On the road from Rabat, the administrative capital of Morocco, I traveled a few hours by minibus to the town of Meknès. Located between the Rarb plain and the middle Atlas mountains, the city is in the center of a region that has been an important agricultural center since ancient times.
The town was founded in the 10th century and through the 17th century it was a small town of little importance, particularly given it being geographical situated close to another more important city, Fez. In the later 17th century, Meknès became an imperial city and began to rise in importance. During the reign of Sultan Moulay Ismail [1672-1727] Meknès saw large scale construction projects such as mosques, palaces, gates and ramparts that, while building up the city, unfortunately destroyed many important structures from the nearby Roman city of Volubilis. Fifty years of pillaging stone from this ancient site resulted in the building of a new important city while tearing down an ancient one.
Today Meknès is the 5th largest city in Morocco with a population of approximately a half million. One of the most important sites in the town is considered the most beautiful gate in Morocco, the Bab Mansour el-Aleuj gate [Gate of the Victorius Renegade].
Situated in the southeast side of the Place El Hedim, the Bab Mansour was built to be the grand entrance to the Imperial City, that would impress every visitor with the splendor and glamour of the Sultan Moulay’s rule.
Adapting the classical style of Almohade architecture, the facade is decorated with beautiful tile ornaments. As the story is told, legend has it that the two main marble columns that flank the gate were taken from Volubilis.
Local lore attributes the naming of the gate to its architect, a Christian. It is said that he was called Mansour El Aleuj (Mansour, the renegade), having converted from Christianity to Islam. It is also said that court sessions were held in front of the Bab Mansour, and that the heads of the convicted were exhibited here.
The gate stands approximately 52 feet [16m] high and overlooks the large Place el-Hedime [The Square of Ruins] so named because the large open square is situated on the ruins of the Merinid kasbah that was razed to accommodate the new construction projects ordered by Sultan Moulay Ismail.