The Phoenicians explored this corner of Africa around 1000BC and found the area away from the coast to be inhabited by people they called barbaroi (meaning “not our people”), which later became known as the Berbers. The Berbers may have had links with the Celts, Basques, or tribes from the Lebanon. Around 150 years BC, the Romans added this part of the North African coast to their empire but did not generally disturb the Berbers who were further inland and in the mountains. The 7th century AD saw the Arab armies spread across northern Africa and into Morocco. They didn’t stop there of course, joining with the Berbers, they invaded most of Spain, where they had a presence for around 600 years. In 788, a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed, named MoulayIdriss, was proclaimed king by the Berber tribes. MoulayIdriss quickly became powerful and influential but was murdered by a rival. The village which is the location of his tomb is now called MoulayIddriss and is one of the most sacred shrines in Morocco. The son MoulayIdriss, MoulayIdriss II took over and founded the present city of Fez, the capital at that time. After his death in 828, power was split between several sons, resulting in a weakness of leadership. In the mid 11th century, an army of strict Muslims moved out from their fortified monastery in the desert to the south and conquered southern Morocco, destroying musical instruments and drinking places as they went. These Almoravids eventually captured Fez, after founding their own capital at Marrakech and later had influence in Spain also. Later, in the mid-12th century, another fanatic group, the Almohads, moved from their fortified monastery in the Atlas Mountains to take control of all northern Africa and much of Spain. Eventually the Almohads were weakened by infighting and in the mid-13th century the BeniMerin Berber tribe took control. The Merinids were more materialistic than their predecessors and built some fine buildings, including the Alhambra at Granada, Spain. After the Christians eventually pushed the Moors (Arabs and Berbers) out of Spain, the Spanish and Portuguese invaded the Moroccan coastline (Spain still holds control of Ceuta and Melilla on the north Moroccan coast). This encouraged the Saadi Arab tribe from the Draa valley to move north and eventually take control during the mid to late 16th century, bringing King Ahmed el Mansour to power. The Saadians lavished much wealth on Marrakech. After King Ahmed’s death in the early 17th century, the Saadians power fell apart and allowed the Alaouites to take control under the sultan Moulay Ismail. In fact the Alaouites were invited by the people of Fez to restore order to the country. Ismail was believed to be cruel and ruthless but was also a leader and restored order. The Alaouites kept control for over two centuries but during the 19th century, Morocco became increasingly dependent on France (Europe had been colonizing Africa and the French had taken control of Morocco’s neighbor, Algiers). In 1912. Morocco became a Franco-Spanish protectorate but with an Alaouite sultan, chosen by the French. The French controlled the central and southern areas while the Spanish controlled north. Tangiers was an international zone and Rabat the capital. During this time the Franco Spanish influence resulted in roads, railways and schools being built and many new towns were built beside the old. The Second World War weakened the position of the French and there were as strong movement for independence. To control this, the French exiled the sultan Mohamad V to Corsica but only succeeded in strengthening the independence movement. Eventually the French had to bring Mohamed V back and he became king in 1956 when independence was declared. King Mohamed V died suddenly in 1961 and was succeeded by his son, Hassan II, who introduced a Social, Democratic and Constitutional monarchy, with elections for the parliament every 6 years but power remaining with the king. The present king, Mohamad VI, succeeded king Hassan II on his death in 1999, has continued his father’s progressive reforms of health, education, and economics. Morocco is modernizing but also retaining its culture which is a fascination to visitors.
As is the case with most countries, while it is not possible to do everything in one trip, travelers want to get the most out of their journey. So the following is a short list of things to do while in Morocco.
Windsufing, Agadir and Essaouira
If you prefer outdoor activities or simply feel like you need a little water on your skin, you should attempt this well-loved sport. These two destinations are famed for providing ideal conditions in which to windsurf.
Kasbah Glaoui, Telouet
This amazing relic conjures up images of horse-mounted Arab and Berber warriors riding through plains of Telouet. It is truly inspiring and well worth a visit.
International Arts Festival, Asilah
If you are an art lover and enjoy shopping, you have to make a trip to Asilah during the month of August. Every year an arts festival is held here and a riot of color and music grace your senses.
Souks, all through Morocco
Where ever you are you should always take a turn towards the local souks and feast your eyes. There is so much on display here that you can literally spend hours just looking at it all. Prices are usually not toobadeither.
Skiing season is between February and April and this wonderful, unassuming resort boasts a ski lift and terrain to suit all levels and styles. If you are fond of skiing you should definitely make a stop here.
