Dar al-Makhzen (Fez)
The Dar al-Makhzen (Arabic: دار المخزن "House of the Makhzen") or Royal Palace (French: Palais Royal ; Arabic: القصر الملكي) of Fez is the royal palace of the King of Morocco in the city of Fez, Morocco. Its original foundation dates back to the foundation of Fes el-Jdid ("New Fez"), the royal citadel of the Marinid dynasty, in 1276 CE. Most of the palace today dates from the Alaouite era (17th-20th centuries). The vast grounds are home to multiple private structures, patios, and gardens, but historically also included administrative offices and government tribunals. Today, the most publicly visible parts of the palace are its main entrances at the Old Mechouar (to the northeast) and the highly ornate 20th-century gates at Place des Alaouites, near the Mellah (to the southwest).
Marinid foundation and embellishment (late 13th century and after)
The palace was founded and initially built, along with the rest of Fes el-Jdid, by the Marinid sultan Abu Yusuf Ya'qub in 1276. It served as the new royal residence and center of government for Morocco under Marinid rule. Before this, the main center of power and government in Fes had been the Kasbah Bou Jeloud on the western edge of the old city (at the location of the still extant Bou Jeloud Mosque). The decision to create a new and highly fortified citadel separate from the old city (Fes el-Bali) may have reflected a continuous wariness of Moroccan rulers towards the highly independent and sometimes restive population of Fes. The Grand Mosque of Fes el-Jdid, adjacent to the palace grounds, was also founded at the same time as the new city in 1276 and was connected by a private passage directly to the palace, allowing the sultan to come and go for prayers.
Although the original layout of the palace cannot be fully reconstructed due to centuries of subsequent expansion and modification, it was most likely concentrated further southwest within the current palace grounds. What is now the Old Mechouar (a large walled courtyard preceding the main public entrance to the palace) was at that time a fortified bridge over the Oued Fes (Fes River) at the northern entrance to the city, and was most likely not directly connected to the palace itself. In addition to the main palace structures at the center of the city, the palace was also flanked by a large park or garden area to the west which was characterized by elevated terraces and pavilions, most likely corresponding to the site of the present-day Lalla Mina Gardens in the current palace.:310 These first gardens were known as the "Agdal" (not to be confused with the current Agdal Gardens further west) and followed a tradition already established in Almoravid and Almohad times, as exemplified by the older Agdal Gardens of Marrakesh. The western edge of these gardens was in turn bounded by the western walls of the city. A gate known as Bab Agdal still stands here today and preserves its old Marinid-era layout.
Abu Yusuf Ya'qub had also wished to create a vast pleasure garden outside the palace, perhaps in emulation of those he might have admired in Granada (such as the Generalife); however, he died in 1286 before this could be accomplished.:290 His son and successor, Abu Ya'qub Yusuf, carried out the work instead in 1287, creating the vast Mosara Garden to the north of Fes el-Jdid. This garden was supplied with water from the Oued Fes via an aqueduct fed by an enormous noria (waterwheel) near Bab Dekkakin. Both the gardens and the noria fell into disuse after the Marinid period and eventually disappeared, leaving only traces.
