Morocco is a truly delightful country to discover. Charming ruins, pristine beaches, enchanting palaces, picturesque streets and bustling medinas are all a part of what makes the country so diverse and wonderful to explore.
But, as with any other North African, Muslim country, life in Morocco is very different from that in the West and that may raise some safety concerns for travellers. In the various sections below, we cover the main safety issues in Morocco while offering plenty of practical and easy solutions to help you deal with them during your stay.
Health does not need to be a main concern for those looking to travel to Morocco. As a virtually malaria-free country, you do not need to worry about mosquito bites, but you can take the usual precautions to stay safe (i.e. wearing lightly-colored clothes, using insect repellent in the warmer months, etc.).
There are also no required vaccines to enter the country but you are advised to have your polio and tetanus vaccines in order. If you like to be as safe as possible, having the Typhoid and Hepatitis A (and even Hepatitis B) vaccines are recommended.
Food and Water Safety
As with any other foreign country, the local food (and especially street food) is not always cooked in the same conditions your stomach is used to. For that reason, be aware of where you choose to try street food. Generally, the Jemaa el-Fnaa in Marrakesh, Skala du Port in Essaouira and Port in Agadir are safe places to try Morocco’s local flavors.
Many guidebooks recommend only drinking bottled water. However, most water from taps are safe to drink as cistern systems are well maintained (and are relatively new) throughout the country. While drinking bottled water is OK, our team has partnered with an international organization called TAP. We suggest that you bring a small filtering mechanism or a Steri-Pen with you to treat water as you consume it. We also advise travellers to not eat uncooked vegetables or fruits that you haven’t washed yourself or cannot peel in order to avoid an upset stomach during your travels.
Crime in Morocco
In general, crime does not pose a significant threat to the outlook of tourism to Morocco; although petty crimes such as pick-pocketing and bag snatching are more common in crowded areas. Hustlers and con artists also target tourists. The most sensible way to avoid them and keep on enjoying your time in Morocco is to politely refuse their services and to be sensibly guarded against strangers.
The biggest concern for a tourist in Morocco is the popularity of faux guides. Although these have decreased in number due to the great work of the Brigade Touristique, there are still many opportunistic men roaming the streets of popular hotspots waiting for the perfect traveler to con. But there are some effective ways to spot faux guides, as they tend to use some these tactics or similar:
•Many will pretend they are students when they approach you and tell you that they just want to practice their English and learn about your culture. Invariably, if you follow them, you will end up in some kind of shop where you may feel pressured to make a purchase.
•Others may approach you asking for help translating something into English and, again, during the conversation, they will lead you to a shop.
•When they lead you to these shops, the vendors may offer a “free gift”. Do not accept it, as a group of people will be waiting to approach you, accuse you of stealing and extort the price from you.
•Faux guides will always tell you that everything and everywhere is “closed” as a con to get you to follow them instead.
At bus or train stations, faux guides may also tell you that there have been cancellations or that you won’t be able to catch the specific bus or train you are waiting for as a way to get you to accept a high taxi fare.
When you do spot a faux guide, hustler, or con artist trying to trick you, here are some of the best ways to avoid him without causing any trouble:
•Avoid eye contact and ignore them. This will usually suffice to discourage them.
•If eye contact happens, just ignore them and walk away.
•If they continue to approach you, walking away swiftly but politely is an effective way to avoid them.
•If they are persistent, don’t be afraid to simply say no. You can opt for saying “La” (the Arabic word for “no”) to avoid revealing your native language.
•In all cases, ignoring touts and faux guides is the best option in all cases. If you talk to them, then they have already succeeded in their first step.
In general, to be safe, it’s best to simply never accept the services of people who approach you and avoid eye contact when you see someone drawing near. Once these men start talking, it can be hard to get rid of them as this is their way of making a living. A firm and strong “no”, however, can do wonders.
Beware that the majority of crimes against tourists is main tourist locations in cities such as Marrakesh, Casablanca, Tangier, Fez, and Rabat. Pay close attention to these tips especially when visiting those areas.
For centuries, people have been enjoying hashish, or kif as it is called locally, in Morocco. Especially in the Rif Mountains, where the majority of the cannabis is grown, it is not uncommon to find men smoking hashish. However, despite the somewhat commonplace practice of smoking kif in the country, the drug is illegal and the penalty for breaking the law can include up to ten years imprisonment in a not-so-friendly Moroccan jail.