Rock Carvings, near Ouka’meden
If ancient civilizations interest you, then no doubt you’d enjoy looking at these great pre-historic rock carvings of animals.
Trekking, the Atlas Mountains
Whether trekking appeals to you or not, a trek through the Atlas Mountains can leave you flabbergasted at the heavenly natural beauty of the area.
Camel Trekking, Zagora
Unless you already have an affinity for these animals, you probably shouldn’t try a camel trek that lasts longer than a day. While the experience can feel authentic and provide an interesting way to see the sights, it can also make you feel sore and tired. Despite these after-effects, it is still well worth the effort.
Djemaa el Fna, Marrakesh
Go to this amazing city square festival to enjoy a conglomeration of acrobats, story tellers, musicians and snake charmers. Every night people of interest get together in the city square to entertain and delight (and of course, make some money).
Goats, Souss Valley – Agadir
If you want to see a truly unique and amazing sight, have a look at the goats of the Souss Valley. These goats naturally climb Argan trees in order to forage on the higher limbs. It iscomical and astounding at the same time.
World Heritage Sites are sites in certain countries that have been deemed by UNESCO to be of outstanding cultural or natural importance. This value is universal and so preserving such sites is seen as being beneficial to the entire world’s population. Most of the cultural heritage sites are historical in nature and provide evidence of the way early cultures lived their day-to-day lives. These sites provide a wealth of information and form part of a world of history that would remain dead and buried were it not for the discovery and study of such amazing archaeological ruins. There are as many as eight designated World Heritage Sites in Morocco.
Archaeological Site of Volubilis:
These ancient Roman ruins were originally part of the Mauritanian capital that was established in the area in 3 BC. In its prime Volubilis was graced with many stunning buildings and although today all that remains are some ruins, the remaining structures and intricate mosaics have been preserved as a reminder of a city that once thrived.
Historic City of Meknes:
Founded in the 11th century as a military settlement, this great city developed into a place of great beauty, filled with superb examples of Spanish-Moorish styled architecture, much of which is still present today. Parts of the city, such as the enormous doors of the city, were constructed from materials looted from Volubilis.
Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou:
Lying along the ancient caravan route between the Sahara Desert and the city of Marrakech, this amazing group of earthen buildings is a striking example of the ancient and practical architecture used in the southern parts of Morocco. Situated in the Quarzazate province, the buildings are surrounded by high, defensive walls which are reinforced by corner towers. This uniquely beautiful site has been used in a number of movies, including The Jewel of the Nile, The Living Daylights, Gladiator and Alexander.
The Medina of Essaouira:
This once humble fishing village developed into a strategically significant seaport which was used by pirates in the 1500s. Within the city’s fortified walls, the Medina of Essaouira has been preserved and many buildings remain much the same as when they were constructed back in the 18th century.
Medina of Fez:
With a history that goes right back to the 9th century, the Medina of Fez is considered to be Morocco’s cultural and spiritual centre. The Medina consists of numerous beautifully preserved historical buildings, including mosques, palaces, residential home and squares with fountains, all set in a labyrinth of narrow streets and alleyways which are fascinating to explore.
Medina of Marrakech:
The Medina of Marrakech was established in the 11th century with successive occupants leaving their mark on the fascinating architecture of the city. The Almoravids built some of the most impressive structures in the Medina, including the Kasbah, a number of magnificent mosques and an open-air theatre which still stands today. The tombs of several prominent figures are located in the Medina of Marrakech and attract visitors from all over the world.
Morocco is often viewed as a destination that is surrounded by mystery, seduction and beauty. These opinions are reflected in the breathtaking architecture of Morocco. Although modern buildings have crept in and formed part of Moroccan architecture, it is the older buildings that ooze allure, secrecy and architectural marvels from years gone by. Moroccan architecture has a somewhat exotic charm and many tourists visit the country to look at a world that is steeped in tradition and culture. In fact, the architectural roots of Morocco can still be seen in the modern buildings that are constructed today.
Architecture in Morocco is a blend of Black African and Islamic design styles, with the Islamic styles dominating in this combination. This is not only viewed in the building itself, but the lavish gardens, extravagant decorations and elaborate use of deep and contrasting color. Turbulence in the history of Morocco is clearly seen in the strong desert fortifications and the well-protected palace walls. It is also the style with which Moroccans choose to decorate the interiors of buildings that gives these architectural wonders a unique and majestic atmosphere.
There are a few dominant characteristics in regard to the architecture of Morocco. Most buildings feature large, intimidating archways and beautiful domes that complete them. It is also common to find enchanting courtyards, sprawling gardens and the use of ornaments to decorate the exterior of the building. Moroccan architecture also makes use of Islamic calligraphy as decoration as opposed to pictures. And, as mentioned before, the use of color also plays a significant role in their designs. Geometric patterns are also commonly found in the architecture of Morocco.
