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.
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.
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.
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.
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.