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Friday, November 15, 2013

Morocco

I will travel to Morocco as a group member with Overseas Adventure Travel.  The journey will take me to Casa Blanca, Rabat, Volubilis, Fez, Marrakech--and two nights in the Sahara Desert where I will sleep in a canvas tent under the stars.  The group will visit a home and a school.  We'll meet local people who live in villages and eat home-cooked meals with them.  Of course, we'll ride a camel and make our way through the Atlas Mountains.  We'll learn about Islam and its influence on the people, their art and their culture.

Why go to Morocco?  Because I wanted to experience a predominantly Muslim country in a relatively safe region. It turns out that Morocco has been a cultural crossroads for centuries and that various cultures have been living in relative peace during most of that time.
Morocco is host to nine World Heritage Sites and my group will visit five of them:
Morocco will also be the third African country that I visit.  I went to Kenya and Rwanda with the pastor of my parish in November 2010. I put together a blog on Rwanda so that parishioners could follow the trip.

This is going to be a great adventure and I plan to blog about it every day while I'm on the trip. I hope you will follow along with me.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Morocco -- Casablanca


"Play it again Sam."
Humphrey Bogart and Rick's Cafe is what we normally think of when we mention Casablanca.  However, it is much more.


by Fodor's Travel Guide to Morocco

Casablanca is Morocco's most modern city, and various groups of people call it home:  hardworking Berbers who came north from the Souss Valley to make their fortune; older folks raised on French customs during the protectorate; pious Muslims; wealthy business executives in the prestigious neighborhoods called California and Anfa; new and poor arrivals from the countryside, living in shantytowns; and thousands of others from all over the kingdom who have found jobs here.  The city has its own stock exchange, and working hours tend to transcend the relaxed pace kept by the rest of Morocco.

True to its Spanish name--casa blanca. "white house," which, in turn, is Dar el-Beida in Arabic--Casablanca is a conglomeration of white buildings.  The present city, known colloquially as Casa or El Beida, was only founded in 1912.  It lacks the ancient monuments that resonate in Morocco's other major cities; however, there are still some landmarks, including the famous Hassan II Mosque.

Hassan II Mosque
Casablanca's skyline is dominated by this massive edifice. No matter where you are, you're bound to see it thanks to its attention-grabbing green-tile roof. The building's foundations lie partly on land and partly in the sea, and at one point you can see the water through a glass floor. The main hall holds an astonishing 25,000 people and has a retractable roof so that it can be turned into a courtyard. The minaret is more than 650 feet high, and the mezzanine floor (which holds the women's section, about 6 feet above the main floor) seems dwarfed by the nearly 200-foot-high ceiling. Still, the ceiling's enormous painted decorations appear small and delicate from below.

Funded through public subscription, designed by a French architect, and built by a team of 35,000, the mosque went up between 1987 and 1993 and is now the third-largest mosque in the world, after the Haramain Mosque in Mecca and the Prophet's Mosque in Medina. It was set in Casablanca primarily so that the largest city in the kingdom would have a monument worthy of its size. Except for Tin Maland, this is the only mosque in Morocco that non-Muslims are allowed to enter. If you fly out of Casablanca, try to get a window seat on the left for a good view of the mosque in relation to the city as a whole.

Habous
At the edge of the new medina, the Quartier des Habous is a curiously attractive mixture of French colonial architecture with Moroccan details built by the French at the beginning of the 20th century. Capped by arches, its shops surround a pretty square with trees and flowers. As you enter the Habous, you'll pass a building resembling a castle; this is the Pasha's Mahkama, or court, completed in 1952. The Mahkama formerly housed the reception halls of the Pasha of Casablanca, as well as a Muslim courthouse; it's currently used for district government administration. On the opposite side of the square is the Mohammed V Mosque—although not ancient, this and the 1938 Moulay Youssef Mosque, in the adjacent square, are among the finest examples of traditional Maghrebi (western North African) architecture in Casablanca. Look up at the minarets and you might recognize a style used in Marrakesh's Koutoubia Mosque and Seville's Giralda. Note also the fine wood carving over the door of the Mohammed V. The Habous is well known as a center for Arabic books; most of the other shops here are devoted to rich displays of traditional handicrafts aimed at locals and tourists. This is the best place in Casabalanca to buy Moroccan handicrafts. You can also buy traditional Moroccan clothes such as kaftans and djellabas (long, hooded outer garments). Immediately north of the Habous is Casablanca's Royal Palace. You can't go inside, but the outer walls are pleasing; their sandstone blocks fit neatly together and blend well with the little streets at the edge of the Habous. 

