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Morocco’s Imperial Cities: Rabat, Fes, Meknes, and Marrakech

by Liz Deslauriers

November 23, 2023

3 minute read

Is it worth visiting all four imperial cities of Morocco? Without a doubt, the answer is yes. Each one of these historical capitals reveals a unique side of the country’s story. See Rabat, the modern capital… explore colourful Marrakech… discover spiritual Fes… and encounter the authentic culture in Meknes.

If you’re considering a trip to Morocco, here is a brief orientation to these four must-see cities in Morocco:



Across from Rabat at the mouth of the Bou Regreg river, neighboring Salé was settled first by the Romans. The imperial city of Rabat itself dates back to the 12th century, founded by the first Almohad ruler. Fast forward into the 20th century, and Rabat became an administrative capital under French rule, and upon Moroccan independence in 1955, became Morocco’s capital of today.

What to do in Rabat

  • Visit the Challah Necropolis, a walled town containing both Roman ruins and medieval necropolis.
  • Explore the epitome of modern Moroccan architectural design at the Mausoleum of Mohammed V.
  • See the Kasbah des Oudaias with its stunning blue and white buildings.


Get ready to discover Morocco’s spiritual heart, Fes (also known as the “Mecca of the West”). A former imperial capital, and now one of the largest cities in Morocco, it’s managed to maintain its strong traditional culture through the ages.

What to do in Fes

  • Explore its history as a centre of government, philosophy, medicine, and religion.
  • See Al-Qarawiyyin University, the oldest continuously operating university in the world (UNESCO).
  • Walk through a 9th-century medina, exploring the alleyways and stalls of this ancient market.


Meknès became a Moroccan capital in 1672 under Sultan Moulay Ismaïl, who built palaces and mosques that earned the city the name, “Versailles of Morocco.” Visit this lesser-traveled destination and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere whilst wandering the pastel and ochre-colored streets of its medina.

What to do in Meknès

  • View remnants of this city’s imperial past at Bab Mansour gate.
  • Travel to Volubilis, a UNESCO World Heritage site, with its impressive and well-preserved Roman ruins.


Get to know Morocco’s most popular destination inside and out. This central Moroccan city was founded in the mid-11th century and served as Morocco’s first capital city under the Almoravid dynasty. Marrakech’s medina is labyrinth-like and known as the “red city” because of its buildings and ramparts of red beaten clay.

What to do in Marrakech

  • Visit the ancient El Bahia Palace, with its distinct blend of Islamic and Moroccan architecture.
  • Explore the Jemaa El Fna Square, Marrakech’s main square, and stroll among the mosques, palaces, souks, and riads.
  • Explore more of Moroccan history and culture by visiting Marrakech’s museums.

On Colours of Morocco, take every opportunity to explore these four imperial cities, all part of a 15-day small group Explorations tour. Centuries of history, colourful medinas, and the seemingly endless sands of the Sahara await in Morocco. It’s time to experience this North African gem for yourself.

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