(Place el-Hedim, admission 10Dh, Hours 10.00am to 6.00pm)
Despite the Lonely Planet describing Meknes, Morocco’s fourth imperial city as ‘quieter and smaller’ than Fes or Marrakesh, it is still a busy city of nearly one million people. The centre of town is a racket with scooters, wheezing trucks and tourist buses all vying for unavailable space on the roads around the medina. Even on foot, the plaza is jammed with hawkers, school children, women shopping for the day’s groceries and Meknes locals doing what they have done for centuries: chatting over mint tea or an espresso.
The Dar Jamai museum entrance is right in the wall of the medina. Step through and enter a cool dark space. Walk up the gentle slope of the entrance corridor and a doorway to your left opens onto the sky. There’s an orange tree and bird song and a garden of banana palms and slightly overgrown hedges. Cats snooze in the patches of sunshine or in an instant leap up a branch targeting an inattentive sparrow. A fountain burbles somewhere and the atmosphere is cool, green and quiet. It is a space which invites you to sit and reflect.
The museum is housed in a wonderful building which incorporates traditional architectural principles of balance and symmetry and through clever design manages water and temperature, light and shade and public and secluded spaces.
Built in the late 19th Century for one of the powerful advisers to the Sultan it has changed hands many times. It has been a hospital for French soldiers, an administrative building, an arts centre and now a museum showing a collection of objects reflecting the diversity of Morocco’s history and geography.
On display are kilims and rugs, ceramics, jewellery, extravagant kaftans and silk work and religious objects such as a cedar stairway from a merdrassa. But there are also day-to-day objects, ceramic bowls, saucepans, a copper still used to make rose water and, my favourite, a large copper couscousier. Upstairs, the domed sanctuary is laid out as a traditional salon with rugs and cushions.
The displays are mostly behind-glass arrangements with labels in Arabic and French so, unless you have a guide or a handy phrase book, it provides a pleasant opportunity to practice your French or Arabic (le chat a attrapé l’oiseau). Take your time, appreciate the movement from shady verandas to sunny courtyards, the sweet fountain and the athleticism of the cats, knowing that the exciting noisy medina awaits.
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