Alaouite revival and expansion (17th century and after)
Following years of neglect, the original Marinid constructions mostly fell into disrepair and were only restored, rebuilt, or replaced when the Alaouite sultans re-invested in Fes and made it the capital of Morocco again (with the exception of certain periods). As a result, the current structures in the palace mainly date from the Alaouite period, from the 17th century and after. In 1671, Sultan Moulay Rashid ordered the creation of a vast rectangular courtyard in the eastern part of the palace. The courtyard, still extant today, was adorned with green zellij tiles and centered around a large rectangular water basin.:294 This addition extended the Dar al-Makhzen grounds up to the edge of the Lalla ez-Zhar Mosque, which had previously stood in the middle of a residential neighbourhood, and cutting off one of the local streets. This was one of several occasions where the expansion of the palace cut into the general residential areas of Fes el-Jdid. Moulay Rashid also built the vast Kasbah Cherarda north of Fes el-Jdid in order to house his tribal troops. The housing of troops here also liberated new space in Fes el-Jdid itself, including the northwestern area which became the new Moulay Abdallah neighbourhood from the early 18th century onwards.:296 This is where Sultan Moulay Abdallah (ruled between 1729 and 1757) erected a large mosque and royal necropolis for the Alaouite dynasty. Abdallah's successor, Sultan Mohammed ben Abdallah (ruled 1748 and 1757–1790), was responsible, according to some sources, for establishing the New Mechouar and the Old Mechouar.:397 However, other studies and later authors attribute this arrangement to Moulay Hassan's reign a century later (see below).:296 Mohammed ben Abdallah also built the Dar Ayad al-Kebira, one of the more imposing structures inside the palace grounds.:310
Major expansions and modifications continued throughout the 19th century. Under sultan Moulay Abd al-Rahman (ruled 1822–1859) the Bab Bou Jat Mechouar or Grand Mechouar was created to the west of the Moulay Abdallah quarter, providing the palace grounds with another ceremonial entrance to the northwest. Moulay Abd al-Rahman also revived the gardens of the palace to the west, up to the old western Marinid walls of the city, by creating the Lalla Mina or Lalla Amina Gardens (on the site of earlier Marinid-era gardens) and building the adjoining Lalla Mina Mosque.:90 West of these, beyond the old walls, an even larger walled garden known today as the Agdal was established by Sultan Moulay Hassan I (ruled 1873–1894). (According to one author, the Lalla Mina Mosque is also attributed to Moulay Hassan.:148)
It also seems to have been under Moulay Hassan that the Dar al-Makhzen grounds were extended northwards up to the south gate of the Old Mechouar, thus turning the latter into the main entrance of the palace instead of the main entrance of the city. This forced the diversion of the northern end of Fes el-Jdid's main street so that it now enters the Old Mechouar from the side. The new expansion included a vast rectangular courtyard to serve as an "inner mechouar", followed by several other courtyards extending up to the Old Mechouar's gate. This inner mechouar was lined by arcades and housed a number of public and administrative functions like the mahkama (courthouse). This mechouar also lay between the Grand Mosque of Fes el-Jdid and its former madrasa (the Madrasa Fes el-Jdid), cutting them off from each other and resulting in the madrasa being integrated into the palace. According to scholars it was Moulay Hassan who then built what is now known as the New Mechouar on the north side Bab Dekkakin and of the Old Mechouar. Next to this he also built the Dar al-Makina factory on the west side of the new square in 1886. Lastly, Moulay Hassan also connected Fes el-Jdid and Fes el-Bali (the old city) for the first time with a large corridor of walls. Inside this space he commissioned a number of royal gardens (such as Jnan Sbil) and summer palaces (such as Dar Batha), which were separate but associated or connected with the palace.
Historically, members of the public and government officials only had access to the first few courtyards of the Dar al-Makhzen, from the Old Mechouar to the "Inner Mechouar", due to public government institutions and tribunals being housed here. The Old Mechouar and the adjoining courtyards were thus a reception and waiting area for those who had business inside the palace. The rest of the palace further west, on the other hand, made up the sultan's private residence and was not accessible to anyone but the sultan, his family, and his inner circle.:95–96
Recent history (20th century) and present day
After Moulay Hassan, his son and successor Moulay Abd al-Aziz (ruled 1894–1908) constructed a palace pavilion, known as Dar al-Fassiya,:28 on the western edge of the central palace structures, on the north side of the Lalla Mina Gardens. It was adjoined by a marble-paved courtyard and some of its rooms had ceilings gilded with gold leaf, but it was later abandoned and even partly looted. His successor, Moulay Abd al-Hafid (ruled 1908–1912), began in turn the construction of a large multi-story pavilion which was the include the first elevators in the palace, but its construction was not completed and it stood unfinished for many years.:96
Following the advent of French colonial rule in 1912, the capital of Morocco was moved to Rabat and never returned to Fes. Some of the outlying branches of the palace, such as the Dar al-Beida and Dar Batha near Fes el-Bali, were occupied by the offices of the French authorities and of the French resident-general. Despite this, the main palace complex in Fes is still regularly used by the King of Morocco today. The palace is thus not open to the public.
