I was traveling through the dusty south of Morocco, touring the Sahara with my guide, Hamid. He was trying to show me exactly where a particular scene in Ridley Scott’s epic film, Gladiator was shot. If you’ve seen Gladiator, you’ll remember Proximo (played by Oliver Reed, looking sufficiently Arab-ish) who purchases General Maximus (Russell Crowe). In one very memorable scene, Proximo says to the slaves, including the disgraced General Maximus: “I did not pay good money for you for your company. I paid it so that I could profit from your death.” (more…)
Walter Harris, a long-time Tangier resident and former news correspondent for The Times, would be elated. His Tangier house, a quintessential example of Moorish-European architecture, has not only been lovingly restored, but it is now a wonderful modern art museum bearing his name: Villa Harris Museum of Tangier. (more…)
The historic old medina of Marrakesh can be overwhelming. The hot Moroccan sun beats down while vendors callout at passersby, hoping for a quick sale. Clanging metal rings out from the ironmongers souk. In the Jemma el Fnaa, the Gnawa rhythm of drums and shrill flute of the snake charmers break through the din. Scooters rip through it all, quickly zigzag through the crowds. It’s no wonder that The Secret Garden of Marrakesh comes as such a reprieve! (more…)
Tangier is a history full of odd ducks and strange corners of history. You probably know that for the first half of the 20th century, it was a popular haunt for oil barons and shipping magnates, bankers and spies, thieves and artists. (more…)
Update: In September 2016, this iconic rock arch collapsed due to erosion. There is still an arch on the beach, but this one currently no longer exists.
Morocco is a country filled with beautiful hidden gems and Legzira Beach and its famous Rock Arch are undoubtedly a part of this collection. Tucked away between the two small towns of Mirleft and Sidi Ifni, Legzira Rock Arch Beach in Morocco’s southern Atlantic Coast is known as one of the most picturesque beaches in all of Africa. Like its other Atlantic counterparts, the 8km of sandy coast are windy, rocky and expansive. But they also hold a unique charm. (more…)
For many travelers the question isn’t if you’ll be traveling or when you’ll be traveling. It’s a matter of where you’ll be traveling. Where do you want to go on your dream vacation? Where should you spend your beach getaway to relax after a hectic month at the office? Where will you be taking that once-in-a-lifetime family trip? If you’re reading this, you probably already know where you’re going: Destination Morocco!(more…)
Most people traveling internationally end up staying at least a day or two in Casablanca. After touring the towering Hassan II Mosque, the largest mosque in Morocco and one of the very few that non-muslims are allowed entry, maybe they take a romantic stroll along the seaside boardwalk? Maybe memorable dinner at one of Casablancas many fine-dining establishments, such as Rick’s Cafe? But then what? (more…)
The long, storied history of learning and scholarship in Morocco is often surprising to first time visitors, and even to some longtime inhabitants. In fact, Morocco boasts the world’s oldest university – the University of al-Qarawiyyin (also written as: Al Quaraouiyine or Al-Karaouine). Recognized by UNESCO and the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s oldest university, al-Qarawiyyin was founded in 859 AD by Fatima al-Fihri, the daughter of a wealthy merchant family who immigrated to Morocco from modern-day Tunisia. (more…)
One of Morocco’s most famed rulers was Sultan Moulay Ismail. He was 27 when he came to power and ruled from 1645-1727. During his reign, the country’s capital city was transferred to Meknes, where his slaves brought to life his splendid visions for the city’s architectural masterpieces. Often called“The Bloodthirsty” for his harsh, often violent rule, not only did Moulay Ismail pillage nearby Volubilis for all of its precious marble and other materials to build his palace in Meknes, he was rumored to have buried his slaves within the palace walls if he was dissatisfied with their work. (more…)
The lush grounds of a golf club in the outskirts of Marrakesh are now home to one of the only museums dedicated to African art on the continent. The Museum of Contemporary Art Al Maaden (MACAAL), privately-owned by a non-profit organization, had its official opening in February of this year. The museum aims to showcase the work of established and emerging artists making art related to Africa. Apart from a big contemporary art museum that opened last year in Cape Town and a few privately-owned galleries that have sprung up, there are relatively few places where African art can be seen on home turf. (more…)
The old Medina of Tetouan is a place where people live and work — you won’t find many souvenir shops here. But if you want to experience life in a Moroccan medina with few tourists where you can explore without being bombarded by “come have a look!” then Tetouan is well worth a visit, either as a long day trip or an overnight. With just 24 hours you can get a good sense of Tetouan’s flavor. (more…)
The Meknes medina, garnished as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996, holds many treasures within its walls. The first one can be admired even before you enter the imperial city: Bab Mansour. This incredible gate (bab in Arabic) is not only a spectacular example of Almohad architecture but it also holds a unique story behind its construction.