Old Medina
The simple whitewashed houses of the medina, particularly those closest to the harbor, form an extraordinary contrast to Morocco's economic and commercial nerve center just a few hundred yards away. European consuls lived here in the 19th century, the early trading days, and there are still a youth hostel and a few very cheap hotels within. The medina has its own personality and charm due in part to the fact that Moroccans living in more affluent areas may never even enter it. Near Place des Nations Unies a large conglomeration of shops sells watches, leather bags and jackets, shoes, crafted wood, and clothes.


Place Mohammed V
This is Casablanca's version of London's Trafalgar Square: it has an illuminated fountain, lots of pigeons, and a series of impressive buildings facing it. Coming from the port, you'll pass the main post office on your right, and on your left as you enter the square is its most impressive building, the courthouse, built in the 1920s. On the other side of Avenue Hassan II from the post office is the ornate Bank Al Maghrib; the structure opposite, with the clock tower, is the Wilaya, the governor's office. The more modest buildings on the right side of the square house the notorious customs directorate (where importers' appeals against punitive taxes stand little chance). To avoid confusion, note that Place Mohammed V was formerly called Place des Nations Unies and vice versa, and the old names still appear on some maps.

Need a break?
Sidi Abderrahman
If you follow the Cornish to its southwestern edge, you will see the tomb of Sidi Abderrahman, a Sufi saint, just off the coast on a small island. Moroccans come to this shrine if they are sick or if they feel they need to rid themselves of evil spirits. It is accessible only at low tide, at which point you can simply walk to the small conglomeration of white houses, built practically one on top of the other, along the sandy beach. Non-Muslims are allowed to visit the tiny island and have their futures told by an in-resident fortune-teller, although access to the shrine itself is prohibited. On the corniche, just in front of the tomb, you can enjoy some snails and Moroccan mint tea, along with the locals.

La Sqala
Situated within an 18th-century Portuguese fortress. La Sqala enchants with its beautiful garden. patio. greenery. and fountains.  It may serve the best Moroccan breakfast in town. and if you want a quick snack while sightseeing. the pastries and mint tea are a great bet.  La Sqala also serves lunch and dinner. offering a perfect mix of traditional but tasteful Moroccan design and atmosphere coupled with yummy Moroccan salads and tagines. 












Venezia Ice
After strolling along the Corniche. relax on the trendy Venezia's terrace and enjoy one of their 60 flavors of ice creams and sorbets. 


 











Morocco -- Rabat





Rabat is an excellent place to get acquainted with Morocco, as it has a medina and an array of historical sites and museums, yet exerts significantly less of the pressure that most foreign travelers experience in a place like Fez. You'll generally find yourself free to wander and browse without being hassled to buy local wares or engage a guide. As a diplomatic center, Rabat has a large community of foreign residents. Attractive and well kept, with several gardens, it's arguably Morocco's most pleasant and easygoing city.


Rabat was founded in the 12th century as a fortified town—now the Kasbah des Oudayas—on a rocky outcrop overlooking the River Bou Regreg by Abd al-Mu'min of the Almohad dynasty. Abd al-Mu'min's grandson, Yaqoub al-Mansour, extended the city to encompass the present-day medina, surrounded it with ramparts (some of which still stand), and erected a mosque, from which the unfinished Hassan Tower protrudes as Rabat's principal landmark. Chellah, a neighboring Roman town now within Rabat, was developed as a necropolis in the 13th century.

In the early 17th century Rabat itself was revived with the arrival of the Muslims, who populated the present-day medina upon their expulsion from Spain. Over the course of the 17th century the Kasbah des Oudayas grew notorious for its pirates, and an independent republic of the Bou Regreg was established, based in the kasbah; the piracy continued when the republic was integrated into the Alaouite kingdom and lasted until the 19th century. Rabat was named the administrative capital of the country at the beginning of the French protectorate in 1912, and it remained the capital of the Alaouite kingdom when independence was restored in 1956.


