The countries of North Africa enjoy millennia of history and none quite resonate with the romance, exoticism, and enchantment of Morocco. You might be able to ride a camel through endless dunes or listen to the muezzin’s call to prayer elsewhere, but Morocco has so much that is quintessentially its own.
The History of the Imperial Cities
You feel as if you’re travelling through time when you explore the former capitals of Fes, Marrakech, Meknes, and the current Rabat. You can see the progression from medieval and exotic Fes with its medina, University of Karueein–the oldest university in the world, and ancient mosques, to the fabled and failed Meknes which was built to rival Louis XIV’s palace at Versailles but was then decimated by earthquake, to a bustling Marrakech still considered the heart of Morocco, with its famed Jemaa el-Fnaa Square, all the way to the cosmopolitan and sophisticated Rabat.
The Tumult of the Medina
The medieval medina of Fes houses 200,000 Fassi (locals), contains 80,000 shops, 365 mosques, and 80 fondouks, with accommodations for man and beast. You can shop for everything and anything: snails, vegetables, meat and poultry, leather goods, babouches (pointy slippers), ornate brass, lanterns, tassels, and traditional sweets and spices. Just be careful not to get lost, as the winding narrow pathways seem concentric. Hire a guide to make sure you get the best prices and out of here safely.
The Music of Mystical Festivals
Every summer, half a million people flock to the annual Gnaoua Music Festival in the seaside town of Essaouira. The Gnaoua is a brotherhood of mystics descended from slaves and mercenaries from the Sub-Saharan African empire of Mali of the 16th century. They dress in bright colours and wear tasseled hats, play the drums, castanets, and lutes. Today, you’ll find all genres of musicians collaborating to add depth and meaning to the festival. The oceanfront backdrop of the white and blue town with the kasbah makes this music festival unlike any other.
The Serenity of the Gardens
The Jardin Majorelle is just over an acre in size, but as you meander through its lush greenery, all the bustle of surrounding Marrakech dissipates. It took French painter Jacques Majorelle 40 years to create and cultivate such an extravagant expanse of verdant greenery and flowers. Such was its beauty that fashion impresario Yves Saint Laurent owned it for a time to save it when it became threatened. Thanks to him, today it is public, and you can find generations meeting in the courtyards to escape the city and immerse themselves in the quixotic blooms.
Photography by Jose Ignacio Soto; Boris Stroujko; katerina Pokrovsky; Hakim Anthony Joundy; saiko3p / Shutterstock.com