As cannabis has become a multi-million dollar industry, the government has not taken serious action to disband the drug business and those who are most often penalized are foreign travellers smoking on a street or being careless when buying from an undercover police officer.
If you happen to find yourself in the latter situation, see if you can pay a fine on the spot. If you cannot avoid going along with the police to a local station, avoid signing papers you do not understand, ensure you have a competent translator and lawyer, and contact your embassy as soon as possible. If you are given a court date and are set free, consider leaving the country.
Civil Unrest and Terrorism
Civil unrest is uncommon in Morocco. Between 2011 and 2012, some peaceful demonstrations gathered tens of thousands of people nationwide but violence between police and protesters was sporadic.
Domestic terrorism incidents were a more serious concern at the beginning of the millennium but have also become more rare as Moroccan security services increase their emphasis on finding and arresting potential terrorist cells before they become operational.
Generally, world governments have emphasized to keep caution when traveling to Morocco, which is essential in any country you are visiting. This advise is often so general and vague that it doesn’t truly provide insightful information. Moroccans as a population do not wish to have any political instability and while they do criticize the government in various ways, most Moroccans support the modern, progressive king, Mohamed VI. So, politically, Morocco is very stable and has been a fine example of solidarity in the region for decades. Of course, in any country, isolated incidents can occur (as in the US, France, and other countries), but if an incident occurs in a Muslim country, it tends to stand out and become immediately labelled as unstable.
In reality, like most of the world, Moroccans are a peace-loving people and will stand strong together against any group or individuals who attempt to dismantle peace. Officials and Moroccans in general are doing a very good job at keeping the country safe. Each country of the world is very different in terms of its relation to the other and an uprising or terrorist events in Algeria, Tunisia, or even France have hardly impacted Morocco’s stability. We encourage travellers to think outside of the box, trust our on-the-ground team to access current issues (whether ebola, events in France, Tunisia, or in Boston, among other perceived threats) that may be explored/exacerbated by the media which may not pose any real threat to travellers coming to Morocco. And, if an incident does occur, it’s mostly single individuals who are able to go undetected and slip through the cracks to accomplish their demented goal.
As an American, Canadian, or European (or in fact, from anywhere), you’ll be welcomed to Morocco by honest, friendly, and open-hearted Moroccans. You will not be targeted or singled out for acts of terrorism. We believe that large buses of tourists are slightly more at risk (albeit extremely low) than the more intimate, private trips to Morocco that we organize. With our drivers, guides, and local professionals, you are in the best of hands. We take our commitment to providing you with an amazing, safe, and unique experience seriously and ask as much from our travellers; that you trust we’ll be doing the best job we can. The entire world is hard to predict. Through thick and thin, we are carrying on as normal, with heightened awareness, but without fear. For travellers and the population, Morocco is a very safe country to travel and to live.
Road quality in Morocco varies throughout the country and throughout the year. From high-speed toll roads to secondary roads which may be more poorly maintained, the safety of the roads depends on the season as heavy rains or snow can create more dangerous driving conditions.
Drivers are known to be more erratic and all kinds of vehicles, from bicycles to donkey carts, are legally allowed to share a road. Traffic accidents are a major concern in Morocco so it is essential to be as careful as possible when driving around the country.
Is it Safe for Kids to Travel in Morocco?
Moroccan society is a very family-oriented one and you will be sure to witness that especially when you travel to Morocco with your family and young children. Family is the priority for Moroccans and children are typically spoiled rotten by elder relatives, being able to stay up later than is customary in the West and allowed to play freely indoors and on the streets.
When you travel with your little ones, you may then notice a friendlier attitude from the locals with people frequently coming up to you and admiring your children, affectionately caressing or possibly kissing their cheeks, inviting you in to their shops and cafés, and even offering free tea. This is all friendly behaviour and you should not feel uncomfortable or unsafe about it. Morocco has an extremely child-friendly culture and bringing your little ones along on your journey may even be an advantage for you to interact with the locals and explore the Moroccan way of life first hand.
Is it Safe for Women in Morocco?
There is no doubt that for women traveling in Morocco it is different than traveling to a Western country. In Morocco, gender roles are much more defined and the traditional views of a patriarchal society are quite prominent which means women will have to take extra precautions when discovering the colourful streets of Morocco.
