Culture

The Imperial Cities

Fez, Marrakech, Meknes, and Rabat. Four historic cities that have played pivotal roles in the history of Morocco.

Fez has been the seat of power in Morocco for four different dynasties, for a total of around 650 years. Built by Idris I between 789 and 808, since then the Marinids, Wattasids and Alouites have all ruled from here. Fez relinquished its most recent hold of the throne in 1912, when the French administrators decided to move the capital to Rabat. It has never relinquished its heritage however, and more than anywhere else in Morocco, and perhaps the entire Arab world, this is the place to see a medieval city, still living, still breathing.

Marrakech was the next Imperial City, founded by the Almoravids in 1062 after a period of instability gripped the country. Like its northern cousin the city has been in and out of favour down the centuries, with four different dynasties (the Almoravids, Almohads, Saadi and Alaouite) making it their capital. Today it’s the most famous city in Morocco, and Trip Advisor’s Best Destination in the World 2015.

Meknes became an Imperial City in the seventeenth century when the legendary Moulay Ismail chose it as his capital. Its status remained until his grandson, Mohammad III, moved it once more back to Marrakech following an earthquake that severely damaged the palace compound in Meknes. Today, Meknes is something of an undiscovered gem. Less hectic than Marrakech, less famous than Fez and without Rabat’s political clout, Meknes is a place to go if you want to discover Morocco without the crowds.

The fourth, Rabat, became an Imperial City in the eighteenth century but didn’t actually become the capital of Morocco until 1912 when the controlling French moved the title from Fez. It has remained that way for over a century and is now a centre for culture and tourism, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 

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