Introduction to Morocco

January 17, 2020by Brenda

The Kingdom of Morocco, located on the northwestern “corner” of the African continent, is truly a melting pot of cultures and traditions. Arab, Berber, and European influences are prevalent throughout the country.

Morocco is on what was once known as the Barbary Coast, named for the Berbers that dominated in the region, a name used by the Europeans from the 16th to the early 19th centuries. The region included Morocco as well as Algeria, Libya and Tunisia. The Barbary Wars began as an attempt to end the piracy along the northern coast of Africa, centered around Libya and Algeria, then part of the Ottoman Empire, but nominally independent. European and American merchant ships were attacked and looted, their crews killed or taken as slaves, if they did not pay a tribute to the various rulers along the coast.

In December of 1777, Morocco’s sultan Mohammed III declared that merchant ships of the new American nation would be under the protection of the sultanate and would enjoy safe passage into the Mediterranean and along the coast. The Moroccan-American Treaty of Friendship is America’s oldest unbroken friendship treaty with a foreign power. In 1787, Morocco became one of the first nations to recognize the United States of America.

The history of Morocco goes back much further than just the Barbary Wars, Arab conquest and Roman Empire. There is evidence that the area of Morocco was inhabited over 190,000 years ago, and some studies indicate even older evidence of human settlement. Early civilizations there share similarities to those from the Iberian Peninsula.

Morocco became part of the Phoenician Empire dominating the Mediterranean from Carthage prior to becoming a client state of the Western Roman Empire. In about 430AD the Vandals, a Germanic people sweeping across Europe, crossed from Iberia into what is now Morocco and eventually forced a treaty with the Romans giving them the Mauritania regions (Morocco). Eventually the Vandals decided to break the treaty and move eastward and took Carthage and eventually all the Roman Empire. This was followed by the expansion of the Islamic Empire in the late 600s. The Berbers converted to Islam but retained much of their culture, language, and laws.

Learn more about the ancient Roman city of Volubilis, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the 11th century onward, a series of Berber dynasties appeared. Under the Almoravid dynasty and the Almohad dynasty, Morocco dominated the Maghreb, much of present-day Spain and Portugal, and the western Mediterranean region. From the 13th century onward the country saw a massive migration of the Banu Hilal Arab tribes. In the 13th and 14th centuries the Merinids held power in Morocco and strove to replicate the successes of the Almohads by military campaigns in Algeria and Spain. They were followed by the Wattasids. In the 15th century, the Reconquista ended Muslim rule in central and southern Spain and many Muslims and Jews fled to Morocco. Also during the 15th century Portugal established a few coastal trading enclaves but did not move inland.

This is the barest summation of Moroccan history, but the point being made is that Morocco is not monolithic. It has been influenced by many forces throughout history, each adding something what we have come to know as Moroccan culture. Influences from the sea, mountains, and desert. It is a mix of Berber, Islamic, Arab, Jewish, Christian, European, and more. Morocco’s history is long and rich, and to truly get a grasp, you must experience it for yourself.

The modern city of Casablanca is the commercial capitol of the country, but you often hear of the Imperial Cities of Rabat, Meknes, Fes, and Marrakesh. Each a capitol city of a great dynasty in Morocco’s history. These cities are steeped in tradition and history, and are all must-see stops on any itinerary. They will also highlight the diversity within Morocco as each has its own distinct character.

Morocco has several UNESCO sites, including the old Medina in Fez

There is also the natural beauty of Morocco, from the Atlantic coast to the Rif and Atlas Mountains. Explore the edge of the Sahara Desert from Erfoud where you can take a camel into the dunes and spend the night in a desert camp.

Morocco’s cuisine is something to experience as well. Sweet and savory, cinnamon and peppers, Moroccan food is a riot of flavors that will tantalize your taste buds. And Morocco has a wine industry! You can try some Moroccan wines at restaurants or the hotels. Learn a bit more about Moroccan wine history from the Wine Enthusiast article: 

We have set itineraries of 7 days or 10 days that depart year-round. We also have a special Art and Cooking Tour scheduled for April 2020. This is an escorted tour that includes cooking demonstrations, art demonstrations, museum visits with behind-the-scenes tours and more. If you are excited to see Morocco for yourself, check out these options or call us for a custom itinerary just for you!

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