The city has grown considerably over the last 20 years, and today it has many important districts outside the kasbah, the medina, and the original French Ville Nouvelle. These include L'Océan, the seaside area that was once Spanish and Portuguese (during the French protectorate); Hassan, the environs of the Hassan tower; Agdal, a fashionable residential and business district; Ryad, an upscale residential district; and Souissi, an affluent enclave of wealthy folks and diplomats. Take a ride in a taxi or your own car around the various neighborhoods to get a real understanding of the city as a whole.

Chellah
Chellah was an independent city before Rabat ever existed. It dates from the 7th or 8th century BC, when it was probably Phoenician. You'll see the remains of the subsequent Roman city, Sala Colonia, on your left as you walk down the path. Though these remnants are limited to broken stone foundations and column bases, descriptive markers point to the likely location of the forum, baths, and market. Sultan Abu Saïd and his son Abu al Hassan, of the Merenid dynasty, were responsible for the ramparts, the entrance gate, and the majestic portals. The Merenids used Chellah as a spiritual retreat, and at quiet times the baraka (blessing) of the place is still tangible.


The entrance to the Merenid sanctuary is at the bottom of the path, just past some tombs. To the right is a pool with eels in it, which is said to produce miracles—women are known to toss eggs to the eels for fertility. The ruins of the mosque are just inside the sanctuary: beautiful arches and the mihrab (prayer niche). Storks nest on the impressive minaret. On the far side of the mosque is a beautiful wall decorated with Kufi script, a type of Arabic calligraphy characterized by right angles. To the left of the mosque is the zaouia (sanctuary), where you can see the ruins of individual cells surrounding a basin and some ancient mosaic work. Beyond the mosque and zaouia are some beautiful, well-maintained walled gardens. Spring water runs through the gardens at one point, and they give the Chellah a serenity that's quite extraordinary considering that it's less than a mile from the center of a nation's capital. There is no place comparable in Morocco. From the walled gardens you can look out over the River Bou Regreg: you'll see cultivated fields below, and cliffs across the river. On the right is a hill with a small white koubba. Tour groups are elsewhere at lunchtime, so try to come then to experience the Chellah at its most serene.


Hassan Tower
At the end of the 12th century, Yaqoub al Mansour—fourth monarch of the Almohad dynasty and grandson of Abd al Mu'min, who founded Rabat—planned a great mosque. Intended to be the largest mosque in the Muslim world, the project was abandoned with the death of al Mansour in 1199. A further blow to the site occurred with the strong tremors of the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, and this tower is the only significant remnant of al Mansour's dream. A few columns remain in the mosque's great rectangular courtyard, but the great tower was never even completed (which is why it looks too short for its base). Note the quality of the craftsmanship in the carved-stone and mosaic decorations at the top of the tower. From the base there is a fine view over the river. Locals come here at dawn to have their wedding photos taken.


Royal Palace
Built in the early 20th century, Morocco's Royal Palace is a large, cream-color building set back behind lawns. Its large ornamental gate is accented by ceremonial guards dressed in white and red. The complex houses the offices of the cabinet, the prime minister, and other administrative officials. Don't stray from the road down the middle of the complex; the palace is occupied by the royal family and closed to the public.

The Bab ar-Rouah (Gate of the Winds) at the Royal Palace
Currently an art gallery, this city gate was built by Yaqoub al Mansour in 1197. To see it, go outside the city walls and look to the right of the modern arches. Originally a fortification, the gate has an elaborately decorated arch topped by two carved shells. The entrance leads into a room with no gate behind it; you have to turn left into another room and then right into a third room to see the door that once led into Rabat.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Morocco -- Volubilis



by Fodor's Travel Guide to Morocco 
 
Volubilis was the capital of the Roman province of Mauritania (Land of the Moors), Rome's southwesternmost incursion into North Africa. Favored by the confluence of the Rivers Khoumane and Fertasse and surrounded by some of Morocco's most fertile plains, this site has probably been inhabited since the Neolithic era.


Volubilis's municipal street plan and distribution of public buildings are remarkably coherent examples of Roman urban planning. The floor plans of the individual houses, and especially their well-preserved mosaic floors depicting mythological scenes, provide a rare connection to the sensibilities of the Roman colonists who lived here 2,000 years ago.


