Qantara Qantara

Qasaba of Mawlāy Ismā‘īl

  • Name : Qasaba of Mawlāy Ismā‘īl
  • Place : Meknès, Morocco
  • Construction date/period :

    Seventeenth century  

  • Construction materials : Reused material from the sites of Volubilis and Marrakech; cob, bricks, marble
  • Architectural pattern : Excised ceramics, ceramic mosaics
  • Dimensions : Length of the rampart: 40km; Bāb al-Mansūr Laālej: height 16m; arch opening: 8m (under the keystone).

Under the aegis of the Alaouites, and particularly under the reign of the sultan Mawlāy Ismā‘īl (reigned 1672–1727), the city of Meknès expanded considerably, and became the capital of the kingdom. The royal city (the qasaba) was constructed during this era. The Isma'ili constructions included palatial units (Qasr al-Mhencha, Dār Kabira, and Qasr al-Mansūr), religious monuments (the mosques of Berdain, Zituna, and Sidi Said), public sites, fountains, gardens (al-Bahraoui, al-Santajiya, and al-Souani), monuments of public utility like the city’s water supply basin, and grain silos (Heri Swani).

The city’s expansion saw the elevation of an imposing rampart, pierced with twenty fortified doors, the most famous of which are Bāb al-Khāmis, Bāb al-Bardaīn, and Bāb al-Mansūr. The peripheral ramparts are composed of a wall, along which runs a perimeter path with its parapet crowned with parallelepiped merlons, that follows a straight line with bastions and recesses. These ramparts were constructed entirely from cob, and they have neither an outer wall nor ditch. The flanking towers vary according to the square or oblong section. This defensive system is entirely in accordance with the spirit of the traditional fortification of Moroccan medieval cities. And the interior enclosing walls, those that surround the Qasaba, are exceptionally thick (up to 7m thick), consisting of a double or triple wall without merlons or towers but with a perimeter path.  

Bāb al-Mansūr Laālej is a ceremonial door considered to be the city’s emblem. It leads to a corner in Michwar Square that extends in front of the residences of the grand palace. Its double-elbow plan adopts the traditional design of Moroccan city doors. Despite this elevation, the facade appears squat because it is twice as long as its height. The central bay, opened by a pointed horseshoe arch, is preceded by a lobed voussoir with slightly projecting interlaced lozenges. The floral decorations in the spandrels are in excised ceramics like the frieze that supports the inscription. Two square-plan loggias that are open at their bases with two perpendicular bays with round horseshoe arches, frame the central area. Two projecting antae flank the loggias and complement the door’s composition. Their main feature is the use of two marble columns with antique, Composite order capitals. These two lateral elements constitute a first in the architecture of Moroccan city doors, along with the use of polychrome.

All these new buildings were arranged according to modern town planning to the point that certain historians called Meknès ‘the Moroccan Versailles’. Indeed, this sovereign designed and implemented an architectural programme for the construction of this fortified city that housed the king, his family, and entourage. A whole range of crafts and trades were then grouped around the princely city. The Qasaba of Meknès differs from princely residences in the Islamic Middle Ages by the extent of its architectural complexes that mark the dynastic foundations of the modern era. Among the Moroccan examples, chronologically close to the work of Mawlāy Ismā ‘īl, the Saadian palace Qasr al-Badi’ (‘the sumptuous’) certainly had an influence on the Alaouite sovereign, who reused a large number of its construction materials to furnish the spaces in the palaces of its future capital.


Al-Zâyânî, A. (éd.), Le Maroc de 1631-1812, extrait de l’ouvrage intitulé «  Al-tarjuman al mu‘arrib ‘an duwal al-mashriq wa al-maghrib », Amsterdam, Philo press, 1969.

Barrucand, M., « L’architecture de la Qasba de Moulay Ismaïl à Meknès », in Etudes et Travaux d’Archéologie Marocaine, Casablanca, 1976, Éditions maghrébines, t. VI, 2 vol.

Barrucand, M., Urbanisme princier en Islam, Paris, 1985, Paul Geuthner.

Marçais, G., L’architecture musulmane d’Occident : Tunisie, Algérie, Maroc, Espagne, Sicile,  Paris, 1954, Arts et Métiers Graphiques, p. 407.

Morsy, M., La relation de Thomas Pellow. Une lecture du Maroc au XVIIe siècle, Paris, 1983, Éd. Recherche sur les civilisations.

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