orange art in MoroccoMorocco’s arts scene has a storied past to match its vibrant present. In the 1950s and ‘60s, expatriate writers and artists like Paul Bowles and William S. Burroughs flocked to the so-called International Zone, a cosmopolitan, semi-autonomous region in Tangier, where they were inspired to share their creative insights with the world. Bowles’ 1949 novel The Sheltering Sky makes a particularly good companion for travelers to North Africa. For a native Moroccan perspective, check out Leila Abouzeid’s Year of the Elephant, a 1983 novel that was one of Morocco’s first to be translated from Arabic into English.

Morocco is also popular for lovers of music and dance. Although the ubiquitous belly dancing is not strictly speaking of Moroccan origin, you’ll spot it along with traditional folk dancing, especially at festivals, weddings and other celebrations. Wandering heddaoua are entertaining Berber storytellers who move from town to town reciting poetry to musical accompaniment.

Morocco’s contemporary arts scene is centered in worldly Casablanca, where the impressive Le Studio des Arts Vivant (Living Arts Studio) opened in 2011. The architecturally modern space is home to a 600-seat theater, and its gallery hosts six new exhibits per year. There are a number of art museums located throughout Morocco that offer further insight into the country’s history and culture. Tangier’s Museum of Moroccan Arts features work from ancient times while the Dar Batha Museum in Fez displays pieces from a more modern time. In Marrakech, the Dar Si Said focuses on decorative and religious art, and the Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdallah in Essaouira houses many musical instruments that are significant to Moroccan culture.

Many movies have been set or shot in Morocco. While Casablanca, undoubtedly the film most closely tied to Morocco, was actually filmed on a Hollywood sound stage, other classics like Lawrence of Arabia and The Last Temptation of Christ were shot almost entirely in the arid desert of southern Morocco. Recent hits such as Inception, Babel, The Bourne Ultimatum and Syriana also featured Moroccan landscapes, often standing in for other locales. Sex and the City 2 also turned people’s attention to Morocco. Visitors to the town of Ouarzazate should check out nearby Atlas-Film Studios, the largest movie studio in the world and a popular tourist attraction. There you’ll find the famous coliseum where Russell Crowe fought in Gladiator.

For full-blown cinephiles, the Marrakech International Film Festival is a well-regarded celebration of films from around the world. The thirteenth annual festival takes place from November 30 to December 8, 2012.

Written by Aaron Hotfelder.

Photo by aworkpl.

[stextbox id=”info” caption=”Related Tours with Journey Beyond Travel”]
Eclectic Morocco Trip – Explore art, architecture, and all the highlights of the country on this trip.
Imperial Cities Tour – A city tour taking you to museums, UNESCO sights, and more.