Dionysus and the Four Seasons
Along the Decumanus Maximus, the small spaces near the street's edge held shop stalls, while mansions—10 on the left and 8 on the right—lined either side. The house of Dionysus and the Four Seasons is about halfway down the Decumanus Maximus; its scene depicting Dionysus discovering Ariadne asleep is one of the town's most spectacular mosaics.




House of the Bathing Nymphs
The House of the Bathing Nymphs is named for its superb floor mosaics portraying a bevy of frolicking nymphs in a surprisingly contemporary, all but animated, artistic fashion. On the main street's right side, the penultimate house has a marble bas-relief medallion of Bacchus. As you move back south along the next street below and parallel to the Decumanus Maximus (right), there is a smaller, shorter row of six houses that are worth exploring.


House of Ephebus
The ancient town's greatest mansions and mosaics line the Decumanus Maximus from the town brothel north to the Tangier Gate, which leads out of the enclosure on the uphill end. One of the most famous is the House of Ephebus, just west of the triumphal arch, named for the nude ivy-crowned bronze sculpture discovered here (now on display in Rabat). The cenacula, or banquet hall, has colorful mosaics with Bacchic themes. Opposite the House of Ephebus is the House of the Dog, where a bronze canine statue was discovered in 1916 in one of the rooms off the triclinium,a large dining room.


House of Orpheus
 One of the important houses you will want to visit in the Roman ruins is the House of Orpheus, the largest house in the residential quarter. Three remarkable mosaics depict Orpheus charming animals with his lyre, nine dolphins symbolizing good luck, and Amphitrite in his sea-horse drawn chariot. Head north from here to explore the public Baths of Gallienus and free-standing Corinthian pillars of the Capitol.



House of Venus
The House of Venus contains Volubilis's best set of mosaics and should not be missed. Intact excavations portray a chariot race, a bathing Diana surprised by the hunter Actaeon, and the abduction of Hylas by nymphs–all are still easily identifiable. The path back down to the entrance passes the site of the Temple of Saturn, across the riverbed on the left.



Triumphal Arch of Volubilis
Impressively rising in fertile plains and olive groves, the grand stone arch of Volubilis is the centerpoint of the ancient Roman site. Decorated only on the east side, it is supported by marble columns, built by Marcus Aurelius Sebastenus to celebrate the power of Emperor Caracalla.



Monday, November 11, 2013

Morocco -- Atlas Mountains

Map showing the location of the Atlas Mountains across North Africa (topographic and political)

Middle Atlas Mountains

The Middle Atlas is part of the Atlas mountain range lying in Morocco, a mountainous country with more than 100,000 km² or 15% of its landmass rising above 2,000 metres. The Middle Atlas is the northernmost of three Atlas Mountains chains that define a large plateaued basin extending eastward into Algeria. South of the Middle Atlas and separated by the Moulouya and Um Er-Rbiâ rivers, the High Atlas stretches for 700 km with a succession of peaks among which ten reach above 4,000 metres. North of the Middle Atlas and separated by the Sebou River, the Rif mountains are an extension of the Baetic System, which includes the Sierra Nevada in the south of Spain. The Barbary Ape is native to the Middle Atlas, and chief populations occur only in restricted range in parts of Morocco and Algeria.

Snow persists in the Middle Atlas in the winter and can appear starting at 600 m above sea level. Its attractive rock coast is not very hospitable. The basin of the Sebou is not only the primary transportation route between Atlantic Morocco and Mediterranean Morocco but is an area, watered by the Middle Atlas range, that constitutes the principal agricultural region of the country.

The Middle Atlas provinces cover 23,000 km² in area, and comprise 18% of the total mountainous surface of Morocco. The provinces of Khènifra, Ifrane, Boulmane, Sefrou, Khemisset, El Hajeb as well as parts of the provinces of Taza and of Beni Mellal lie in the Middle Atlas region. Béni Mellal on the Oum Er-Rbia River is designated "the doorway to the Middle Atlas."