Moroccan men have very little contact with women outside of their family growing up and that coupled with their misconceptions of Western sexuality (very much fed by their easy access to internet pornography) can sometimes lead them to misinterpret the actions and behaviours of Western women. Cat-calling and some lewd comments can be targeted frequently to both Moroccan and foreign women and the best response is to simply ignore those remarks. It is rare for things to be taken a step further, but if sexual harassment becomes physical, feel free to respond how you would at home: screaming, yelling and calling for help are all acceptable and helpful ways to react. This will not only shame your aggressor but also alert locals who will rush in to help you (especially if you yell out “Ha-Shooma!” which means “Shame on you!”). Whenever possible, report the harasser to the local Brigade Touristique.
Some practical tips for women traveling to Morocco include:
•Use common sense: Although this applies to almost any kind of international trip, it is especially fitting for women traveling in Morocco. Be sensible, try to adhere to most local customs and do your research before traveling to be as informed as possible.
•Dress modestly: Wear covering that covers the knees and shoulders. If you are comfortable with it, wearing a headscarf, even in the larger cities, can also help to avoid those types of uncomfortable situations.
•Look confident: When walking through the busy medinas (old city centres), a look of confidence and purpose in your eyes as opposed to one of disorientation can help to deter young men from harassing you.
•Behave appropriately: Men and women have very strict codes of interaction. In general, avoid intense eye contact and especially any kind of touching as this can be considered a come-on for Moroccan men.
•Mention your “husband”: If things start to feel uncomfortable when you are talking with a Moroccan man, casually mention your “husband” who is just around the corner. No matter who your male travel buddy is, introducing him to others as your husband will help to safeguard you against unwanted harassment.
•Keep your cool: Ignoring the sexual remarks can be difficult especially for women who have not had to deal with such behaviour before, but the best way to handle the situation is to keep a calm attitude. There is no reason to be afraid and it would be a shame to let an unpleasant situation ruin your whole trip.
Although Morocco remains a conservative country with respect to gender roles, change is occurring. Many women today don’t wear a full facial veil and while some opt for a simple headscarf other young women can be seen drinking alcohol in up-scale bars with a mixed-gender group of friends. However, rural areas are still more conservative than cosmopolitan cities such as Marrakesh and Fez so it is advisable to follow the tips above to avoid uncomfortable situations.
Traveling through Morocco (as you continue reading over our blog) can be a more challenging experience for women as opposed to men. Nonetheless, the fear of sexual harassment occurring is not a reason to avoid a trip to this wonderful country. It may or may not happen to you but remembering the fact that neither Islam nor any respectable Moroccans condone sexual harassment will help you see that the situation is not that threatening after all.
Is it safe for Jewish Travelers in Morocco?
Morocco has always been a culturally diverse country and, since its earliest beginnings, many different people have called its land home. Although today it is a majority Arab Muslim country, Jewish and indigenous Berber populations actually predate the Arab immigration and have greatly contributed to Morocco’s history, leaving behind a fascinating heritage that can still be felt today.
For centuries, Muslim, Jewish and Berber populations coexisted peacefully and in respect of their different religions, customs and traditions. Indeed, just half a century ago Morocco was home to the largest Jewish population in the Arab world with over half a million Jews living freely in the Moroccan Kingdom. Today, only some 2,500 remain but their legacy is far from forgotten.
In fact, it’s not difficult at all to find remnants of the historical Jewish presence in Morocco. Whether it be in the fascinating Mellahs (Jewish quarters) that have survived in the country’s grandest medinas for centuries, or in the only Jewish heritage museum in the Arab world set in cosmopolitan Casablanca, Moroccans take pride in their Jewish heritage and recognize its importance in their country’s history.
Above all, Morocco has always strived to be a place of acceptance. Today, that same acceptance remains making it perfectly safe for Jewish travellers to visit and get to know this country’s incredibly diverse history.
What about the LGBT Community in Morocco?
In general, LGBT travellers to Morocco are another group of people who need to take some precautions while exploring the country.
In theory, homosexuality is illegal in Morocco. In practice, however, the application of this law varies throughout the country and poses no real threat to gay travellers to Morocco. Homosexuality is not uncommon in Morocco but it is largely unacknowledged and it is almost completely unacceptable among women. Nonetheless, police will never get involved if the homosexual couple is foreign but will generally intervene if one of the partners is a Moroccan citizen.
