Morocco – the land of ‘M’s: a mountainous country with a Mediterranean climate ruled by a monarchy situated at the medina of Marrakech, famous for its Muslim (mosques and madrasas!) yet multicultural setting, and merchant markets.
The History of Morocco
Although Morocco was independent for about 500 years, it suffered many invasions from various races, but eventually rose as a powerful country and a centre of learning following the Idrisid Dynasty in 780 AD. With many more invasions, Morocco passed through a volatile era, with rulers changing hands many times. Finally, in the 17th Century, maintaining peace across the Sahara began to grow difficult and in 1666, the new Alaouite dynasty was formed. While Morocco remained a strong player during this period, the growth of European powers saw its influence decline into the 19th Century. After contesting the recent French and Spanish protectorate, Morocco finally gained independence in 1956 and continues to flourish as a hotspot for tourism and textiles.
Berber for ‘Land of God’, Marrakech is a former imperial fortified city, now known as Morocco’s “Pearl of the South.” In this ‘ochre city’, tours of Morocco generally cover the largest mosque in Marrakech, the Koutoubia Mosque, as well as the Saadian Tombs of the powerful ruler Ahmad al-Mansur and the impressive garden palace of Bahia (meaning ‘brilliance’).
Tourists can also take a gander through the Djemaa el Fna souk, Marrakech’s largest authentic Berber market. The markets are lined with rows of tented tea shops, weavers, cafes and local doctors. Here, travellers can buy tea, baskets, olives, rugs, medicinal herbs, perfume, ornamental boxes, slippers, lamps, musical instruments and more. Incredible sights in the markets also include busking magicians and snake charmers.
The City of Fez
Lovers of Marrakech should also head north to visit the city of Fez (or Fes), an imperial and holy place famed for its lively art and culture scene. The world sacred music festival (Festival des Musiques Sacrées du Monde) is held here every year, and gathers performers from different backgrounds and musical influences. The city also holds the Bou Inania madrassa (Muslim educational institution), a fine example of Berber architecture featuring a grand minaret.
Between Fez and the town of Rabat, visitors can also find the archaeological site of Volubilis. A World UNESCO site, Volubilis is one of the best preserved sites of Roman ruins. Once a significant Roman town, incredible remains can be seen here including arches, colonnades and intact building walls.
Another UNESCO site is the Ait Benhaddou, an old adobe fortified city (ksar), which has been the backdrop to many famous Western films including Gladiator, The Mummy, and the Prince of Persia. A handful of families still live in the ancient city and the Ounila Valley is one of the most fascinating sites for viewing traditional Moroccan architecture.