arches in Meknes MoroccoOften overlooked by tourists, Meknes, Morocco, is a culturally rich city with a modern twist—the best of both worlds. Here you can visit ancient palaces and tombs, and afterward head to a downtown cafe for an ice cream cone or milkshake.

Meknes, one of Morocco’s imperial cities, founded in the 11th century by Moulay Ismail, will give you a genuine sense of Morocco’s past. Home to multiple historical and cultural attractions, Meknes is surprisingly modern at the same time.

Located about 130 km inland, this northern city has a seasonal climate. But beware, one thing is the same year-round—the nights are cold. Daytime temperatures rise from anywhere between 10 and 14 degrees Celsius. So don’t let the summer months fool you. You’ll need a jacket even in August.

While touring the city, don’t miss Place el-Hedim. Built by Moulay Ismail for public executions and royal announcements, this structure is now the heart of the Medina. It’s the perfect place to kick your feet up and people watch. Visit one of the cafes within the square, where you can order some mint tea and listen to local musicians playing for tips.

Bob el-Mansour—a massive, internationall renowned entrance—is one of the most intriguing parts of Place el-Hedim. It’s the most impressive of all Moroccan gates. Completed in 1732 by Moulay Ismali’s son, the gate has been well preserved. Although you can only walk through the gate on special occasions, it’s worth a snapshot or two while you’re walking around the market.

Of course, like most other cities in Morocco, the souks of Meknes are a must-see. They aren’t as large as the souks in Fes or Marrakesh, but the relaxed pace makes shopping and bartering much more enjoyable. In the Meknes souks you’re free to wander around aimlessly, taking in all the sights, sounds and smells.

If you’re craving a taste of Moroccan history, there are plenty of museums to visit in Meknes as well.

The Dar Jamaï museum has been used for various purposes in the past. Built in 1882 to house the Jamai family (who had connections with Moulay el-Hassan), the building was then used as a military hospital until 1912. In 1920 it became the Museum of Moroccan Art. It now houses intricate pieces of art, like traditional ceramics, jewelry, embroidery and rugs.

The Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail would be another sight to see while visiting Meknes. After traveling through several peaceful entrance courtyards, you will remove your shoes and pay a fee. The tomb and surrounding rooms are meant to be places of quiet and tranquility. Non-Muslims are not allowed to approach the tomb itself, but they are allowed to take photos of the lavish and intricate décor.

Meknes offers a laid-back alternative to the hustle of many Moroccan cities. If you’re finding yourself overwhelmed, but still aching for a real taste of what Morocco is all about, Meknes may be a great travel destination for you to explore.

Written by Amanda Sandlin.

Photo by snarl.