets, called, you can find a lot of handicrafts, such as Berber rugs, Arabic ceramics and especially decorated leather. Fez is also well-known for its leather production.
You can visit the work place as well, but keep in mind that it does not smell very good since the cleaning process requires using pigeon poo! But, you can still get your hands on fancy small bags and purses of camel leather, without the smell included.
You can find Rabat on the west coast of the Atlantic, north of Casablanca. It has been the capital of Morocco since 1925 and has over 1.2 million inhabitants.
Ever since it was founded in the 12th century, Rabat has always been a busy city and important haven for Morocco. Even today it is a major hub in textile and food production.
The most striking building of Rabat’s skyline is the Hassan Tower. The tower was built at the very beginning of the city in the late 1190s. It is a minaret of an unfinished mosque and only reached half its destined height, at 44 meters. There are some 200 columns, as well, that would have supported the rest of the building. The mosque was never finished due to financial problems and the death of the sultan who initiated the building of the ‘world’s biggest mosque and highest minaret.’
On the same square you can also find the mausoleum of King Mohammad V. The mausoleum is another star of Moroccan architecture with its symmetrical patterns and calligraphy. Special soldiers always guard it. Rabat also offers a fantastic archaeological museum with many artefacts from Morocco’s Roman past and from the beautiful medieval ruins just outside the city walls.
Sultan Moulay Ismail chose Meknes in the 17th century for his Imperial City. Meknes is in in the heart of the northern parts of Morocco and was, therefore, a strategic choice. The city is situated near cedar forests and was close to other important cities during the time of its founding. The walls that surround the city are 15 kilometers long with over 20 beautifully decorated gates.
Meknes’ rein as Morocco’s capital city led it into a golden age, as the Sultan built new mosques, towers and gardens, mostly through the use of European slaves. Many of the gates are now monuments that will grant you entrance to the city’s Medina which is a shopping paradise. The market streets of the souk are narrow and they can feel like a maze at some points. Meknes is also known as a competitive city due to its trade in agricultural products such as milk and olive oil.
Near Meknes, you can find the ruins of a part Roman and part Berber city. Berbers were the largest group of people living in North Africa before Arabs migrated to the area. These ruins, called Volubilis, are ancient and date back to the 3rd century BCE! The city was abandoned in the 11th century and only during the colonial era, when the French ruled Morocco, were attempts made to preserve the ruins. Today, the ruins are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the best preserved examples of a Roman town outside of the core territories. Many archaeological findings from here are also on display in the archaeology museum in Rabat.
Marrakesh is located in the north side of the Atlas Mountains, where desert, mountain and plain all come together. The area has been inhabited for thousands of years by Berber farmers and was proclaimed a city as early as the 11th century.
Marrakesh is known as Morocco’s cultural melting pot. Throughout history, it has been a center for religion and trade. Today, the old fortified city center is crowded with vendors and their wares. It feels like stepping back in time here.
The Jemaa el-Fnaa square in the Medina is the biggest marketplace in Marrakesh where you can find young men selling freshly squeezed orange juice, dates or painted wool, and veiled women selling sparkling jewellery.
Just be careful to ignore the locals who might attempt to put a monkey on your arm or a snake around your shoulders and try to take some money off you as a result. Though you should not let this put you off, because especially at night, the square is simply breathtaking. Restaurants surround the square which often have rooftops where you can enjoy some steaming Moroccan tajine, a traditional stove dish, and a cup of hot mint tea.
Once you have taken in the local atmosphere, it is time to visit the Museum of Islamic Art and visit the beautiful Qur’an school, called the Ben Yousseff Madrasa. It is like the madrasa in Fez, but significantly larger. You should definitely bring your camera here, because Instagram will love you for!
Have any of you been to Morocco? What are some can’t-miss sights for future travelers planning a trip to there? Let us know in the comments below!