Morocco is home to an impressive 9 UNESCO World Heritage Sites! These sites are dotted throughout the country, from expected places like Marrakesh and Fez, to Tetouan, a relatively untouristed northern city, and on to the desert lands of the Sahara. If you are a lover of history and culture, it makes a lot of sense to use these sites as pillars or totems for your own tour of Morocco.
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…)
In many ways, travels to Morocco are defined by a trip to the Sahara Desert, which makes up the southern half of the country. But Morocco is also defined by its impressive mountains and rich cultural heritage. To appreciate the beauty, vastness and diversity of the country, consider taking a guided tour that introduces you to some of Morocco’s greatest highlights; a five-day, four-night tour is ample time to satisfy your curiosity. (more…)
If you’re looking at traveling or going on a tour to Morocco, read about the thousand Kasbahs that have been officially recognized in Morocco. Over a third of them are in Ouarzazate and the surrounding areas. Ait Ben Haddou and Kelaa El Megouna are two of the best sites to have a good look at these amazing structures—some of which have been built and rebuilt for over an estimated thousand years.
The title for some Americans brings back smiles and remembering old, bad, music they danced to during a care-free youth. For others, they grimace and wince, remembering covering ears and gritting teeth the fortieth time the Clash’s famous song played on the radio or out of a dance club. Whatever your individual feel on that song, don’t let it discourage you from seeing the real life Kasbahs in the Moroccan deserts. The fortified buildings once built by the Berbers as a strong defense against thieves and invaders, are now some of the most amazing, but delicate, architectural sites that can be found not only in Morocco, but in any African country not named Egypt.
The finest route in Morocco to see involves the Ouarzazate province in Morocco, which includes Ait Ben Haddou and Kelaa el Megouna. It is not only the remains of the ancient walled towns along the route that give the region its charm, but also several that are still inhabited. Kasbahs, of the same design as ksars, often sit on rocky crags, fortified with walls that don’t hold the firmness they once did, but still gaze over the land around them in every direction. What surprises most visitors is that despite their obvious design for defensive purposes, these buildings are generally beautiful, often with well designed towers at each corner of the walls and decorated three story buildings.
Ait Ben Haddou is perhaps the best example of all. Ait Ben Haddou has six kasbahs and nearly fifty houses. All of them are in ruins now, since the original inhabitants of the town moved to the other side of the river, closer to the modern road. In much the same way, the fading of the railroad changed the landscape of many U.S. towns forever, modernization, security, and the fading of Sahara trade routes has left the kasbahs as relics while families move entire towns closer to modern roads. Ait Ben Haddou was named a world heritage site, and the result is that Morocco has undergone an attempt to save many of the kasbahs of southern Morocco. One of the main branches of this is to encourage tourism through these amazing structures and living monuments to human perseverance and ingenuity. The ruins cause the imagination to run, and even the most grounded mind can find itself wandering off into fantasy trying to visualize the past: the sights, sounds, smells that the site once enjoyed daily. If you have a chance, visit the site in the evening hours before the sun sets—and notice how the light makes the red walls appear to glow.
Kelaa El Megouna is known in Morocco as the “rosewater capital,” a name that is very appropriate seeing as how the town in located in the Valley of the Roses and contains a giant distilling plant that produces scented rose water in enormous quantities for the entire nation’s use. Rosewater is popular in both cooking and perfume in Morocco, and there is even an annual celebration every year in May. The festivities may seem strangely familiar to anyone who grew up in a farming village or state. The festival takes place during harvest, at which time markets spring up on main street, there is a large amount of music and dancing, and a “Rose Queen” is elected every year to “reign” over that year’s crop. The growth and harvesting of roses, along with the processing of rose water, makes Kelaa El Megouna possibly one of the finest smelling towns in the world, as even to walk through the streets is an absolute joy to your sense of smell.
Reading or visiting through these parts will reveal a land that is pleasant to the eyes as well as the mind, a place that despite being common in the every day life of its people, is extraordinary because the ghosts of the past look over the river at the people of the present, where a rose harvest is a tradition that will still remain the basis of the future, and where visitors can catch a glimpse of the past, the present, and the whispers of the future all at the same time.
Ouarzazate is also a town that is popular as a jumping off point not only for the kasbahs and other unique archeological sites, but also for Marrakesh and the High Atlas Mountains, which offers some of the best trekking opportunities a traveler could ask for.