Some practical tips for LGBT travellers include:
•Be informed: Before traveling anywhere, it’s always important to be aware of which LGBT rights exist at your destination. This will help you to also get a sense of the local attitude and tolerance toward the LGBT community.
•Be discrete: Public displays of affection are strictly frowned upon between heterosexual couples and even more so between gay or lesbian couples. Although it can be common to see Moroccan men holding hands, this is interpreted as a sign of friendship and nothing more. Moroccan men know, however, that hand-holding between Western men means greater intimacy so this too is discouraged in public.
•Get to know the locals: Although Morocco in general is a conservative and religious country, some places are more so than others. Thus, getting to know the local community is extremely important as this will let you know how to adapt your behaviour in public to respect local beliefs and codes of behaviour.
•Opt for foreign-owned accommodation: If you are concerned about the possible reaction of a Moroccan company to your booking a shared room for you and your partner, you can always opt to stay in foreign-owned hotels or riads. That way, you will know for sure that your stay will be treated with normality and the appropriate respect.
•Book with a special LGBT travel agency: There are plenty of travel agencies that cater specifically to the concerns and special needs of the LGBT travel community in Morocco. At Journey Beyond Travel, we can help you customize a unique experience in Morocco where you can discover the local culture while staying safe and hassle-free.
Despite the seemingly hostile environment toward the LGBT community in Morocco, the truth is that locals will usually be tolerant so long as you respect the local customs. For this reason, Morocco remains a popular destination for LGBT travellers from all around the world with cities like Tangier (allegedly the world’s first gay resort), Marrakesh, and Agadir especially attracting the homosexual community. With beautiful beaches and even a small gay scene at bars and clubs in these cities, there are plenty of places that are open to gay, bi, lesbian and transgender travellers in Morocco.
Who to Contact in an Emergency
In the case that a misfortune does occur during your stay in Morocco and you do become a victim to a crime (whether it be a faux guide, sexual harassment or theft), the simplest way to get help is to reach the Tourist Police. In popular urban centres, it’s quite easy to find one in just about every corner but you can usually also ask at your hotel for information on the nearest police office. In emergency situations, you can dial 19 to reach the police in urban areas, 177 for the Royal Gendarmerie (the police force in rural areas), and 15 for an ambulance or firemen.
It’s also a good idea to always have the address and contact number of your national embassy in Morocco so you can quickly get in touch if needed.
How safe is Morocco ?
In general, Morocco is a safe country to explore. Moroccans are well known for being a hospitable and tolerant people which makes traveling through the country a much more enjoyable experience. That said, the conservative nature of the local culture does mean that traditional customs should be respected in public in order to avoid less desirable situations. As with many other countries, tourists are a special target of pick-pockets and faux guides so being aware of your surroundings and belongings is general common sense.
There is no need to be afraid of traveling to Morocco. Staying calm, looking confident and brushing off the occasional cat-call are all much more positive attitudes which, in the end, will help make your stay in Morocco one you will remember for all the right reasons.
Almost all Morocco's Medinas have the same layout. The typical medina ( meaning "town" in Arabic) consists of a densely packed urban conglomeration enclosed within defensive walls set with lookout towers. The tangle of narrow winding streets and countless alleyways turns the layout of a medina into a labyrinth. The centre of the medina is cut through by wide avenues running between the main gateways and by other main streets, which, as a defensive measure, are either angled or closed off byhouses or projecting walls.
The Layout of a Medina
With a mountain range exceeding a height of 4,000 m ( 13,130 ft ) and a coastline stretching from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, Morocco has a varied topography. In environments ranging from arid scrublands to cedar forests and high mountains, plant life compromises over 4,000 species adapted to extreme conditions. The coast is visited by migratory birds while the mountains are the habitat of Barbary sheep and birds of prey.
Mountain Forests and High Steppes
Forests grow in the Rif, the Middle Atlas and the Western High Atlas, at altitudes of 1,400 - 2500m, where annual rainfall is 650 - 2,000 mm. The Varied Vegetation here includes Atlas cedar, maritime Pine and Holm-oak. The high steppes, covered with low, thorny vegetation, are found at altitudes over 2,700m in the High Atlas.