The new Gates of the Royal Palace
In the 1960s King Hassan II reoriented the entrance of the palace complex from the Old Mechouar in the north to a new southern approach facing the modern Ville Nouvelle of Fes. A new grand square, Place des Alaouites, was laid out and new ornate gates to the palace were built between 1969 and 1971. The gates are considered an excellent piece of modern Moroccan craftsmanship and are lavishly decorated with elaborate mosaic tilework, carved cedar wood, and doors of gilt bronze covered in geometric patterns. These gates, along with the gate at the Old Mechouar, are the closest that most members of the public can get to the palace grounds.
- The front gates of the Royal Palace today, dating from 1969-1971
- The gilt bronze doors
- Zellij and metalwork around the doorways
- Zellij with darj-wa-ktaf motifs in the upper facade of the gates
- Decorative niches with zellij and carved muqarnas above the gates
The palace is located in Fes el-Jdid ("New Fes"), the fortified royal district founded by the Marinid sultans in 1276. Today it covers 80 hectares, taking up much of the city's area.:310 Inside, the vast palace grounds are taken up by numerous courtyards, residential pavilions, gardens, and fountains. Its complicated and irregular layout is the result of repeated modifications, reconstructions, and expansions over the centuries, much of it now dating to the Alaouite period (17th-20th centuries).
In the context of palace architecture, the term "mechouar" (from the French transliteration, méchouar, of Arabic المشور; sometimes spelled mishwar or meshwar in English) generally refers to an official square or courtyard at the entrance of the royal palace. Such squares were used for various open-air ceremonies, the reception of ambassadors, and as waiting areas for those entering the palace. They were often also part of the setting for the dispensation of justice or the receiving of petitions to the ruler. For example, the main qadi (judge) of Fes Jdid held his tribunal near the entrance of the palace, located just inside the entrance from the Old Mechouar.:95, 266 There are at least three historical mechouars attached the royal palace of Fes.
Old Mechouar (Vieux Méchouar)
The smallest of the mechouars of Fes, this courtyard immediately precedes the official entrance to the Dar al-Makhzen. The mechouar is enclosed by ramparts on all sides and dates to the Marinid period. It appears that it was originally a fortified bridge over the Oued Fes (Fez River), with fortified gates at either end. The river still passes underneath the square, reemerging via four semi-circular openings at the eastern base of its walls on the edge of the Jnan Sbil Gardens.
On the southern side of the square today is the gate to the Dar al-Makhzen; until the creation of the new palace gates in the southwest, this was the main entrance to the palace.:148 However, this was originally occupied by a gate called Bab al-Qantara ("Gate of the Bridge") or Bab el-Oued ("Gate of the River") which had been the northern entrance to the whole city before the palace grounds were expanded and it became the gate to the Dar al-Makhzen itself.:62 On the square's northern side is Bab Dekkakin (originally called Bab es-Sebaa), the monumental gate leading to and from the New Mechouar (see below). To the west, an opening in the walls leads to the Moulay Abdallah residential district of Fes el-Jdid. On the square's east side are two other openings in the wall. The southern one leads to the Grande Rue (main street) of Fes el-Jdid (which leads to Bab Semmarine and the Jewish Mellah beyond), while the northern opening gives access to the road leading towards Place Bou Jeloud and the entrance to Fes el Bali. Because of this crossroads, the mechouar is one of the busiest squares in Fes el-Jdid today.
