Trip Start Mar 30, 2009
55Trip End Ongoing
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He succeeded his half-brother Moulay Al-Rashid who died after a fall from his horse in 1672. That makes it sound like an accident. Twenty-six year old Moulay Ismail took over a country ravaged by tribal wars and royal pretenders. It did not take long for him to learn the value of ruthless aggression.
After subduing his local rivals, he fought the Ottoman Turks in 1679, 1682 and 1695/96, battles that established Moroccan independence with considerable respect, the only country in Northern Africa and the Middle East to withstand the powerful Ottoman empire
Moulay Ismail was a fearsome warrior and an uncompromising ruler. He reputedly murdered family, friends and servants for his cause. At one point, he had 10,000 skulls hung around the capitol to offer intimidation to prospective enemies.
He perfected the slave trade, accumulating at least 25,000 Christian slaves and 30,000 other prisoners whom he used to construct his capital at Meknes, excepting the ones that he gladly sold back to his enemies for inflated returns. He also added more than 100,000 slaves to his Black Guard, the most feared military force of its day. Most of his slaves were snatched by Barbary pirates working out of Rabat/Sale, one of Morocco’s most enduring and successful industries.
Moulay’s models for his empire were Egypt and Rome both of which Ismail studied and admired. His personal tastes were shaped by Louis XIV, including his capitol at Meknes that was inspired by Versailles, though certainly the Moroccan version. At its peak, Ismail's empire spread from present day Algeria to Mauritania.
Mulai Ismail left a considerable political, architectural, and cultural legacy, but his fame is secured as the world’s most prolific gene factory
In an interesting 20th century correlation, Wilt Chamberlain attempted 11,862 free throws, of which 6,057 “scored”, a rate of 51.1%.
It is generally accepted, in Morocco at least, that the famous Arabian Nights story of the concubine who saved her life by enrapturing the sultan with 1001 endless stories is based on Moulay, whose regular strategy was to love and dispose.
Moulay Ismail selected Meknes in 1673 as the site of his capitol because of its defensive geography and its proximity to Volubilis, the westernmost extension of the Roman empire, and the most visible evidence of Morocco’s significant history in the development of Europe and the Mediterranean.
Moulay Ismail encased the city in 40 km of defensive walls and obsessively pursued his vision of a great world capitol with palaces, granaries, reservoir, commerce, armies, concubines, eunuchs and his 60,000 or so slaves.
From this stronghold, Ismail united Morocco for the first time in five centuries. It is still regarded as morocco’s Golden Age.
After his death of natural causes at the age of about 85, his sons jockeyed for power and continued to develop Meknes, but the Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 severely damaged the palace and the capitol’s buildings. In 1757 his grandson, Mohammad III moved the capital, salvaging and transporting the richest remains to Marrakech.