The Middle Atlas is a solid mountainous mass of 350 km in length in the North-East of Morocco with a unique charm. Its biodiversity, both in fauna and flora, make Middle Atlas a significant tourist destination. The region is noted for occurrence of the endangered primate, Barbary Macaque, Macaca sylvanus; this monkey prehistorically had a much wider distribution throughout northern Morocco.[1] Wild boar and polecat are also found within the Middle Atlas Range.[2]

Its geo-morphologic structure is:

  • Primarily limestone.
  • Tabled rock in the west, running to elevations of 800 to 1,000 metres.
  • Folded rock toward the northeast and running to elevations exceeding 3000 m, with a highest point, the Jbel Bou Naceur at 3340 m.
  • Interspersed with volcanic plateaus.

Area of cedars of Khénifra
Over the mountain slopes, extensive forests of cedar spread, intersected by deep valleys. Bordered by the rich Plaine du Saïs and the cities of Fes, Meknes and Beni Mellal, the mountainous reaches of the Middle Atlas are the stronghold of Berber tribes, speaking Tamazight and living at very low population densities.

The Middle Atlas is crossed by one of the principal access roads to the south Marocain, connecting Fes with Tafilalet. Located at the northeast of Atlas. The Middle Atlas ends in the east at Tazekka National Park,[3] with a landscape replete with narrow canyons and caves. In the south of Sefrou, the forests of cedars, of Holm oak and of Cork Oak alternate with plates volcanoic stripped and small full of fish lakes. The jewel of the Middle Atlas is it Ifrane National Park, located in causse atlassic between Khenifra and Ifrane.

The Middle Atlas high points are Jbel Bou Naceur (3340 m), then Jbel Mouâsker (3277 m), in the North, and finally Jbel Bou Iblane (3172 m), which lies close to Immouzer Marmoucha.


High Atlas Mountains


Tizi'n'Toubkal.jpg
Jbel Toubkal (13,671 ft) in Toubkal National Park
High Atlas, also called the Grand Atlas Mountains (Arabic: الاطلس الكبير‎ and French: Haut Atlas) is a mountain range in central Morocco in Northern Africa.

The High Atlas rises in the west at the Atlantic Ocean and stretches in an eastern direction to the Moroccan-Algerian border. At the Atlantic and to the southwest the range drops abruptly and makes an impressive transition to the coast and the Anti-Atlas range. To the north, in the direction of Marrakech, the range descends less abruptly.
The range includes Jbel Toubkal, which at 4,167 m is the highest in the range and lies in Toubkal National Park. The range serves as a weather system barrier in Morocco running east-west and separating the Sahara's climatic influences, which are particularly pronounced in the summer, from the more Mediterranean climate to the north, resulting in dramatic changes in temperature across the range. In the higher elevations in the range snow falls regularly, allowing winter sports. Snow lasts well into late spring in the High Atlas, mostly on the northern faces of the range.

A Kasbah in the Dades valley, High Atlas

The High Atlas forms the basins for a multiplicity of river systems. The majority of the year-round rivers flow to the north, providing the basis for the settlements there. A number of wadis and seasonal rivers terminate in the deserts to the south and plateaus to the east of the mountains.

Travel over the high mountain passes is worthwhile. At the foot of the High Atlas one finds Aït Benhaddou, a Kasbah or castle still in use.[1] Among the summits at 1600 m height lies the Kasbah of Telouet on the road to Marrakech.  The canyons and ravines of the Dadès and the Todra are also impressive.



Morocco -- Saharan Desert



The Touareg freedom fighter Mano Dayek once wrote. "The desert will not tell you about itself--it is a way of life."  The nomadic tribes of "Blue Men" (a group of nomadic camel herders originally from Timbuktu) who have lived for generations in the Moroccan Sahara understand this better than most.  The desert is partly a state of mind that requires you to bow to nature in the search for humility so prepare yourself for enlightenment here amongst the billowing ergs (dunes), stark stony hamada (plains), and scattered oases.

An expedition into the deeper desert provides a glimpse into a forgotten world.  The desert may be entered by camel or jeep.  Many people also snowboard.
 
My trip will be near Merzouga.  Fodor's says that en route to Merzouga and the dunes are hundreds of holes along the roadside that look like giant molehills.  They are actually an ancient irrigation system designed in Persia more than 3,000 years ago and first brought to Morocco by the Arabs in the 12th century.  The wells are call khettara, and access water from the natural water table, channeling it through underground canals to different palm groves.  

