Photograph: Khalil NemmaouiPhotograph: Khalil Nemmaoui

Name of Monument:

Sahrij Swani (Basin of the Norias)


Meknès, Morocco

Date of Monument:

Hegira 11th–12th centuries / AD 17th–18th centuries

Period / Dynasty:



Sultan Mulay Isma‘il (r. AH 1083–1140 / AD 1672–1727).


According to the Meknès historian Ibn Zaydan, Mulay Isma'il had an ornamental lake, large enough to sail pleasure boats on, built inside the kasbah. In fact, the 'Alawid prince, a contemporary of Louis XIV, had this lake constructed to guarantee the supply of water, in times of siege or drought, to the palaces and mosques of the town, as well as to the public baths, homes, gardens and the orchards that surrounded the town and provided for its daily fruit and vegetable requirements.
The masterpiece of the complex known as Hri Swani, the Basin of the Norias, Sahrij Swani, is an artificial lake notable for its size (148.75 m by 319 m with a depth of 3.20 m). Three tall crenellated walls that stood around the lake have today been reduced to an isolated section of rampart located on the southwest side towards the Bani Ahmad district and the remains of the base of an enclosure wall more than 2 m thick.
The size of the lake is reminiscent of the lakes of the Middle Atlas mountains located to the south of the town. The lake was filled from two sources:
- Water from the ten wells dug near the Sahrij, below the silo, brought up using ten norias and ceramic channels. Water from the wells was used at times of trouble (war, etc.) and drought.
- Water from the Wadi Bufekrane which descends from the Middle Atlas mountains, crosses the southern part of Meknès and feeds the lake and part of the town of Meknès.
Today the lake attracts tourists visiting the town and also its inhabitants, who come at weekends to cool down during the summer.

View Short Description

Located beside the building containing the Meknès grain silos within the enclosure wall of the Royal Palace, the Sahrij Swani lake, or Basin of the Norias, or House of the Ten Norias, was created in the AH 12th / AD 18th century. A rectangular artificial reservoir, like the one at the Menara in Marrakesh, this hydraulic structure was intended to provide water for the buildings and monuments in Mawlay Isma'il's town in times of siege. It was supplied by the ten norias (waterwheels) of the neighbouring building and surrounded by three tall crenellated walls more than 2 m thick. This site has been restored very recently.

How Monument was dated:

Ibn Zaydan provides the approximate date of 1107 / 1695 in al-Ithaf.

Selected bibliography:

Barrucand, M., Urbanisme princier en islam : Meknès et les villes royales islamiques post-médiévales, Paris, 1985.
Mennouni, M., Four ages of urban planning in the town of Meknès (in Arabic), Rabat, undated.
Terrasse, H., Villes impériales du Maroc, Grenoble, 1937.
Andalusian Morocco: A Discovery in Living Art, p.81.

Citation of this web page:

Mohamed Mezzine "Sahrij Swani (Basin of the Norias)" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2024. 2024.;ISL;ma;Mon01;28;en

Prepared by: Mohamed MezzineMohamed Mezzine

Mohamed Mezzine is a heritage historian and the director of an established graduate program at the university of Fes on the history, preservation and restoration of architectural heritage in ancient (Moroccan) cities. He studied at University Mohamed V (Rabat) and obtained a Doctorat d'Etat in history from the University of Paris (7). Pr. Mezzine has been a visiting lecturer at the Universities of Metz, Tours (URBAMA) and Aix-en-Provence. He has likewise co-directed a number of joint research heritage projects involving French and Spanish academics. He has authored books and articles on the architectural heritage of the Islamic world including Fès médiévale, ed. Mohamed Mezzine (Paris : Ed. Autrement, 1992) ; “Political Power and Socio-Religious Networks in 16th-Century Fes,” in Islamic Urbanism in Human History: Political Power and Social Networks, ed. Tsugitaka Sato (London: Kegan Publ. de la Faculté des Lettres Sais-Fès, 2003). Pr. Mezzine is also a member of the national “Commission for the Preservation of Fes.”

Copyedited by: Margot Cortez
Translation by: Laurence Nunny
Translation copyedited by: Monica Allen

MWNF Working Number: MO 37


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