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Global Adrenaline :: Africa :: Morocco

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  Morocco   Casablanca   Rabat   Marrakesh   Fez   Agadir   Meknes   People   Travel Tips   Temperature/Weather   Reading List


Morocco

History
For several centuries, Morocco was the center of a great empire stretching all the way from

Moroccan child. (Morocco) Northern Spain through West Africa. The primary unifying factor of the disparate regions of this empire was a shared religion. Between the ninth and the twelfth centuries, three dynasties of sultans came to power, each having a clear objective of spreading the Islamic faith. The Berber tribes that had embraced Islam were quickly associated as equal partners for further conquests. During these three centuries, the conquest of Spain proceeded and the success achieved in the name of the sultan further solidified the unity of Morocco. To this day, this solidarity continues to assure both the political and spiritual authority of the Moroccan kings.

After eight centuries of occupation by the Arabs, the Catholic kings of Spain succeeded in driving out the Moslems and Jews from Spain in 1492. Three million Moslems, which included a large number of Europeans and Jews who had converted to Islam, sought refuge in Morocco over the years, adding to a population that was no more than four million at that time. Many of these refugees subsequently left Morocco for other parts of the Arab world, as well as other Middle Eastern countries. Because of its strategic position, Morocco, from the fifteenth century on, has had to withstand the constant assaults of European powers, in particular Spain, Portugal and France. This constant threat from the exterior, and the responsive efforts of the Moroccan kings to mobilize the population for resistance, further strengthened the unity and national consciousness of the country.

After long centuries of resistance, Morocco in the end lost its independence in 1912, when it was forced to sign a protectorate treaty with France. Although the treaty left the ruling Alaouite (or Alawite) dynasty in place, it ceded control of key governmental functions to the French. Morocco regained its independence in 1956, and, since then, the Alaouite dynasty has reasserted its rule over the country. King Hassan II succeeded his father King Mohammed V in 1961 and built a new

Ouarzazate. (Ouarzazate, Morocco) model of government, which enabled him to retain substantial authority while introducing selective elements of western-style democracy, including an elected parliament and a system of multiparty politics. Until recently, the center-right parties had dominated parliament and government. In 1997, the King finally achieved his ambition of installing a "gouvernement d'alternance", or a government that alternates from the right to the left.

King Hassan II died on July 23, 1999, and was succeeded by his son, King Mohammed VI. Western governments respected King Hassan II as a moderate Arab leader and skilled international power broker. The king played an important role in the Middle East peace process, and Morocco is one of the few Arab countries that has managed to maintain commercial ties with Israel. His successor, King Mohammed VI, has introduced a far-reaching program of reforms and modernization.

Economy
Morocco's market-based economy is becoming increasingly diversified in recent years. Since the early 1980's, the government has pursued an economic reform program supported by the IMF. The government has restrained spending, revised the tax system, reformed the banking system, followed supportable monetary policies, lifted import restrictions, lowered tariffs, liberalized the foreign exchange regime and encouraged foreign direct investments. A varied agricultural sector, a growing manufacturing sector, a large tourist industry (boasting two million visitors in 1998) and considerable influx of funds from Moroccan workers abroad, all contribute to creating one of the stronger and stabler economies in the region. Morocco has the largest phosphate reserves in the world and is rich in copper, zinc, and silver. The recent discovery of major oil reserves in eastern Morocco (Talsint) will ensure energy self-sufficiency for the next 30 years.

Morocco, situated on the northwestern tip of Africa, covers a land area of 175,186 square miles (453,730 square kilometers). When the disputed Western Sahara is included, the kingdom's land area increases to 274,460 square miles (710,850 square kilometers). The kingdom is bordered by Algeria on the east, by Mauritania on the south, by the Mediterranean Sea on the north, and by the Atlantic Ocean on the west. Near the northern city of Tangier, Morocco is separated from Spain by the ten-mile-wide Straight of Gibraltar. The climate is mild near the coasts and arid in the interior. The country enjoys rich fishing grounds off both the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts.

Political Landscape
The status of the Western Sahara, which comprises approximately one-third of Morocco's land area, is one of the UN's longest-running disputes. The seeds of the dispute were sown in 1975, when the Spanish left the area without making a formal handoff to any succeeding governing body. The Algerian-supported Polisario began a guerilla war in the late 1970's, but Morocco quickly asserted firm control over the area. In 1981, Morocco accepted the principle of an UN-supervised self-determination referendum, but disputes over voting eligibility have repeatedly delayed the referendum. However, the government has offered to hold direct negotiations with the Polisario to find a solution to the stalemate. As far as all Moroccans are concerned, the Sahara will remain Moroccan.

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Casablanca
Casablanca is the economic center of Morocco and its most modern city. The largest city in North Africa, with a population of more than 4 million people, Casablanca is renowned not only in movie lore but also for its fascinating array of eclectic architecture, its leather work and its Medouin carpets. It is also the home of the third largest mosque in the world, the Hassan II.

