History and Geography of Morocco
Its location at the intersection of Europe and Africa make Morocco a real crossroads bordered by the waters of the Mediterranean and open to the vast stretches of the Atlantic Ocean. This “farthest land of the setting sun” is rich in contrasts, a destination that beckons you to discover two millennia of history.
Here where influences converge, you will find vestiges of the great Mediterranean civilizations, such as the Roman ruins at Volubilis in the north and architectural works attesting to the old French presence in Rabat. Your curiosity will be piqued by the treasures of Muslim civilizations scattered throughout the rest of the country, including the Kasbah of the Udayas, the green expanses of the Menara gardens and many other examples of the myriad dynasties that succeeded one another.
The landscapes themselves are magnificent. Morocco features both sea and mountain and is home to the full range of Mediterranean climates, which surrender to the sands of the Sahara. The country serves up marvelous vistas that you will enjoy soaking in and discovering for yourself. With its mix of diverse, captivating panoramas and a rich kaleidoscope of culture, Morocco is an unbeatable destination.
A modern society focused on the future
Through rooted in its traditions, Morocco offers all the conveniences of modern times
Morocco is a firmly future-focused country that has succeeded in preserving its traditions and promoting its cultural heritage by harnessing them to drive development. The city of Marrakesh is a perfect example: the Medina district and its souks have an unmatched old-fashioned charm, while Guéliz and Hivernage are decked out with the most modern infrastructure and facilities. Far from being in conflict, modernity and tradition together are what makes Morocco strong.
As a visitor, you will enjoy every modern convenience and pleasure. For your accommodations, Morocco is full of hotels in every price range from the major international chains. Plus it also has the biggest international ready-to-wear shops, which are taking advantage of the ideal opportunity for positioning in a fast developing country.
Morocco is striving to avoid the pitfalls of modern life, especially when it comes to the environment, by favoring tourism practices that are respectful of the Earth and local communities. As the author of a sustainable tourism charter and host of COP22, Morocco is on the front lines to preserve our planet.
Art of living and cultural traditions
Tradition is alive and well
Morocco has been around for thousands of years and has inherited centuries of tradition. And yet this kingdom is not the least bit frozen in time. It has a vibrant culture that is expressed each day in the little details that make up daily routines and habits, as well as in celebrations and rituals. Spend some time here and soak up Morocco’s irresistible lifestyle.
The best approach is to walk through her cities and villages and experience the narrow alleys of ancient neighborhoods. This brings you close to the people: talk to them! They are certain to invite you to have a cup of Moroccan tea, a time-honored ritual of hospitality and ceremony.
You should also experience day-to-day life. Morocco and its inhabitants espouse an enviable Mediterranean lifestyle that has been recognized by UNESCO. This lifestyle comprises practices, foods and symbols that bring pleasure to every day and are sure to captivate you as well.
The kingdom loves its celebrations, which punctuate the calendar. One of the types of events that bring Moroccans together are its famous moussems, festive religious events. Do not miss the Tan-Tan moussem, which is especially well known and has been listed on the Intangible Cultural Heritage register since 2008. The Essaouira Gnaouas festival is also highly recommended. These gatherings are opportunities for you to interact with and immerse yourself in the different cultures that make Morocco such a rich, diverse country.
This is but a glimpse of the myriad cultures that still thrive in Morocco. Work your way across the country and get to know these treasures of Morocco’s intangible cultural heritage.
Marrakech Eternal, Unmissable
A mixture of traditional and contemporary, Marrakech holds the promise of incomparable sensations. Stroll through the Jemaa El Fna and the bazaars with their bright colors and oriental scents, and the red city will whisk you into another world in the blink of an eye. Rides in horse-drawn carriages, sun-soaked terraces, street artists and other activities both day and night will all add to your stay in Morocco.
Admire the architectural wealth of the Medina by visiting one of its many riads, small oriental palaces arranged around a central courtyard, or relax at the Menara, a large pooled garden typical of the city. Marrakech relies on its incredible diversity to provide choice for its visitors. You need only head out of the walled center to become immersed in contemporary Morocco. The Guéliz and Hivernage districts offer the most up to date infrastructure, luxury boutiques and international brands along broad spacious avenues; all in Marrakech’s own inimitable style.
As a sign of a growing economic buzz, there are also festive and cultural locations including the Palais des Congrès and the magnificent Théâtre Royal. Enjoy Marrakech at night by paying a visit to the many themed venues, trendy clubs and traditional evenings that reflect the zest for life of its inhabitants.
In 2016, Marrakech hosts the Cop22 fight against climate change, as recognition of its growing international importance and its great hotelier and conference capabilities.
Where culture is alwats stirring
The rich heritage of Marrakesh stretches back a thousand years. And yet, nothing here seems frozen or petrified. The culture is dynamic and alive.
Jemaa El Fna Square captures this energy. Come experience this gathering place where people eat and drink, reveling in the local delicacies. It is also a place for singing, where visitors come to enjoy the most popular pastimes in Moroccan culture thanks to storytellers, fortune tellers and gnawa musicians. The square is all things picturesque and authentic.
