About Morocco l Facts & Figures l Links
Morocco is the tantalising lower lip on the mouth of the Mediterranean Sea, a Muslim land so rich in mystique it seems to hover like a magic carpet somewhere between myth and reality. Fez, Casablanca, Marrakech...just the names of these cities and towns should stir a hint of spice in the nostrils of the most geographically challenged. Many Moroccan destinations have been mythologised, and for good reason, but the more jaded traveller may well moan about the extinction of the 'real' Morocco. Still others will extol the country's unique living history, its shimmering light and its art. The truth lies somewhere in between.
An easy hop from Europe, it can be a friendly, hectic and stimulating place to get around in. Open-air markets throughout the country are piled high with rugs, woodwork and jewellery. The country's prime produce (if you don't count the hashish) is leather - said to be the softest in the world.
Morocco's history began with the Berbers, the aboriginal people who have inhabited the country since the end of the 2nd millennium BC Rome extended its rule over the area after defeating Carthage in 146 BC. Testimony to its presence still exists in the fine Roman ruins at Volubilis close to Meknes. As Rome fell into decline Morocco was invaded first by the Vandals and then, in the 7th century, by the Arabs. Although external Arab rule lasted little more than a century, the arrival of Islam proved to be a permanent addition to Moroccan culture. In the ensuing centuries a series of ruling dynasties came to power, including the Idrissids, the Almoravids, and the Almohads, but none seemed capable of long maintaining the critical support of the Berber leaders.
By the 15th century Spain and Portugal began to intrude into Morocco, after having expelled the Moors from their own lands. Although Morocco successfully repulsed these invasions, the tide of European imperialism eventually proved too great. By the middle of the 19th century Morocco's strategic importance had become evident to all of the European powers, and they engaged in a protracted struggle for possession of the country. Finally, in 1911, France was formally acknowledged as protector of the greater part of the country, with Spain receiving a number of isolated locales. French rule came to an end in 1953, although its cultural influence on Morocco remains strongly in evidence. Today the country is ruled by King Hassan II, who has weathered a number of attempted coups in past decades. Hassan appears to be leading Morocco toward both long-term stability and a greater degree of economic prosperity.
Morocco is situated on the extreme northwestern corner of Africa and is bordered by Mauritania and Algeria, both to the south and east.
Spectacularly diverse, Morocco combines sand, sea and snow. The southern coast stretches to the edge of the Western Sahara while to the north the bulk of Morocco's population fills the foothills of the often snow-capped Atlas Mountains.
Between the mountains and Morocco's Atlantic coast are plateaus and plains, which are fertile and well watered. In the extreme south, at the edge of the Anti-Atlas, the gorges, like the rivers that flow at their bases, gradually peter out into the endless sand and stony wastes of the vast Sahara.
The climate in Morocco is reliably dry, although small amounts of rain do fall between November and March. Temperature varies considerably by season and locale. While the southern and southeastern desert regions can reach extremely high temperatures during the hot summer months, the higher altitudes of the mountains are cool in summer evenings and freezing in winter.
Spoken Moroccan Arabic (darija) is considerably different from the Arabic spoken in the Middle East. Various Berber dialects are widely spoken in the countryside and particularly in the mountains. Morocco tends to march to its own Islamic drum in terms of customs and way of life, but men remain firmly in charge. The strict segregation of the sexes in public life may be confusingly inconsistent to the visitor. It's in the big cities where the most mixing, and the most fashion risks, are encountered.
From the 'standard' Arabic culture, Morocco has developed an elaborate patchwork of artistic traditions. The thread holding it all together is music. From the classical style that developed in Muslim Spain and the storytelling musical traditions of the indigenous Berbers, through to the contemporary fusion of African, French, pop and rock.
Morocco's Islamic streak has meant that, compared to most African nations, dance is a fairly low-key affair (theoretically, Muslim women are not supposed to boogie). The Berbers though have a few ancient and symbolic dances like the circle dance known as Ahidous.
From the outside looking in, Morocco has inspired all sorts of artists. The French Neo-Baroque artist Eugene Delacroix devoted bucketloads of paint to Moroccan imagery after a visit in the 1830s. Market scenes, harem life and lion hunts dominated his canvases from this point onwards. And if Delacroix was considered a little over the top at the time, a century later Hollywood was positively beside itself with Morocco-mania. First there was Marlene Dietrich in Morocco, followed by the 1942 classic Casablanca. By the time Peter O'Toole was swanning around Morocco as Lawrence of Arabia, the country had become a gloriously distorted fantasyland for countless western baby boomers.
Moroccan food is good and solid, and known as one of the best African cuisine. The national dish is Couscous, finely ground semolina, which usually accompanies a vegetable and lamb casserole. You’ll also find other delicious dishes like all varieties of Tagines or the Pastilla. Moroccan pastries and sweet mint tea shouldn’t be missed either.
Facts & Figures
You will require a passport. Citizens of the EU, US, Australia and New Zealand do not need visas. Three-month visitor's stamps can be extended by Immigration or Bureau des Etrangers in most large towns.
Malaria lurks in the northern coastal reaches of Morocco, but generally the country is one of Africa's least daunting healthwise. Medical treatment, however, can be very expensive, so do take you minimal medical supply.
Currency: Dirham (Dr)
Electricity: 220V, 50Hz (110V in some older places)
Weights & measures: Metric system
The official Language is Arabic but almost everyone speaks French. In the Mediterranean part you’ll find that people also speak Spanish.
The Period of our visit is quite hot compared to what we are used to in the EU. So take light clothing but don’t forget that you are going to a Muslim country so you will need to cover up. In the Evenings it can become quite chilly so bring a warmer jumper and a sleeping bag.
Lonely Planet Guide, destination Morocco
Adventures of Morocco
Tourism in Morocco
The best of Morocco
La Maison du Maroc