Arid Coastal regions and Desert
The rocky coastal lowlands between Safi and Agadir has an annual rainfall ranging from 40 - 150 mm . Vegetation, which is adapted to saline conditions, consists of sparse shrubs, mostly acacia. Further south is the desert with ergs ( sand dunes ) and the stony hammada.
Scrub and Steppe
Southeastern Morocco consists of steppes covered in esparto grass and artemisia. On the High plateaux, on the southern slopes of the High Atlas and on part of the Anti-Atlas annual rainfall ranges from 100 - 300 mm and snow is rare. Trees include Atlas Pistachio, Juniper and Ash.
Almost all the low-lying and middle altitude regions on the northern side of the Atlas are covered by dry woodland. Annual rainfall here ranges from 350 - 800 mm and snowfall is occasional. Trees include Holm-Oak, Cork Oak and kermes oak, olive , Barbary Thuya, and Aleppo and maritime Pine
Amongst the mystery and beauty of the Moroccan landscapes lies magnificent natural wonders and crops that are vital to the community. Most crops and seasons are celebrated in Morocco, however, it is difficult to establish an exact date for these events, as it depends on the harvest and many other nature related factors. The Rose Festival is a magical event that usually takes place at the beginning of May every year and has become a favorite attraction and festival for tourists to attend.
The Dades Valley in Morocco is also known as the Valley of the Roses, as it is here where the fragrant rose oil and rose water is produced for the country, and the landscapes are a sea of pink Persian roses. Their beauty and subtle aromas fill the air, and to farmers in the area, harvesting the petals of these delicate, yet perfect, crops is done with love and not seen as hard labour. To celebrate the wealth and success of the harvest, the Dades Valley hosts the annual Rose Festival.
El Kelaa M’Gouna is the only settlement in the area, and is home to the two massive rose water factories of the region. Rose water is quite an expensive commodity in Morocco and is used not only for its fragrance but in traditional cooking as well. The reason for its price tag is because of the fact that the four thousand two hundred kilomètres of rose hedges can only produce one thousand four hundred litres of the product. The process uses approximately three thousand kilograms of rose petals to extract a liter of rose oil. Visitors to the festival will therefore see tons of rose petals being transported to the factories to extract the precious oils, leaving a trail of rose scent lingering in the air.
A massive market, known as a souk, is opened in the town of El Kelaa M’Gouna where tourists will find various fascinating items being sold, and musicians and dancers livening up the festival spirit. During the festival, a Rose Queen is crowned, who will reign over the successful harvest of fragrance. It is an attraction that is a unique experience, and with such a large supply of roses, it is no wonder that this region is said to be the best smelling destination in Morocco.
The Azrou Cedar Forest is a source of great pride throughout the country. Moroccan cedars, some more than 400 years old, grow to heights of close to 200 feet and cover some 320,000 acres on the slopes of the Middle Atlas, the High Atlas, and the Rif at altitudes between 3,940 and 9,200 feet. Cedar is much coveted by woodworkers, particularly makers of stringed musical instruments. Living among the enormous cedars to the south of Azrou are troops of bold Barbary macaques and birdlife ranging from the redheaded Moroccan woodpecker to owls and eagles. Flora include the large-leaf peony, the scarlet dianthus, and the blue germander, all of which attract butterflies, including the cardinal and the colorfull sulfur Cleopatra.
Only about an hour away from busy Fes and Meknes is the calm and tranquil village of Azrou, deep in the Middle Atlas Mountains. The air is noticeably fresh in this area surrounded by beautiful cedar forests which is one of the largest and oldest cedars in all of Morocco.
One of the most cultural countries bordering Europe with a combination of fantastic beaches and rich history, Morocco remains a much loved tourist hotspot. Fabulous sunshine, age old city life and endless white sand beaches all blend to create a unique holiday atmosphere but with a flair. The ability to experience the heart of Moroccan customs and traditions lies wherever you visit in this North African oasis and backed by the Sahara desert means temperatures are ideal for sun worshippers. Morocco holidays combine the perfect beach holiday with a world of discovery offering a real insight into beliefs, lifestyles, ancient designs and long established architecture so common within the fascinating country of Morocco. Dazzling sunsets cast reflections on tranquil seas, an abundance of citrus trees and olive groves line countryside and towns all adding to the holiday ambience.
Morocco holidays are most popular in the summer months between May & September, where temperatures regularly top 30 degrees and a gentle sea breeze offers welcome relief. Although even in the winter months from October to March rain is still a rarity meaning holidays to Morocco are a popular choice all year round.