Overseas Adventure Travel has provided a desert experience that will entail two nights in a canvas tent in a desert camp--and a camel ride.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Morocco -- Meknes: World Heritage Site


Meknes, a walled city. occupies a plateau overlooking the Bouefekrane River, which divides the medina from the Ville Nouvelle.  Meknes' three sets of imposing walls. architectural Royal Granaries, symmetrical Bab Mansour, and spectacular palaces are highlights in this well-preserved imperial city.  Less inundated with tourists and more provincial than Fez, Meknes offers a low-key initiation into the Moroccan processes of shopping and bargaining.  The pace is slower than Fez and less chaotic.  Whether it was post-Moulay Ismail exhaustion or the 1755 earthquake that quieted Meknes down, the result is a pleasant middle ground between the Fez brouhaha and the business-as-usual European ambiance of Rabat.

Moulay Ismail Mausoleum
One of four sacred sites in Morocco open to non-Muslims (the others are Casablanca's Hassan II, Rabat's Mohammed V Mausoleum, and Rissani's Zaouia of Moulay Ali Sherif), this mausoleum was opened to non-Muslims by King Mohammed V (grandfather of Mohammed VI) in honor of Ismail's ecumenical instincts. An admirer of France's King Louis XIV—who, in turn, considered the sultan an important ally—Moulay Ismail developed close ties with Europe and signed commercial treaties even as he battled to eject the Portuguese from their coastal strongholds at Asilah, Essaouira, and Larache. The mausoleum's site once held Meknès's Palais de Justice (Courthouse), and Moulay Ismail deliberately chose it as his resting place with hopes he would be judged in his own court by his own people. The deep ochre-hue walls inside lead to the sultan's private sanctuary, on the left, heavily decorated with colorful geometric zellijtiling. At the end of the larger inner courtyard, you must remove your shoes to enter the sacred chamber with Moulay Ismail's tomb, surrounded by hand-carved cedar-and-stucco walls, intricate mosaics, and a central fountain.

Morocco -- Fez: World Heritage Site




Fez is one of the world's most spectacular city-museums and exotic medieval labyrinth—mysterious, mesmerizing and sometimes overwhelming. Passing through one of the babs (gates) into Fez el-Bali is like entering a time warp, with only the numerous satellite dishes installed on nearly every roof as a reminder you're in the 21st century, not the 8th. As you maneuver your way through crowded passages illuminated by shafts of sunlight streaming through thatched roofs of the kissaria (covered markets), the cries of "Balek!" ("Watch out!") from donkey drivers pushing overloaded mules—overlapped with the cacophony of locals bartering, coppersmiths hammering, and citywide call to prayer—blend with the strong odors of aromatic spices, fresh dung, curing leather, and smoking grills for an incredible sensorial experience you will never forget.

Designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Fez and Meknes are respectively, the Arab and Berber capitals of Morocco, ancient centers of learning. culture. and craftsmanship.  Recognized as Morocco's intellectual and spiritual center, Fez has one of the world's oldest universities as well as the largest intact medieval quarters.  It is the country's second-largest city (after Casablanca) with a population of approximately 1 million.  Meknes, with nearly 850000 inhabitants, offers a chance to experience all the sights, sounds, and smells of Fez on a slightly smaller, more manageable scale.  Both Fez and Meknes still remain two of Morocco's most authentic and fascinating cities, outstanding for their history and culture and rival Marrakesh as top tourist destinations and hosts of international events and festivals.

In between Fez and Marrakesh, the Middle Atlas is a North African Arcadia, where rivers, woodlands, and valley grasslands show off Morocco's inland beauty.  Snowy cedar forests, ski slopes, and trout streams are not images normally associated with the country, yet the Middle Atlas unfolds like an ersatz alpine fantasy less than an hour from medieval Fez.  To remind you that this is still North Africa, Barbary monkeys scurry around the roadsides, and the traditional djellaba (hooded gown) and veil appear in ski areas.

Most travelers to Morocco can get a glance of the Middle Atlas as they whiz between Fez and Marrakesh, or between Meknes and points south.  The central highland's Berber villages, secret valleys, scenic woods, dramatically barren landscapes, and hilly plains blanketed with olive groves lie in stark contrast to the exotic imperial cities.  For this reason alone, the region is rewarding to discover for its integrity and authenticity.

