We asked our followers on Facebook what came to mind when we mentioned holiday travel to Morocco and we had an immediate flurry of image-rich ideas and emotive descriptions. There were mentions of the famous souks – the intriguing Moroccan markets selling everything from spices to carpets and jewelry. There were also mentions of the delicious Moroccan tagines – rich stews cooked in glazed pots bursting with exotic flavours like dates, saffron, cumin, paprika, almonds and agarwood. The list of images Morocco conjures up is endless, we recommend these 5 cities as a great start to taking it all in:
The largest city in North-West Africa, Casablanca is also the economic powerhouse of the region and Morocco as a whole, while you might be put off by its modern reputation, Casablanca boasts a lot of older buildings and a rich cosmopolitain history. Made famous by the 1942 film of the same name, the city’s diverse cultures were echoed by the cosmopolitain cast of characters. Be sure to see some of the city’s famous architecture like the world’s 5th largest mosque, the French designed Hassan II Mosque and the Old Medina in the centre of town, while not as impressive as others in Morocco, it gives the visitor an opportunity to see how the locals live and shop.
Morocco’s elegant and sober capital city makes for an excellent visit. Be sure to see the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, King of Morocco – this exquisitely decorated mini-palace is the final resting place of the remains the Sultan. The Mausoleum is neighboured by the striking Hassan Tower, an incomplete minaret intended to be part of the world’s largest mosque begun in 1195, it’s half-finished height is a staggering 44m – had this complex been completed it would have surely been one of the wonders of the world. Check out the impressive Kasbah (fortress city) of the Udayas and if you’re interested in history, there’s no better place to get a glimpse of Moroccan history than at the Rabat Archeological Museum featuring Phoenician, Carthaginian, Roman and Islamic artifacts.
Fez is practically synonymous with Morocco, the former capital holds its heritage very close to its heart, banning even the motorcar from it’s central medina making it the largest urban car-free zone in the world. This medina is excellent to explore on foot, look out for the spectacular Medersa Bou Inania – a functioning religious school as well as the cabinet-makers souk and caravansarai (foundouk). Another not-to-be-missed sight is the tanners’ quarter, home to a working tannery and some excellent examples of Andalusian architecture. Fez is also home to the oldest continuously operational University in the World – the University of Al-Karaouine is more than 1150 years old!
If one city encompasses all of Morocco’s history, then it is Meknes. Founded in the 9th century near the former Roman city Volubilis, it has also been one of Morocco’s capitals during the country’s past, all meaning it has a rich history and culture to share with visitors. Not far from the modern city are the Roman ruins which are some of the best preserved in North Africa and feature the famous House of Bachus and triumphal arch. Be sure to visit the Dar Jamaï Palace showcasing exquisite local crafts like embroidery, jewelry, woodwork and ceramics; as well as spectacular sights like the massive and elaborate Bab Mansour gate which punctuates the city’s 40km’s of wall.
It is said that visiting Marakech is like stepping back in time. Nicknamed “the Red City” because of the red plaster used in the buildings of the city, it abounds with all things Moroccan from towering minarets to its world-famous market square. The Koutoubia Mosque towers above the old city, begun in 1150, it is home to a spectacular minaret, it’s a hard one to miss. The spectacularly ornate El Bahia Palace was built in the 19th century as a home for the Sultan’s grand vizier and is worth visiting for it’s intricate decor and peaceful gardens and courtyards; the Dar Si Said Museum is also an intriguing attraction from an architectural point of view. Most famous is the Djemaa El Fna, the massive market square renowned for its alluring nighttime food-stalls, daytime water-sellers adorned in colourful traditional clothing and snake charmers – it’s the epitome of an eastern bazaar in the minds of Westerners.