Noteworthy buildings to visit while in Morocco would include the Royal Palace, the Mohammed V Mausoleum and the Kasbah des Oudaias. While in Fez it is recommended that tourists visit the Museum of Moroccan Arts – not so much for what it exhibits but rather for the fact that the museum building was constructed approximately one hundred years ago. The city of Marrakech is home to the Palace of the Dead, the Saadian Tombs and the Bahia Palace.
Many cities have spectacular examples of Moroccan architecture and visitors will be amazed at the diversity and uniqueness of each building. Morocco has been loyal to its age-old traditions and cultures – not only in lifestyles, but in its architectural style. They have managed to modernize their cities without losing the richness and beauty of the past.
The almost medieval-like hustle and bustle of Morocco is for most travelers a world away from their own cities and towns. The culture and people are usually so completely different from what they know that they often find themselves in situations to which they have no idea how to react. The following brief explanation of Moroccan art and culture is designed to help you get the most out of your stay in this amazing country.
The art of this country is truly special. Many historical examples are on display at the local museums. More modern examples are on display at art galleries and in souks. Beware of cheap imitations though!
There are so many different ways that the people express themselves – in carpets, clothing, jewelry, ceramics, sculpture, painting, carving, and calligraphy. They even hold an international art festival once a year to showcase all their talent. If you ever have the opportunity to visit this country, you should consider buying some of the local artwork. Not only will it provide you with a little memento of your trip, but it will help out the local people who are usually quite poor.
Souks are a way of life in Morocco and you usually won’t have to go far to find one. You can often get good bargains here, but remember that most Moroccans will have a lot more experience than you will when it comes to haggling the price so you will seldom find yourself able to get better than that which is offered.
You may find, if you are friendly and courteous enough, that you will soon start to make friends with the locals. If this happens and you are invited to a meal, it is good to keep in mind some of the local customs. For example, you will usually take off your shoes when entering a house. You can follow your host’s example in this regard. Also it is a good idea to take a gift of some sort with. If you are in a home in the city you might take some pastries or some sugar with you. If you are in the county it would be better to buy a live chicken for the household which is likely to not be quite so well off. A home invitation is perhaps the most authentic way to sample Moroccan dishes. Most Moroccan food is eaten with the hands. If you are invited to join someone for a meal, you should always eat with the right hand as the left is supposed to be used for the toilet.
Any plans to visit mosques will usually meet with failure as these are considered to be very holy places that only Muslims are allowed access to. Though this is allowed in other parts of the world, the closest you will likely get to the inside of a mosque in Morocco is if you visit some ruins or disused mosques such as Tin Mal and Smara. Most other monuments are on view to the public for a price and you can also observe certain celebrations such as the Imichal wedding Fair.
When taking photographs of the local people, it would be wisest to ask their permission. Taking a photograph of someone without their permission – especially in rural areas – can cause offense. This may result in them demanding money from you – even if you only intended to take a scenic shot of something. In contrast, taking photographs of someone you have become friendly with is usually very welcome. Often people with whom you’ve become acquainted will take you to a place where they can get a photograph taken with you for themselves. You should not be unfriendly about this as it usually does not result in you paying for the picture or any further harassment.
Traditionally the men take to the streets and the women are in control of their homes. This means that you will not often find woman in cafés or restaurants. If you are a woman and you strike up a friendship, you will likely be invited to the person’s home or to a hamman (bath) for further association. On the other hand, if you are a man or a man and woman travelling together, you will likely be invited into a café for some tea or a meal.
In general, Moroccan culture can be an exciting and worldly experience. The people are friendly and the place is colourful. Hospitality is really a part of their culture so you can strike up friendships virtually anywhere if you have the right attitude. Usually this results in further association with these dynamic and interesting people and a real taste of Moroccan life.
Marrakech is the third largest city in Morocco after Casablanca and Rabat and boasts Morocco’s most impressive market area (Souks), a display of how Morocco used to be, sitting below the High Atlas Mountains (snow covered in winter).
Although it is a favorite destination of many tourists, these tourist have been looking for the traditional Morocco and have not caused Marrakech to change.
The famous square, Jemaa el Fna, is not attractive in itself but the life that goes on there IS attractive. There are likely to be snake charmers, musicians, story tellers plus stalls to buy food, herbal medicines, or have a tooth pulled!
Around the square are plenty of cafes and restaurants where you can relax and watch everyone else.
