Qantara Qantara

Basin of the Norias

  • Name : Basin of the Norias
  • Place : Morocco, Meknès, qasaba of Mawlây Ismâ‘îl
  • Construction date/period : Twelfth century
  • Construction materials : Pisé, brick, stone
  • Dimensions : 319 x 148,75 m

Known locally as Sahrij Swani, the Basin of the Norias is in fact only one part of a major compound consisting of, in addition to the basin, a house referred to as “The House of the Ten Norias”, and grain silos. It was built five hundred metres away from the Royal Palace by the Sultan Mawlây Ismâ‘îl (r.1672-1727), to provide for the town in the event of a siege or a food shortage The function of the basin, located next to the silos, was to supply the town with water. Although we do not know the exact date of construction, it was very probably built towards the end of the seventeenth century according to historical accounts of the period, which described the imperial city as a completed work.

The large basin supplied water for buildings and public installations (mosques, hammams, houses, gardens, and orchards etc), while its own water supply came from the adjacent building’s ten norias (waterwheels),via a system of clay channels. Given its strategic role regarding the city’s autonomy, the basin was equipped with a defence system consisting of a high wall, of which today only one isolated rampart remains, at the south-west side, along with the base of a thick two-metre long wall.

Its use as a leisure facility, suggested by some historians, is no more plausible than its utilitarian function. Mawlây Ismâ‘îl has often been compared to the French king Louis XIV, and his palaces to that of Versailles; the Agdal Basin is allegedly the twin of the water-piece in Versailles. Other Maghrebin examples illustrate this type of functional building, in particular the Aglhabide Basins (al-fasqiyya) in Kairouan, the Qal‘a des Banu Hammad Basin (Algeria), and the Menara Basin in Marrakech. The Menara Basin remains the closest example to Sahrij Swani, in form, size and its location in the Agdal. If we concede, according to historical accounts, that the Menara Basin, in addition to being used for irrigation, was used as a swimming pool where the Almohad soldiers trained before leaving for the Jihâd in Andalusia, it is not entirely impossible that the Great Basin at Meknes was used as a bathing place for the kings and his entourage, especially during the period of heat-wave the town experiences during the summer season.


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, Casablanca : Éditions maghrébines, «  Etudes et Travaux d’Archéologie Marocaine, VI, 2 vol », 1976.

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

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

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

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