Phoenicians began using the inlets of Casablanca as stopping-over points as early as the 7th

Kasbah. (Morocco) century BC. The earliest known settlement in the area was the tenth-century Berber port of Anfa. In the 13th century, Anfa began to flourish as a result of extensive trade with the Portuguese and Spanish. This commercial tie was abruptly severed in the 15th century, when the Portuguese destroyed the city in retaliation for Berber piracy. In 1770, the Alaouite Sultan, Mohammed Ibn Abdellah, rebuilt Anfa and renamed it Dar El Beida ("House of the White Princess"). In 1781, Dar El Beida was renamed Casa Blanca ("white house" in Spanish) by Mohammed III, in commemoration of a trade agreement with Spain. By the end of the 19th century, Casablanca had become a center for international trade. Casablanca's growth spurts have been tremendous, and the city has experienced surges in urban development (notably in 1946 and in 1984). The eclectic influences of French, Algerian and Tunisian architects ornament the city.

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Rabat
Rabat has been the capital of Morocco since 1912 and is second in size only to Casablanca, its neighbor to the southwest down the Atlantic coastline. Rabat is home to some of the most historical sites in Morocco and is famous for its rich embroidery and luxurious carpets.

The earliest settlements in the Rabat area can be traced back to the 3rd century BC. In later years, the Phoenicians and the Carthaginians used it as a port of call. In the 10th century, loyalist Muslim

Sand dune sunrise. (Merzouga, Morocco) warriors built a ribat (fortified monastery) where Rabat now stands. The city itself was founded in the 12th century by Yacoub el-Mansour, the great Almohad conqueror, who built over three miles of fortifications. Two of the gates that he built still stand today. With the collapse of the Almohad dynasty came the decline of Rabat. In 1250, the Merinids abandoned Rabat and anointed Fez as the new capital. The Alaouite sultans, Moulay Rachid and Moulay Ismail, are recognized for squelching the flagrant piracy in the area that led to the Portuguese retaliation against Casablanca. Wresting control of the seas from the pirates ushered in an era of prosperous foreign trade. In 1912, when Morocco became a French Protectorate, Rabat was once again made the capital, and it remains so today.

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Marrakesh
Marrakesh was first claimed as Almoravide territory in 1070 and it eventually became the capital of their empire. Its location at the foot of the mountains, at the crossroads of ancient caravan routes from Timbuktu, made it a key destination for trade and reprieve. In 1147, the Almohad sultan, Abd

Jemma El Fna Square. (Marrakesh, Morocco) el Moumen, captured the town. Thereafter, Marrakesh flourished under Almohad rule, eventually becoming the Arab world's center for philosophical studies, while growing rich on leather, sugar and ceramic exports to Spain. This period of prosperity was followed by fifty years of dynastic struggles and general decline. In 1269, Marrakesh lost its status as capital when the Merinids seized power and transferred the capital to Fez. By 1522, when the Saadians took control, the city was ruined and decimated by famine. They made Marrakesh the capital of southern Morocco and, when the Moroccan empire was reunified, Marrakesh was restored to its former glory and to its status as an imperial city. However, famine, rebellion, and wars struck during the first half of the 17th century. In 1699, the Alaouite sultan, Moulay Richard, captured the town, taking from it its status as capital when the government was consolidated in Fez. During the mid-18th century, Mohammed III restored the city and its capital status. In 1912, General Lyautey, France's first resident general in Morocco, made the decision to once again relieve Marrakesh of its capital status. While it is no longer the political capital, Marrakesh remains a captivating and wonderful destination hidden behind its ancient ochre ramparts.

Today Marrakesh is known as the "Jewel of the South," a cultural collage of Berber, Arab and African influences. Marrakesh is famous for the rich diversity and quality of its Berber carpets, as well as for its leatherwork, including slippers sewn in the ancient tradition.

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Fez
Fez is Morocco's oldest imperial city. Today, in its role as Morocco's religious, intellectual and cultural center, it is often referred to as the "Athens of Africa." Fez is the heart and lifeblood of Morocco's Arabic and Islamic development and is home to some 785 mosques. Fez is also widely regarded as the "craftwork capital" of Morocco, famous for its Fez blue pottery, copper trays and leather work.

The arrival of the first religious refugees from the Middle East into the Fez region has been traced

Gate of the Royal Palace. (Fez, Morocco) back to 788 AD. Fez el Bali was founded in 809 under Moulay Idriss II. Fez el Bali was divided into two distinctly different districts on either side of the Fez River. During the 8th century, eight thousand Arab exile families settled on the right bank of Wadi Fez, having been expelled from Spain's Andalusia by the Christian armies. The artistic influence of these early settlers is evident in the decorative stucco and mosaic that ornament Fez's mosques and Koranic schools.

