Morocco at 60
The Kingdom of Morocco marks its 60th anniversary of independence in April but while the country actually celebrates Independence Day in November, on the date Sultan Mohammed V returned from exile, you don’t have to wait that long to experience the charms of this North African country.
Along with its former rulers France and Spain, Morocco is one of three countries to have coastline on both the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. As a predominantly Muslim nation at the crossroads of Europe and Africa, Morocco has a rich history and culture. This longtime U.S. ally is a constitutional monarchy with modern facilities to welcome tourists.
The Mediterranean influence means Morocco has a climate similar to Southern California, with lush forests in the north and central parts of the country giving way to the desert farther south. It’s a place of great natural beauty and contrasts, from the Atlas Mountains to the Sahara, offering intrepid travelers a wide variety of recreational opportunities, including desert treks by camel, swimming, skiing and hiking.
Fez, in the northeast, and Marrakech, in the southwest, are Morocco’s two big cultural destinations. Both are former imperial cities of approximately one million people each. Both offer an old-world ambiance that will give travelers a true feel for this ancient land.
The oldest of Morocco’s imperial cities, Fez has a history dating back more than a thousand years, and has been a center of manufacturing, trade, education and religion.
Fes el-Bali, the old walled quarter, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a highlight of any visit to the city. Its narrow lanes are crowded with food stalls and craft workshops. Fez is known for its embroidery, leather goods and the tall round hat of the same name that originated there. For a sense of old Morocco, visit the pungent tanners’ quarter with its vats of colorful dyes and workers making leather the way it’s been done for hundreds of years. Afterward, check out the surrounding stores to bring home a one-of-a-kind souvenir. And don’t miss the 14th-century Madrasa Bou Inania. The combination religious school and mosque is a stunning example of Islamic architecture.
Marrakech is located near the foothills of the Atlas Mountains and it’s a good starting point for making a trek through the vast golden sand dunes of the Sahara desert or a visit to some of Morocco’s mountain villages inhabited by Berbers, an ethnic group indigenous to North Africa.
The highlight of a trip to Marrakech is the old market square, Jemaa el-Fnaa, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The square is packed with street entertainers, from musicians to fire eaters, snake charmers, acrobats and belly dancers. The alleyways around the square are filled with stalls selling food and crafts, including brightly colored spices and intricately woven rugs. The ornate 19th-century Bahia Palace and the Majorelle Garden, with its Islamic Art Museum and exotic plants and fountains, are great places to get a respite from the crowds.
For help planning a trip to Morocco, contact one of our travel specialists at 719-597-0004.