Arts and history enthusiasts simply can’t leave Fez without paying a visit to the incredible Dar Batha Museum, the city’s museum of traditional Moroccan arts. Set in a gorgeous 19th century palace, the building in itself could be considered a piece of art. Designed by Sultan Moulay Hassan, this Andalusian-Arabic style palace was occupied by two sultans before being repurposed as a museum in 1915. It features stunning zeillij tiling, intricate wood carvings, and a tranquil Andalusian garden where visitors can enjoy a peaceful break from the bustle of the medina. Within its walls however, lies the real treasure: one of the country’s finest collections of Moroccan decorative arts and artifacts dating to the 10th century. (more…)
Take the road from Ouarzazate to Erfoud and you will find yourself driving along what is commonly known as the Road of One Thousand Kasbahs. You’ll catch a spectacular view of a vast valley dotted with small oases and hundreds of ancient fortifications. The sand-colored walls of the kasbahs may all start to look the same after a while, but don’t be fooled: they each hold a special historical treasure within.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and it is in the heart of the Red City where you will find a collection of photographs worth well over 40,000 words if we take the saying literally. The Maison de la Photographie, one of Morocco’s richest photography museums, is located in a hidden spot in Marrakesh’s medina. You will have to get past the popular souks and walk through some twisting back alleys to find the beautiful riad where the museum is set, but even if you get lost on your way, the museum is well worth the hunt.
It’s 1578 and Morocco is at war with Portugal. On a fateful August day, the Moroccan forces wipe out 26,000 Portuguese men including the army’s commander, King Don Sebastian. Morocco’s commander, Sultan Abd El Malik survives to witness his kingdom’s crushing victory but perishes shortly thereafter on the battlefield – but not without first naming his youngest brother his successor. (more…)
If you walk too quickly through the busy streets of the Marrakesh medina, you may just miss out on one of its biggest treasures. Once the largest Quranic school in North Africa, the facade of the stunning Medersa Ben Youssef (Ben Youssef Madrasa) blends too easily with the dusty houses and buildings of the medina. But don’t be mistaken by its plain wooden doorway and bare outer walls. The inside of this ancient school is filled with magnificent craftsmanship details from zeillij tiling to incredible stuccowork and beautiful wood carvings. So take a breather on your journey through the winding streets of the medina and discover a magnificent (and quiet!) sanctuary that will make you forget all about the hustle and bustle of the hectic souks.
Guarded at all times by elaborately dressed royal guards and fez-topped security personnel, Rabat’s two most visited sites stand opposite each other along the magnificent Bou Regreg river. Hassan Tower (or Tour Hassan) and the Mausoleum of Mohammed V are two of Morocco’s most mystical places: one is an incomplete project of majestic proportions and the other stands as a masterpiece of modern Moroccan architecture, holding inside the grand tombs of past kings. Wander through the ruins of columns and enter the ornamental grandeur that is the exquisite mausoleum to discover a part of Moroccan history that will forever remain incomplete.
Set in Morocco’s capital on the mouth of the Bou Regreg river, the Udayas Kasbah (or as it’s also known, Oudayas Kasbah) is one of the country’s most unique sites. Originally built in the 12th century and renovated many times since throughout the centuries, it has been home to Arab tribes, Andalusian immigrants, and some of Morocco’s most powerful sultans. Walk up the steps leading to the imposing gate of Bab Oudaya and discover the winding streets of the Kasbah that will take you to Rabat’s oldest mosque, beautiful gardens, and an exquisite museum.
Hidden from the world for roughly 200 years, the Saadian Tombs were found a short distance from the bustling city center of Marrakesh, and are a truly rich architectural gem. Housing two lavish mausoleums with approximately 60 tombs and over 100 more in the beautiful gardens, the Saadian Tombs are one of the most elaborate and best preserved resting places in Morocco today.
For over 1200 years, the Al-Qarawiyyin Mosque (or al-Karaouine) has been one of the leading spiritual and educational centers of the Muslim World. With a history dating back to the 9th century, this mosque and university have been the selected congregation space for various Muslim saints and scholars throughout the centuries.
Today, the university continues to function as an excellent school of religious and physical sciences, and the mosque is considered Morocco’s holiest place, governing the time of all Islamic festivals across the country. On your next visit to Fez, make sure you head into its old town and take your time discovering this magnificent treasure chest of history that has much more to it than meets the eye. (more…)
Morocco’s rich Jewish heritage is a unique piece of history that is unknown to most travelers – and that in itself is reason enough to explore it on your next holiday to this exotic country. Although Jews historically lived in mellahs (or Jewish Quarters) in a number of Moroccan cities, including Fez and Marrakech, a majority of the Jewish population in Morocco today resides in Casablanca today. It is here that you will be able to find a thriving Jewish community along with a host of relevant monuments, communal spaces, kosher restaurants, cemeteries, shrines, and museums. One of the most impressive sights is the Museum of Moroccan Judaism (Musée du Judaisme Marocain) and often simply called the Moroccan Jewish Museum, this museum in Casablanca a one-of-a-kind history and ethnography institute dedicated to past, present, and even future life of Jewish life in Morocco. (more…)
Historically, Morocco has strived to be a place of acceptance. Several different cultures and religions have inhabited its cities and towns throughout the centuries. Today, the majority of its population is Muslim but it is not hard to find a wide array of remnants of the country’s Jewish heritage throughout its many cities. Most Jews immigrated to Morocco in the 15th century following the Spanish Reconquista which pushed out the entire Jewish population from the Iberian Peninsula. They established themselves in mellahs (or Jewish Quarters), that were often found in a corner of the city fortified by Kasbah walls for protection. These mellahs became a city within a city for the Jews with their own synagogues, fountains, and markets lining narrow streets and alleyways.
