Ismaili Qasba on Avenue Bab Marrah, Meknès
All year daily 9-18.
Adults MAD 60.
|Light:||Natural light through skyholes, electric|
|Address:||Prison de Kara, Avenue Bab Marrah, Meknès|
|As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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|18th cty||prison constructed.|
The سجن قارا (Prison de Kara), also known as Prison of Christian Slaves, is a vast subterranean prison in the city of Meknès. It was built during the reign of Sultan Ismail bin Sharif or Alaouite Moulay Ismail, according to legend by a Portuguese prisoner who was granted freedom on the condition that he constructed a prison that could house more than 40,000 inmates. The result is a labyrinth which goes on for many kilometers, some say it covers the whole area of the city, others say it extends to the city of Taza, 160km east of Meknès. Others say that there are three tunnels which lead towards Fes, Volubilis and the Middle Atlas. A team of French explorers attempted to explore the prison and never returned. Also it is said that it was impossible to escape the prison despite it lacking doors and bars, because of its complex labyrinthine design. There is also a legend that the prison was used for Christian captives, seized by the Sallee Rovers and brought to Meknès as slave labour. When they died during the construction work, they were simply buried in the walls they were building.
The reality is quite different. The site is vast, but all the chambers and passages simply did not have an exit to the surface. The unfortunate prisoners were thrown into the prison through several holes in the ceiling. It was impossible for them to reach the 15m high ceiling, which made it virtually impossible for inmates to escape. And while Christian slaves existed, no human remains have come to light even though most of the walls they built have crumbled away.
The chambers are not used as a prison any more, the prison was abandoned after the death of the Sultan. For some time they were used to store food. It is now a tourist site, the entrance is located in Ismaili Qasba on Avenue Bab Marrah. The Koubet Al Khayatine or Koubba el Khayatine is a green-tiled, zellij-covered building, which served as a reception hall for ambassadors to the imperial court. A wide staircase leads down into the former prison. There are three huge chambers resting on pillars 1.4m by 3.5m, the total area is seven hectares. The ceiling between the pillars is supported by vaults with lowered drums. There are numerous skylights so the vaults are quite well lit, electric light is not necessary.