Morocco is a land of mountains, deserts, medieval cities, roman ruins and more than a few familiar movie locations. Thinking about Morocco and film undoubtedly conjures up images of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in the 1942 American classic, Casablanca. Ironically none of Casablanca was filmed in Morocco, but many classics were, such as Lawrence of Arabia, Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew To Much, and Bertolucci’s The Sheltering Sky. More recently, not one but two James Bonds have been seen giving chase across the Tangier rooftops, while other hits like Gladiator, The Mummy and Game of Thrones were filmed on locations across the country.
The Jemaa el-Fnaa (also often: “Djema el-Fna” or “Jamma el-Fnaa”), is the historic main square of Marrakesh. It is a free and veritable outdoor theater that has existed for a thousand or more years. Any tour to Morocco would somehow be incomplete unless you spent an evening strolling through this incredible landmark to experience for yourself. (more…)
Le Maison de la Photographie (often the “Photography Museum” or “House of Photography” in English) is one of Morocco’s richest photography museums. Le Maison de la Photographie is tucked away deep in the old Marrakesh medina. You will have to make your way through the popular souks and walk through some twisting back alleys to find the beautiful riad where the museum is located. But even if you get lost on your way, the museum is well worth the hunt! They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and in the heart of the Red City you will find a collection of photographs worth thousands upon thousands of words. (more…)
For over a thousand years, Marrakesh has been many things. A hub for trade. A cultural melting pot. A powerful world capital. A tourist mecca. For all of these reasons, and many more, make the entire old medina of Marrakesh a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (more…)
You can’t miss the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakesh, Morocco. It looms large over the vast expanse of the Jemma el-Fnaa, the famed public square. From afar, this is the beacon leading you to the Red City.
Of all the gardens the world over, the Majorelle Garden (Le Jardin Majorelle) in Marrakesh is one of the most exquisite. Located outside of the historic old medina, this veritable paradise blends Art Deco charm with a modern take on the traditional Islamic garden. If you were going to visit one garden in Morocco, the Majorelle Garden would be the one.
There are many good reasons for the inquisitive traveler to visit Morocco. The High Atlas Mountains and their hiking trails. The old cities of Fez and Marrakesh with the largest traditional markets in all of Africa. And of course the impressive Roman ruins dotted throughout the country. Yes, you read that right. Roman ruins! In Morocco! The Roman ruins of Volubilis, Morocco, the finest of all the Roman ruins to be found in the country, are at once important for their Roman connections to the region, but for so many more reasons than that. (more…)
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.
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…)