New Mechouar (Nouveau Méchouar)
To the north of the Old Mechouar, through the monumental Bab Dekkakin ("Gate of the Benches"; also known as Bab es-Sebaa, "Gate of the Lion"), lies the larger New Mechouar. According to scholars, it was created by Sultan Moulay Hassan (Hassan I) in the late 19th century.
On the western side of the square is a gateway in the Italianate architectural style which belongs to the Makina (Dar al-Makina), a former arms factory (also called Dar al-Silah) established by Moulay Hassan in 1886 with the help of Italian officers. Originally, though, this western wall was actually a large Marinid aqueduct built in 1286 to carry water to the Mosara Garden in the north; the faint outline of its arches can still be seen today within the structure of the wall. The northern gate of the New Mechouar, known as Bab Kbibat es-Smen ("Gate of the Butter Niche"), also dates from the 1886 construction, though another gate called Bab Segma (formerly part of the Marinid gardens) also lends its name to the area.
Bab Bou Jat Mechouar
Also known as the "Grand Mechouar", this vast irregular quadrilateral space of 4 hectares occupied the northwestern corner of Fes el Jdid in an angle between the walls of the palace grounds to the south and the Moulay Abdallah district to the east.:97–98 The military square was laid out in the mid-19th century by Abd al-Rahman de Saulty, a Muslim convert and officer in the military engineers corps under Sultan Moulay Abd al-Rahman (ruled 1822-1859).:90, 181 The creation of the mechouar required a minor diversion of the Oued Fes river at the time. Bab Bou Jat, the main western gate of the Moulday Abdallah quarter, once opened through here but was closed off in the 20th century. On the south side of the square is a menzeh, an elevated pavilion from which the sultan could observe ceremonies taking place in the square, which was built by Sultan Abdelaziz (ruled 1894-1908).:97–98
The grounds of the Royal Palace
While today the main front entrance of the palace are its famous gates to the southwest, historically the palace's main public entrance was from the Old Mechouar to the northeast. Upon entering the palace from here, one passed through several courtyards until reaching the "Inner" Mechouar created under Sultan Moulay Hassan. This large rectangular courtyard is lined with arcades and historically housed a number of public and administrative functions like the mahkama (courthouse). On the southeast side of the courtyard is a mosque which is in fact the former Marinid Madrasa of Fes el-Jdid, modified and provided with a minaret when Moulay Hassan created this mechouar. The Grand Mosque of Fes el-Jdid, to which it was originally associated, is located just outside the royal palace grounds to the north of here.
To the west and south of these mechouars was the area which was historically the private residence of the sultan. It consists of a number of patio courtyards, inner gardens, residential pavilions, and other structures. One of the largest elements is the Patio of Moulay Rashid, created in the 17th century. It covers a large rectangular area on the east side of the palace and is centered around a rectangular water basin. Further southwest from these central structures is a large park or garden known as the Lalla Mina Gardens. The gardens, along with a mosque near its northeastern corner (not far from the present-day palace gates and marked with a minaret), were created by Sultan Moulay Abd ar-Rahman in the 19th century on the site of the former "Agdal" gardens of the Marinid period. They are adjoined to the north by another palace pavilion and courtyard created by Moulay Abdelaziz (1894–1908). At their eastern corner, on the south side of the Lalla Mina Mosque, is a large square courtyard which was once the menagerie of the palace, holding lions and other wild animals, but is now adjoined by the new main gates of the palace.:95–96:300 Along the western edge of the gardens runs a set of double fortified walls which were the original Marinid western walls of Fes el-Jdid, as well as the original western gate known as Bab Agdal. Beyond these, further west and covering an even larger area, are the current Agdal Gardens which were originally established by Sultan Moulay Hassan.
- Note that the name Dar al-Makhzen is used for royal palaces throughout Morocco.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Dar al-Makhzen (Fes).|
- "Sultan's Palace" at ArchNet (includes historic photographs of some parts of the palace)