Spotlight on Morocco
Morocco has been mythologized for good reason. Travelers extol the country's unique living history, its shimmering light and its extraordinary art. Morocco is the ideal African starting point for the traveler. An easy hop from Europe, it is hectic but friendly and stimulating as well. Open-air markets throughout the country are piled high with rugs, woodwork, jewelry and leather - said to be the softest in the world. Morocco's image is slowly shifting. The old romantic notions of a conservative nation steeped in Islamic and feudal history now clangs with a contemporary reality. The medieval labyrinthine medinas of Marrakesh are what Morocco is all about for many, but don't be surprised to hear the shrill ring of a mobile phone or see a sign pointing down some darkened alley to the nearest internet cafe.
Casablanca today boasts one of Africa's largest ports. The Place Mohammed V is the heart of the city; the main boulevards branch out from here. Casablanca is the kingdom’s commercial capital; most of the cultural activities are concentrated here, from art galleries to excellent international restaurants. The Hassan II Mosque completed in 1993 is among the largest in the world, boasting the tallest minaret. Casablanca is no doubt Morocco’s window on the world and is a fast-paced cosmopolitan city where trends are created and modernism parts company with traditionalism or tries to blend them. Casablanca is one of the world’s most interesting and open Muslim cities. Some of the best restaurants are found along Boulevard Mohammed el Hansali and on the way to beach resorts. Casablanca’s beaches and exclusive suburb are located to the east of the city along the Boulevard de la Corniche. This is a very trendy area, lined with four-star hotels, restaurants and bars.
Marrakesh, known as the “Pearl of the South,” is an oasis in southwestern Morocco at the foot of the Atlas Mountains, with rose-colored ramparts and a thousand year old palm grove. Sumptuous and exuberant, it radiates splendor and mysticism and casts a magic spell on all who visit. Marrakesh has the largest berber market (souk) in Morocco and also hosts the busiest square in Africa. Founded in 1062 as the capital of the Almoravid dynasty, it continued in the 12th century as capital of the Almohads. Marrakesh remained a political, economic and cultural center for a long period. Its influence was felt throughout the western Muslim world, from North Africa to Andalusia. Marrakesh also became known as a magnet for some of the greatest saints of Islam, many of whom are buried within the city. Marrakesh, like Fez, is a genuinely Islamic city in both its genesis and traditions. Marrakesh has impressive monuments dating from that period: the Koutoubiya Mosque, the Kasbah, the battlements, monumental doors and gardens. Other architectural jewels include the Bandiâ Palace, the Ben Youssef Madrasa, the Saadian Tombs and Place Jamaâ El Fna, an open-air theater. The modern city was constructed in 1913 during the French occupation of the country and reflects the European influence. But the essence of the city remains the same.
Tangier - The "Gateway to Africa," located at its northwestern tip, Tangier is a fashionable resort retaining its age-old mystery and excitement. French and Islamic influences meet and merge in this fascinating old city. Mosques and minarets overlook the shadowy streets of the bazaar, while the higher part of town, with its broad boulevards and lovely parks, looks down on the ocean.
Rabat - Rabat is the political and administrative capital of Morocco as well as the King's official residence, The Royal Palace. Across from the Royal Palace is the king's own mosque which is a wonderful example of Islamic architecture. The city of Rabat is very clean and boasts both old Muslim quarters and beautiful remains of all periods of Moroccan history. The Oudaia Gate dates back to the Almonca Period. Its purpose is said to be ceremonial; the sight is beautiful. Another attraction, The Kasbah des Oudaia is both beautiful and peaceful. The Andalucian Gardens belong to the 20th century and boast the Museum of Moroccan Arts. Most of the houses in Rabat are painted white and have blue painted parapets.
Fez has been the capital of Morocco for more than 400 years and is home to the oldest university in the country and the leading cultural and religious center. Fez is also the home of the oldest and largest medieval city in the world, a city that has remained almost unchanged through the modern ages and still very alive. Today Fez has its own culture, pride, art and cuisine. Bustling with artisans and merchants, its captivating sounds, fragrances and colors mesmerize the visitor with a constant swirl of activity.