Morocco holidays are generally centred in either a beach area or a city, or a combination of the two. Agadir is a popular beach choice for many and offers stunning white sand stretching for miles backed by a rugged coast and under the most beautiful sunset. Marrakech is more city orientated and ideal for those who want a holiday steeped in culture. With no Marrakech beach to speak of, this city provides a wealth of shopping experiences and architecture the Moroccan way. Morocco holidays are perfect for beach getaways or city breaks both offering plenty to see and do. Book the perfect holiday to Morocco in 2016 today.
Nature is never far away in Morocco. Desert, mountains, valleys and sea - the country has plenty to offer fans of the outdoors!
Hikers of all levels will love walking the Moroccan mountains. Among the temperate peaks of the Rif mountain range, its cliffs jutting out into the Mediterranean make this under-explored region magical.
The lakes are packed with trout waiting for amateur fishermen. The more sporty will want to tackle the challenges of the Middle and Upper Atlas mountains on foot, by mountain bike or in a paraglider, or to practice mountain climbing, canyoning or pot-holing. Its summits can reach 4000m high. Ifrane, the little Moroccan Switzerland, may come as a pleasant surprise with its summer coolness, winter snow and traditional "mule-ski" trails.
Nothing is as indescribable as a stay on the edge of the desert... Head to Ouarzazate to discover its immensity and colours. At night, opt for an encampment in the desert, a chalet in the mountains and, wherever you are, bed and breakfast with the locals for an unforgettable and authentic experience. These are at the heart of the Moroccan identity, like palm trees, argan oil and the honey from its lavender.
Looking out over the Atlantic, you will be enchanted by the turquoise waters of Dakhla bay! There you will meet migratory birds and pink flamingos.
In Morocco, every taste is naturally catered for!
Casablanca began life as a Berber settlement some 3,000 years ago, before the Romans took possession of the area shortly before the death of the first Emperor Augustus. They had already established the port of Anfa some time before, and would continue to operate around Casablanca until the 5th century.
By the 8th century, the Berber kingdom of Barghawata had taken over Anfa, followed by the Amoravids in the 11th century. The town became important again under another Berber dynasty, the Merinids, who used it as a vital port.
The Portuguese conquered and destroyed it in 1468 AD due to its links to piracy, then built a fortress there in the 16th century. The settlement that developed around it was known as Casa Branca, but the Portuguese were under constant attack from local tribes and are thought to have abandoned the town after an earthquake in 1755.
The medina was built up by Casablanca’s new ruler, Sultan Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdallah, in 1770. The Spanish are said to have aided construction of the fortifications. In the 19th century, Casablanca grew through trade with Europe, until the French conquest at the start of the 20th century.
Under the French protectorate, Casablanca mushroomed into a city of 100,000 by the 1920s. The vision of French governor Marshal Lyautey launched a massive half-century project that rebuilt the city and its facilities until they outshone those of Marseille, the port that had been the inspiration.
As romanticised in the legendary eponymous film starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, Casablanca was an important strategic port town in WWII. The famous Anfa Conference took place here in 1943, where Churchill and Roosevelt discussed the progress of the war.
Morocco gained independence from France in 1956, but Casablanca maintained its colonial flair and is regarded as one of the country’s most European cities. It has grown into the financial centre of Morocco, where most business is conducted, and has recently worked to develop the tourist industry. This has, in part, led to massive renovation works on the medina.
Did you know?
• Despite being set in Casablanca, none of the eponymous 1942 film was shot in Morocco.
• Due to the period under French rule, Casablanca boasts some of the most extraordinary art deco architecture in the world. Meanwhile, the Habous district was an attempt by the French to combine Moroccan style with French ideals, making for a beautiful faux-medina.
• Built between 1986 and 1993, Hassan II Mosque is perhaps the finest contemporary example of Islamic architecture. It was in part conceived to provide employment for thousands of traditional artisans.
The oldest of Morocco's imperial cities, Fes was founded in 789 by Idriss I, who was fleeing the Abbasids of Baghdad. He led local Berbers in conquest of the region and established the Kingdom of Morocco, before being poisoned by the Abbasids. In the 9th century, waves of immigrants from Spain (mainly Muslim families fleeing the Catholic Reconquest) and Tunisia brought expertise and wealth to the burgeoning city.
