Perched at the tip of one continent and within touching distance of another, Morocco’s blend of culture, history and widescreen nature has long held a fascination of visitors
Sun illuminates snow-capped peaks and where the vibrancy of the city rarely intrudes on the silence of infinite sand dunes.
The diversity of its terrain, as well as its strategic location on two oceans, has meant that Morocco has long been prized by outsiders. If it is a country built on contrasts, it is also one built on successive civilisations. The region has been inhabited since Neolithic times while Amazighs, who still comprise a substantial community of modern day Morocco, have roamed North africa since 8000BCE. But, as with much of the Mediterranean basin, the territory was absorbed in to the Roman Empire after the fall of Carthage in 40CE. Later, the vandals, Visigoths and the Byzantine Greeks made their own indelible mark.
By the seventh century, Islam was spreading across North Africa and modern Morocco began to take shape. The Amazigh who had remainde in the mountains through each conquest, were influenced by the arriving Arabs and over time converted to Islam and adopted many Arabic customs. In the 1600s, with European powers having gained footholds along the coast, the Arab Alaouite dynasty unified the country and drove the Spanish from Larach and the English from Tangiers. The kingdom united and stable, grew in wealth and prominence.
However, Europe’s interest remained and in 1912 northern Morocco became a protectorate of Spain and its centre a protectorate of France. In 1956, under the leadership of King Mohammed V, Morocco was able to establish itself as an independent state and, more than 50 years later, Morocco is one of the top five economic powers of Africa, playing a leading role in international trade as part of group 77.
Today the Kingdom is rules by king Mohammed VI, who ascented the throne on the passing of his father in july 1999. A young ruler with a modern vision, he has initiated several steps for economic liberalisation which have succeeded in attracting huge foreign investments.
Tourism at the heart of the economy
With its blend of blustling cities, winswept coasts, vast deserts, ornate architecture and aromatic markets, modern Morocco is a natural magnet for travellers, prviding an accessible slice of the exotic to tourists from across the world.
Over the years, Morocco’s appeal has certainly evolved and broadened, shaped by new waves of adventureers seeking to claim a corner of the country as their own. In 1920s, the aristocrats of Paris and Berlin reclined in Casablanca. In the 1950s, artists and writers flocked to Tangiers and a decade later, counterculturists made for Marrakech. In the 1970s, the dawn of the package holiday brought a new generation of summer sun-seekers to the gleaming, purpose-built beach resorts of Agadir.
Morocco, then, isn’t a single tourist destination. It’s seven or eight, possibly more. Distinct regions have different physical, historical and cultural characteristics, whether influenced by the Atlas Mountains,the desert, the Atlantic Ocean or, to the north, the Mediterranean sea ?