One hundred years after the Arab settlement, two thousand Kairaouine families established their homes on the opposite bank of Wadi Fez. In the 10th century, the Kairaouine settlers built the imposing Kairaouine University, the western world's first university, which still remains the major intellectual center of North Africa. Important for its location and commercialism, the Kairaouine Quarter continued to expand under the Merenid dynasty during Fez's fourteenth-century Golden Age. In that era, the New Fez, or Fez el Jadid, was born. After the First World War, a European town with broad avenues was overlaid on the fascinating labyrinth that is Fez.

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Agadir
Berber fishermen first settled Agadir. In the 12th century, the coastal Ksima Tribe began populating the area. From 1325 to 1540, control of the area had fallen primarily into the hands of Portuguese traders. In 1541, the founder of the Saadian Dynasty, Mohamed Echeikh el Mehdi, ejected the

Spices for sale in local souk. (Morocco)

Portuguese. Trade flourished under his rule, and Agadir experienced a Golden Age. In the 17th century, the Alaouite dynasty ousted the Saadians. Thereafter, the Berber Tazeroualt dynasty rebelled against the Alaouites and took control of the Sous region. Under the Berber's rule, Agadir became a major port and remained one until the Alaouites reclaimed the area and closed the port.

In 1911, Kaiser Willhelm II, King of Prussia attempted to set up a naval base near Agadir, on territory claimed by the Prussians when the French Premier, Joseph Callaux, traded Agadir for a piece of the Congo. French troops entered the area in 1913. In the 1930s, Agadir played an important role as a staging post for French airmail and also gained status as the world's leading sardine port. On February 29, 1960, a devastating earthquake destroyed the city. By 1962, a modern resort town had risen from the ruins, this time incorporating the latest seismically sound technology.

Today, Agadir is the number one destination for vacationers in Morocco. Agadir is known as the "Nice of Morocco," a fantastic beachfront destination for leisure, water sports and coastal recreation. It has a warm and pleasant climate and is the most important fishing port in the kingdom.

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Meknes
Zenata Berbers from the Meknassa tribe founded Meknes in the 9th century, but the town was captured by the Almoravids in 1069. Meknes' prosperity attracted the interest of the Almohads, who launched a siege against it that eventually succeeded in 1145. In the early 1200's, the Merinids invaded and took their turn at Meknes' helm. In the 15th century, the Berbers were driven out by the Arabs, and Meknes' long and complicated chain of title saw ownership passed from the Wattasids to the Saadians.

Moussem Sidi Ben Aissa. (Meknes, Morocco) During the reign of Moulay Ismail in the 17th century, the city experienced a golden age of growth and prosperity. In 1672, Moulay Ismail was proclaimed sultan of the new Alaouite dynasty. He chose Meknes as his political and military capital and redeveloped it to his imperial standards. Over a period of 50 years, Moulay Ismail built palaces, mosques, fountains, terraces, gardens, stables and shops to fill his mighty three-layer ramparts. Today, tourists and residents alike enjoy the timeless grandeur of this imperial city, understanding in small measure how it came to earn its nickname, the "Versailles of North Africa." Meknes is less touristy, more provincial and slower paced than Fez, and it is surrounded by enchanting countryside. It is famous for its wood, metal and mosaic craftsmanship.

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People
The original inhabitants of North Africa, including Morocco, are commonly known as Berbers. The

Berber women dancing at the Rose Festival. (Valley of the Dades, Morocco) Berbers are thought to be of Euro-Asian origin because of the light coloration of their skin. Centuries of inter-marriage with Arabs has resulted in the varied shades of Moroccan complexions today. The state religion is Islam, although free practice of other monotheistic religions is also guaranteed. Catholic churches, Protestant churches, and synagogues are found in all of the major cities, and mosques are found throughout the country. The official written language is Arabic and the main spoken language is Moroccan Arabic, a combination of Arabic, French and Spanish words. French is very widely spoken throughout the country and is often used to conduct business. In addition, there are also three Berber languages: Tarifit, Tamazight, and Tashelhit.

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Travel Tips
Morocco has one of the lowest crime rates in the world. Police and other law enforcement agents are prevalent in major cities and tourist spots. There is not a dress code for women visiting Morocco. In fact, many women in Morocco dress just like their American counterparts. However, on tours of mosques and other holy places, you will need to dress conservatively, just as you would dress to enter a church in the U.S. (i.e., no shorts or tank tops). As in any country, discretion with respect to your attire will help avoid unwanted attention.

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Temperature/Weather
Morocco is blessed with a Mediterranean climate. It is warm on the coast and arid in the interior. Morocco's wet season generally lasts from November through March, when the rain falls mainly in the coastal areas. Morocco's mountain areas have cooler climates. Annual average temperatures of the major cities are as follows: Rabat, 71° F; Casablanca, 69° F; Marrakesh, 71° F; Ouarzazate, 64° F; Fez, 66 °F; Meknes, 68° F; and, Tangier, 66° F.

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Reading List
In order to make the most of your trip to Morocco, the following reading lists will help you gain a better understanding of the landscape, culture and people. Here you can also purchase any books you might need for your Global Adrenaline trip!

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