Several Jewish Quarters still survive today with their synagogues and Jewish cemeteries and can easily be found within large cities such as Marrakech and Fez. But a trip off the beaten path can also be extremely rewarding. Towns such as Sefrou and Chefchaouen have beautifully preserved unique mellahs that can easily be explored from one of the main Moroccan cities. (more…)
When you gaze at the coastal city of El Jadida from the sea, you may notice that this ancient port town doesn’t resemble other traditional Moorish settlements. Indeed, El Jadida’s architecture and urban design is unique in that it has been heavily influenced by the Portuguese who occupied it for over two centuries. This influence has produced a city that truly bears witness to a history of cultural exchange between the Moroccans and the Portuguese. (more…)
Venture off into the edge of Ouarzazate and discover one of Morocco’s most spectacular historical legacies of wealth and power. Just on the edge of this quiet Moroccan city, you’ll find Taourirt Kasbah, a citadel set against the backdrop of the Atlas Mountains. As far as fortifications are concerned in Morocco, this is one of the most impressive of its kind. With almost 300 rooms and a true maze of passageways, steps, and keylock doors, it’s easy to feel lost within this immense structure that only connects to the outside world through a narrow entrance doorway. (more…)
The ancient city of Fez houses within its walls an exquisite collection of monuments and sights that showcase the rich history and traditions of the Moroccan people. One of these monuments is Fondouk el-Nejjarine: an 18th century roadside inn transformed into a museum dedicated to the wooden arts and crafts typical of Morocco.
Fondouk el-Nejjarine proves to be a unique experience that reveals the past and present simultaneously: while inside you’ll be able to view beautiful pieces of wooden art on display; once you step outside you’ll have the opportunity to witness modern-day carpenters chiseling and carving their own creations. (more…)
Leave the busy streets of Marrakesh for a day and venture off into the Atlas Mountains – what you will find may certainly surprise you. Tucked away in the vast North African mountain range is a minor tribute to what was at one time the most significant spiritual center of the glorious Almohad dynasty – the Tin Mal Mosque (or Tinmel Mosque). It was once a vital stronghold hidden in the mountains with political, military and religious significance, but it stands in slight ruin and devoid of many tourist visitors; all of these reasons you should take a visit.
The Tin Mal Mosque can now be found just off of the Tizi ‘n’ Test road that crosses the High Atlas Mountains; it’s about one-and-a-half hours from Marrakesh. It offers the unique opportunity for visitors to look into what was once a magnificent mosque. (more…)
Although Sultan Abou Inan wasn’t the most pious of men (having killed his father, brutally murdered his rivals, and fathering over 300 offspring), he was able to devote some time towards developing one of Morocco’s most beautiful medersas, the magnificent Medersa Bou Inania (also known as Madrasa Bou Inania or simply Bu Inaniya). Built between 1351 and 1358, the medersa stands today as one of the most stunning examples of Merenid architecture in the world. Initially, it functioned as both an educational institute and a mosque. Today it is still an active religious building, and it is one of the few mosques in Morocco that remains open for all to visit, including those that are not Muslim, providing a unique experience for tourists. (more…)
The Bahia Palace is both a palace and a set of gardens situated in the medina of Marrakech, Morocco, just along the northern edge of Mellah, also known as the Jewish Quarter. While the exact dates for the construction of this palace are not known, records indicate that it was commissioned between 1859 and 1873. It was completed in 1900.
The construction was the work of a father and son, Si Moussa and Ba Amed. The two were vizirs to Alawid Sharifs, Moroccan sultans. The name Bahia means “brilliance.” The building incorporates beautiful and intricate stucco work and a form of polychrome mosaic known as zellij (or zellige), which was topped by painted, inlaid woodwork ceilings.
Can you imagine a caravan coming across Morocco hundreds of years ago? Rising up in front of weary travelers is a tower. Prayer time and hot quiet desert air allows the singsong chant of the muezzin drift out to meet them. Such sights and sounds have greeted travelers as they neared Marrakech for more than 700 years. Sitting in the center of the city is the Koutoubia Mosque and minaret.
The Koutoubia Mosque has quite a history. Its name comes from the Arabic word for “bookseller”. The selling of manuscripts and books was commonplace and took place nearby. This is an interesting, namely because even in the 1200s books were unknown in the Christian world. (more…)