As you relax in your hammam (steam bath), tuck into your tagine (stew), bargain in the souks or slide into your comfortable caftan you may be surprised how easily you slip into another culture and another century. In these small signature moments of pleasure, Morocco warps all sense of time and place.
To get your bearings, just look to the horizon. You will notice refined minarets and rugged mud-brick fortifications, a sparkling coastline with silken sand and striped canyons carved out of the High Atlas Mountains.
Morocco has been staunchly independent throughout its history yet remained open to ideas, creating a heady mix of cultures, religions and languages with ancient roots and a strikingly modern outlook. The influence of Romans, Arabs and Europeans is spotted in monuments throughout the country. Though you will hear French spoken in city boulevards - a vestige of the 50-year French Protectorate - a half-dozen Berber languages and Moroccan Arabic are still widely spoken. Morocco is a unique blend of the African Berber, Arab and Mediterranean.
For centuries travellers have crossed shifting sands and braved mountain passes in search of mythic Morocco. They arrive dazzled by its royal palaces, extraordinary oases and spectacular feats of hospitality.
Modern Morocco doesn't disappoint. Whether you've come to relax in family-style riads (guest houses), shop for distinctive handicrafts, or stretch your imagination on treks to distant Berber villages, you'll meet Moroccans who go out of their way to exceed your expectations. The people who have called Morocco home for millennia have proved themselves adaptable to Sahara Desert silences and bustling market-day medinas (old towns), mingling in Tuareg trading posts and ancient mellahs (Jewish quarters). The greeting that reaches your ears today echoes across the centuries: Ahlanwasahlan, you are welcome in Morocco.
710,850 sq km (274,461 sq miles).
31.6 million (2008).
44 per sq km.
Rabat. Population: 1.6 million (2005).
Morocco is located on the westernmost tip of north Africa, bordering Algeria to the east, Mauritania and the disputed territory of Western Sahara to the southwest and southeast, the Atlantic ocean to the west and the Mediterranean to the north.
Running through the middle of the country is the Atlas mountain range.The Middle Atlas range sweeps up from the south, rising to over 3,000m (9,850ft), covered with woodlands of pine, oak and cedar, open pastureland and small lakes. The Rif Mountains run along the north coast. Often snow-covered in winter, Morocco's mountains are home to the country's significant indigenous Berber population.
The long stretch of Atlantic coast down Morocco's western side features cool breezes and long sandy beaches. It is separated from the mountainous region by wide swathes of fertile plains. To the north, is the Mediterranean coast, just a stone's throw from Europe.
In the south of the country, the Sahara is the largest desert in the world. Far from being featureless, it is dotted with fascinating traditional villages and cool oases.
Constitutional monarchy since 1956, when Morocco gained independence from France.
Head of State
King Mohammed VI since 1999.
Head of Government
Prime Minister Abbas El Fassi since 2007.
Since King Mohammed VI was enthroned in 1999, the country has instituted sweeping political and economic changes. Initiatives to attract foreign investment and tourism are bringing new opportunities to urban areas. The human rights record is markedly improved from the previous era, and today ranks among the cleanest across Africa and the Middle East. Women have benefitted from education initiatives and expanded rights, and new protections for Berber (Amazigh) culture include the introduction of Tamazight (written Berber) in schools.
Morocco's parliament has nominal power, the municipal elections in 2002 were hailed as a step towards democratisation. Islamist and other political factions are closely monitored, as is the public media.
The official language is Arabic. Berber is not officially recognised even though it is the language of the country's first inhabitants, who form a majority. French is widely spoken throughout the country, except in the northern regions where Spanish is more predominant. English is also understood, particularly in the north and major tourist destinations like Marrakech.
Predominantly Muslim with Jewish, Christian and Hindu minorities. Morocco's population and culture is a blend of religious and cultural traditions, encompassing Berber, Arab, African, Mediterranean and Jewish influences.
110/220 volts AC, 50Hz, depending on age and location of building.
Greetings involve a handshake and friendly inquiries after health, happiness and family, and no business is discussed until after these pleasantries. Friends may tack on a cheek air-kiss or two. Moroccan chattiness makes everyday interactions more pleasant, if longer; patience and extroversion are assets. In the souks, vendors to call out to customers, joking and striking up conversations before bargaining begins. When offered tea, it's polite to at least take a sip.
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