The souks are close to the square and cover the largest area of any souks in Morocco. Here you will find a wealth of craftwork, material, rugs, pottery, and food. A lot of bargaining will be required to get anything at a good price and you need to be prepared for the sellers to bit intimidating if you then leave without buying.
Typical lamps on display in a souk. There are a number of gardens in and around Marrakech, irrigated by water brought down from the Atlas Mountains by canals, creating cool areas in a city that can get very hot during the summer.
One of the most notable gardens are the Jardin Majorelle, located less than 1km outside the North West medina wall
Built over a 40 year period by the French painter Jaques Majorelle in the middle part of the last century, these gardens, although the area open to the public is not particularly large (certainly not 12 acres as quoted elsewhere), are a popular tourist attraction. Since 1980, these gardens have belonged to Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé. The gardens offer a cool, shady, and peaceful (though sometimes busy) change from the city outside. The building that was originally Majorelles studio now functions as a museum dedicated to the Berber tribes.
Fes was the capital of Morocco for 4 centuries and Fez el Bali the old city (medina) is possibly the oldest and largest medieval cities in the world and one of the best preserved.
Fez is the cultural and religious center of Morocco together with being home to Morocco’s oldest university.
The medieval medina of Fez is a truly working city, not a museum piece, where craftsmen use techniques which may not have changed for many centuries.
There is an important tanning area in Fez el Bali where animal skins are cured and dyed together with a wool dying quarter. These areas and the methods used will certainly not have been changed by modern technology.
The city of Agadir today is a modern city, built as a holiday resort around the curving bay, with a development of low rise hotels between the city and the sand.
Agadir was planned to be very different from the old cities of Morocco, having wide tree lined roads and open squares.
There is a thriving commercial and fishing port to the north of the city and Morocco’s most popular beach resort stretches to the south. Agadir can be accessed via Agadir Airport, 20 km south east of the city.
Casablanca had been a small coastal town until the period of French rule from 1907 when it grew to become Morocco’s busiest port and its industrial and economic centre.
Casablanca now has a population approaching 5 million. The city centreis impressive and modern with wide streets and clean buildings. Possibly the most impressive building in Casablanca is the Grand Mosque of Hassan II, completed in 1994 with room for 20,000 to worship inside and 80,000 outside in the courtyard. The tower (or minaret) is 210m high and is the highest minaret in the world. The cost of constructing the mosque is reported to have approached 1 billion dollars and is built partly over the sea, with a glass floor and opening roof.
There is also an old part (medina) to the city and market area (Souk) though not as impressive as some of the older cities. It was originally a relatively small town after all.
The city of Ouarzazate is a little different from other Moroccan cities, it appears to have been designed with tourism in mind, having a long wide street and a number of lovely hotels.
The city has a well preserved Kasbah and Palace of Glaoui, while the whole area has been extensively used as a film set.
Ouarzazate can be accessed by road from Marrakech – a 200 Km journey through the stunning Tizi-n-Tichka pass, rising to 2,260m (7,400ft) above sea level, through the High Atlas. There is also an airport in Ouarzazate but you will have difficulty finding international flights heading there.
The walled town of Essaouira lies on the Atlantic coast, north of Agadir, and due west of Marrakech. This town is not as old as some, having been built approximately 200 years ago, in a reasonably orderly fashion.
On the southern side of the town is a fishing harbor where, at certain times of the day, local fishermen cook freshly caught fish and serve them up at simple tables.
Though not particularly developed as a tourist destination, Essaouira has a fine beach stretching to the south, lined with hotels. This Atlantic coastline is often windy and attracts wind surfers.
The town of Chefchaouen (spellings vary and can be shortened to Chaouen) in the Rif Mountains was founded by the Muslims and Jews who fled southern Spain at the time of the Christian reconquest in the 15th century.
The town was effectively closed to outsiders and unknown to the outside world until the 20th century and had remained relatively unchanged for 500 years. It is said to give the best possible view of what an Andalucian town would have been like in the time of the Moors.
The Medina or old town has narrow streets with whitewashed houses colored powder blue below.
Although the town now receives tourists and caters for them, it is unique and has an air of mystery, augmented by its location in the mountains.
Tangier (or Tanger) has been under the rule of a varied list of countries through the ages including a brief period of British rule in the 17th century. During the Franco-Spanish Protectorate period in the 20th century, Tangiers was declared an international zone. This attracted many European and American visitors to the city and has given it a more cosmopolitan feel than others in Morocco.
Spanish is widely spoken here as a second language whereas other city dwellers will normally speak French and the souks are more geared towards tourists or even day-trippers. Tangiers, after all, is only 15Km across the water from Europe and is very accessible by ferry.