Marrakesh also hosts its fair share of festivals. The city is a moviemaking landmark. Each December it hosts the Marrakesh International Film Festival, which draws the biggest names from the silver screen. In the middle of the year, popular arts are honored with their own festival, during which visitors are treated to the traditional songs, dances and music of Morocco. Enjoy this close encounter with the country’s culture in a lighthearted ambiance set to furious rhythms.
Casablanca, The Energy Of Modernity
The sparkle of Casablanca
From the major thoroughfares lined with palm trees and tall office buildings to the Atlantic Ocean and its view on the world, Casablanca is Morocco’s economic powerhouse. This vibrant city is always on the qui vive.
Modern constructions blend with charming neighborhoods that reflect Arabic-Islamic heritage and the traces of the city’s colonial period. Take the time to explore its subtleties. Walk through the medina – oneof the most recent in Morocco. Stroll through downtown to admire the Art Deco buildings and visit the Hassan II Mosque.
Most Iconic Place
Hassan II Mosque is the city’s most well-known attraction and something that shouldn’t be missed. Visitors that want to understand Islam and desire the opportunity to visit an Islamic house of worship will find no better example in the country. Completed in less than eight years with the capacity to hold 100,000 worshippers, it features traditional Moroccan materials and architectural styles and provides an unparalleled glimpse into the major faith of the country and its traditions. Without a tour you can visit the exterior, but opt to go with a guide so you can tour the interior.
That thought hits me as we pull up to our hotel in Casablanca. One of this Moroccan city’s newest lodgings, the Hôtel and Spa Le Doge occupies a 1930s mansion. Each of its suites is named and individually designed to honor a leading figure of the art deco epoch—Fitzgerald, Colette, Coco Chanel, Jean Cocteau. The bellhop escorts my mother and me up a winding, crimson-carpeted staircase and leads us to the Fritz Lang room, named for the director of the 1927 movie Metropolis and aptly adorned with cinema-style tripod floor lamps and walls painted a smart, filmstrip gray. The bellhop deposits our luggage, then turns toward my mother and, apropos of nothing, says: “Vous avez le ciel et la lumière du Maroc dans les yeux, madame—You have the sky and the light of Morocco in your eyes, madam.” My mother, her sky-and-light eyes now tearful, brings her hand to her chest and responds: “Je suis Casablancaise. Et j’ai le Maroc dans mon coeur, monsieur—I am from Casablanca, and I have Morocco in my heart, sir.”
Claude Stren, née Schétrit—my mother—was born in a taxicab in Casablanca in 1941, a year before the classic film Casablanca was released. To me, her early life seemed like a movie: glamorous in its tumult. If Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman’s Casablanca—filmed in studios in Burbank, California—was about longing and loss, my mother’s Casablanca was too. Her Morocco, a country she was forced to abandon for political and religious reasons more than 50 years ago and has longed for ever since, instilled in me a yearning for a grander, more operatic life.
I was born the boring way, in a hospital, and grew up in safe, comfortable Toronto, with its grumpy, overcast skies, hearing about my mother’s native city—its slicing light, its Ajax white buildings, its temperamental, wind-tousled Atlantic shores. For as long as I can remember, my mother and I talked about an idyllic someday when we would visit Casablanca. But she feared she would be returning to an unrecognizable city. So we let Casablanca flourish in the haze of fantasy—until my mom celebrated her big 70th birthday in 2011, and we finally booked the airline tickets.
“I am afraid of confronting the work of time,” she admits to me somewhere above the Atlantic Ocean on the plane flight over. I do not tell her this, but I am feeling nervous too, that our high expectations will lead only to a letdown.
STANDING ON OUR HOTEL’S ROOFTOP TERRACE, we see Casablanca spread before us: 1930s-style town houses crowned with tropical gardens filled with lemon trees and trees that locals call filles de l’air (girls of the air), minarets pointing up to preposterously blue Moroccan skies the likes of which inspired Henri Matisse. But we also see grime-veiled apartment blocks with Berber rugs dangling over rust-scabbed balconies.
When the French established a protectorate in Morocco in 1912, they saw an opportunity for Casablanca to become the pinnacle of colonial achievement: a brand-new seaside fantasia of art deco and neo-Moorish architecture. Paris with palm trees. But the colonial government gave way to independence in 1956, and today Casablanca has a determinedly different character. Redolent of Havana or Buenos Aires, Morocco’s most populous city has a splendor of bygone days.
Travelers in search of a mystical, snake-charming Morocco tend to relegate Casablanca to a night on the itinerary—a stopover en route to the imperial cities of Marrakech and Fès. Locals also sometimes deride Casa, as it’s nicknamed, as a traffic-choked financial center.
But Casablanca native and Hôtel Le Doge owner Mounir Kouhen is one of a growing number of Moroccans who are committed to rehabilitating the city’s reputation and architecture. He joins us on the rooftop, immaculately outfitted in a charcoal gray suit and pink tie. “We wanted to bring back Casablanca’s artistic universe, its golden age,” he says. “We took three years to renovate this building and quickly found its soul, its heart. Now it’s ours to protect.” He then adds, “Casa is different from other Moroccan cities. It spills over with energy.” The sounds of horns interrupt him as if on cue. “This is the New York City of Morocco. But something that people may not know is that Casa is also a city beloved of Jacques Brel, of Édith Piaf.”