By the middle of the 9th century, the Karouine University was built, one of the largest and oldest in the world. By the 11th century, the city had a cosmopolitan population of more than 500,000 inhabitants, including Moors, Berbers, Jews, Turks and Christians, and the two settlements on opposing river banks established by Idriss I, and then his son, had merged.
Fes reached its zenith as a centre of learning and commerce in 1269 when the Merenids made it their new capital and its reputation as an intellectual hub began to grow. The city known as the ‘Athens of Africa’ was filled with many great buildings and monuments, including madrassas bearing a distinctive blend of Arab and Andalusian styles. It was also as an important trading centre.
By the 16th century, the city had lost its capital status when the Wattasid Dynasty took Fes with the support of the Turks, and the city was finally conquered by the Ottomans in 1579. This prompted the move of the capital to Marrakech. During the 18th-century reign of Moulay Abdallah, it became the capital once more.
In 1912, most of Morocco became a French protectorate, with Rabat as capital. The Ville Nouvelle (new town) was built, characterised by wide, straight boulevards. Despite the ensuing neglect of the medina, the oldest and walled part of the city known as Fes el Bali was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 1981 – the first time an Islamic and Arab city had been accorded with the title.
Did you know?
• Over 6,000 Jews were killed in Fes in 1033 in an incident known as the Fes massacre.
• There are more than 13,000 historic buildings in Fes. Among them are 11 madrassas, 320 mosques, 270 funduqs (traditional hotels), and more than 200 hammams, houses, and public ovens being protected and restored by the government via a new generation of skilled craftsmen.
• Fes is still regarded by most Moroccans as the historic, cultural and spiritual capital of the country.
Founded around 1062 by the Almoravids, Marrakech is one of Morocco’s four Imperial Cities, along with Méknes, Fes and Rabat. It would go on to become the capital of the Almohad caliphate in the 12th century, which sprawled through Spain and Africa.
During this period, Marrakech was blessed with its mighty walls built from red sandstone, gleaming mosques like Koutoubia, fine gardens and palaces. The architectural influence of the Almohads was strong and featured carved domes and arches. When blended with influences from the Sahara and West Africa, it created a unique style of architecture in the city.
Marrakech’s rapid growth turned it into a cultural, religious and trading centre and despite a later period of decline, it resurged in the 16th century during the reign of wealthy Saadian sultans, who built magnificent palaces such as El Badi Palace.
Until 1867, Europeans were forbidden from entering the city unless they were granted permission from the sultan. By the early 20th century, when the country was overwhelmed with unrest, the French were able to colonise Morocco. French influence lingers on in the wide boulevards of the new town, Guéliz, and its few remaining art deco villas, most notably landscape painter Jacques Majorelle’s stylish cobalt blue retreat in the Jardin Majorelle. But the most significant legacy of colonial rule is the French language, which is still spoken by all educated Moroccans.
After WWII, a vast array of pleasure-seekers rediscovered Marrakech. Winston Churchill, Yves Saint Laurent and the Rolling Stones rubbed shoulders with American beat writers, hippies and a new breed of curious visitors anxious to see what all the fuss was about. More recently, a tourism drive led by King Mohammed VI has resulted in new luxury hotels, shops and restaurants. A moderate constitutional monarch, he has been responsible for social reforms and gave parliament new powers during the Arab Spring.
Did you know?
• Although Marrakech was founded in the 11th century, Berbers had been living in the region since the Neolithic era.
• The city was popularly known as Marrakush al-Hamra, meaning Marrakech the Red, inspired by the blushing sandstone used for the ancient walls.
• Marrakech still uses an 11th century irrigation system to water the city’s gardens.
Morocco Sand Sea Tours Company
Morocco Sand Sea Tours Company Suggests Travel Itineraries for ideas of independent Morocco holidays including the best Marrakech day trips and overnight camel treks to sleep under the stars' in the Sahara. Our organised Morocco tours, treks and excursions run from Marrakech, Fes, Marrakech to Fes, Fes to Marrakech or elsewhere on request and include the Imperial Cities, desert tours, Atlas treks, New Year Tours, Sahara excursions, Berber villages and kasbahs, Marrakech short breaks, honeymoons in Morocco, camel treks in Erg Chebbi or Erg Chegaga sand dunes.