About 120Km south west of Tangier, is the village of Chefchaouen, founded by Muslems and Jews who were pushed out of Spain by the Christians in the 15th century. This village high in the Rif Mountains was largely cut off from the rest of Morocco and gives a good indication of what Moorish Andalucia (southern Spain) used to be like.
The city of Taroudant has been described as the largest untouched city of Morocco and also as a smaller and slower version of Marrakech.
Situated 70km inland from Agadir, 220Km south west of Marrakech and surrounded by olive groves, orchards of citrus fruit, and green fields watered by the melting snow of the High Atlas, this is a pleasant place to be.
The city walls are of shades of brown and gold and you will see buildings with beautiful facades. The souks may be smaller than Marrakech but just as varied – the city is noted for its crafts.
Rabat had been the imperial capital of Morocco in the 12th century but this title later went to Fez and Meknes.
During the Franco-Spanish Protectorate in the 20th century, The French made Rabat the administrative center, and it became the capital when Morocco gained independence in 1956.
Although Rabat has its old quarter (medina) and markets (souks) these are not as fascinating as those of Fez and Marrakech which have played a more important part in history. Rabat is mainly a large modern city, with a population of 2 million, and wide tree lined streets with smart cafes.
Morocco, unlike most other African countries, produces all the food it needs to feed its people. Its many home-grown fruits and vegetables include oranges, melons, tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, and potatoes. Five more native products that are especially important in Moroccan cooking are lemons, olives, figs, dates, and almonds. Located on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, the country is rich in fish and seafood. Beef is not plentiful, so meals are usually built around lamb or poultry.
Flat, round Moroccan bread is eaten at every meal. The Moroccan national dish is the tajine, a lamb or poultry stew. Other common ingredients may include almonds, hard-boiled eggs, prunes, lemons, tomatoes, and other vegetables. The tajine, like other Moroccan dishes, is known for its distinctive flavoring, which comes from spices including saffron, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, ginger, and ground red pepper. The tajine’s name is taken from the distinctive earthenware dish with a cone-shaped top in which it is cooked and served. Another Moroccan dietary staple is couscous, made from fine grains of a wheat product called semolina. It is served many different ways, with vegetables, meat, or seafood.
Sweets play a very important role in the Moroccan diet. Every household has a supply of homemade sweet desserts made from almonds, honey, and other ingredients. Mint tea is served with every meal in Morocco. It is sweetened while it is still in the pot.
Made from semolina (coarsely ground hard wheat with the bran removed) and is a basic Berber food and is served with meat, vegetables, and possibly nuts and fruit. The traditional method of making couscous is a lengthy process and in some cases, restaurants may require it to be ordered in advance.
Another series of old Berber dishes, slow cooked in a shallow earthenware pot of the same name having a conical lid, often made with lamb or chicken plus vegetables. Tajines are mildly spiced with saffron, cumin and coriander giving a distinctive flavor.
Chicken or Pigeon in a rich lemon sauce, layered between fine layers of pastry
An important part of any Moroccan meal, this will be a flat bread which is broken and use as a tool to help eating and to soak up gravy.
This is a thick broth or soup containing lamb or chicken, lentils, chickpeas, tomatoes onions and herbs. Harira is traditionally eaten in the evening during Ramadan, to break the fast.
The Sahara is the world’s largest desert. Only a small part of the Sahara is fertile and it is here that corn, dates and other fruits grow. These parts are fed by underground rivers and oases. The Sahara can be an inspirational experience at night, with the air being crisp, clean and clear and the stars being so close you can almost touch them.
The Sahara desert stretches across much of North Africa covering over 9,000,000 square kilometers (roughly the size of the United States). In fact, the Sahara covers some 30% of the entire African continent. It is the hottest place in the world with summer temperatures that often exceeds 57 degrees Celsius. It has an annual rainfall of 0 – 25 millimetres and is very windy with windstorms sweeping the sand up to heights of 1000 meters and moving the sand dunes constantly.
The Sahara consists of one quarter volcanic mountains, one quarter sand, rocks and gravel-covered plains and small areas of vast permanent vegetation. The vegetation includes shrubs, grasses, and trees in the highland and in the oases along the river beds. Some of the plants are well adjusted to the climate since they sprout within three days of rain and snow their seeds within two weeks after that.
Animals in the Sahara are mainly Gerbils, Cape Hare, Deer, Weasels, Baboons, Jackals, Sand Foxes, Mongooses, Desert Hedgehogs and over 300 bird species.
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