Fez El-Bali
Fez el-Bali is a living crafts workshop and market that has changed little in the past millennium.  With no vehicles allowed and some 1.000 very narrow debris (dead-end alleys), it beckons the walker on an endless and absorbing odyssey.  Exploring this honeycomb of 9th-century alleys and passageways with occasionally chaotic crowds, steep inclines and pitted cobblestone steps is a challenging adventure.  At night, the adventure can become quite intimidating.  Fez isn't really yours, however, until you've tackled it on your own. become hopelessly lost a few times. and survived to tell the tale.

Andalusian Mosque
This mosque was built in AD 859 by Mariam, sister of Fatima al-Fihri, who had erected the Kairaouine Mosque on the river's other side two years earlier with inherited family wealth. The gate was built by the Almohads in the 12th century. The grand carved doors on the north entrance, domed Zenet minaret, and detailed cedarwood carvings in the eaves, which bear a striking resemblance to those in the Fondouk Nejjarine, are the main things to see here, as the mosque itself is set back on a small elevation, making it hard to examine from outside.


Attarine Medersa
The Attarine Medersa (Koranic school of the Spice Sellers) was named for local spice merchants known as attar. Founded by Merinid Sultan Abou Saïd Othman in the 14th century as a students' dormitory attached to the Kairaouine Mosque next door, its graceful proportions, elegant, geometric carved-cedar ornamentation, and excellent state of preservation make it one of the best representations of Moorish architecture in Fez.






Bab Boujeloud
Built in 1913 by General Hubert Lyautey, Moroccan commander under the French protectorate, this Moorish-style gate is 1,000 years younger than the rest of the medina. It's considered the principal and most beautiful point of entry into the Fez el-Bali. The side facing towards the Fez el-Djedid is covered with blue ceramic tiles painted with flowers and calligraphy; the inside is green, the official color of Islam—or of peace, depending on interpretation.


Bou Inania Medersa
From outside Bab Boujeloud you will see this medersa's green-tile tower, generally considered the most beautiful of the Kairaouine University's 14th-century residential colleges. It was built by order of Abou Inan, the first ruler of the Merenid dynasty, which would become the most decisive ruling clan in Fez's development. The main components of the medersa's stunningly intricate decorative artwork are: the green-tile roofing; the cedar eaves and upper patio walls carved in floral and geometrical motifs; the carved-stucco mid-level walls; the ceramic-tile lower walls covered with calligraphy (Kufi script, essentially cursive Arabic) and geometric designs; and, finally, the marble floor. Showing its age, the carved cedar is still dazzling, with each square inch a masterpiece of handcrafted sculpture involving long hours of the kind of concentration required to memorize the Koran. The black belt of ceramic tile around the courtyard bears Arabic script reading "this is a place of learning" and other such exhortatory academic messages.

Cherratine Medersa
Recent restoration against humidity and other natural agressions has kept this important historical site intact. Constructed in 1670 by Moulay Rachid, this is one of Fez's two Alaouite medersas. More austere than the 14th-century medersas of the Merenids, the Cherratine is more functional, designed to hold over 200 students. It's interesting primarily as a contrast to the intricate craftsmanship and decorative intent of the Merenid structures. The entry doors beautifully engraved in bronze lead to the douiras, narrow residential blocks consisting of a honeycomb of small rooms.


Fontaine Nejjarine
This ceramic-tile, cedar-ceiling public fountain is one of the more beautiful and historic of its kind in Fez el-Bali. The first fountain down from Bab Boujeloud, Fontaine Nejjarine seems a miniature version of the Nejjarine fondouk (medieval inn), with its geometrically decorated tiles and intricately carved cedar eaves overhead.





Kairaouine Mosque
This is considered one of the most important mosques in the Western Muslim world. One look through the main doorway will give you an idea of its immensity. With about 10,760 square feet, the Kairaouine was Morocco's largest mosque until Casablanca's Hassan II Mosque came along in the early 1990s. Built in AD 857 by Fatima, the daughter of a wealthy Kairaouine refugee, the mosque became the home of the West's first university and the world's foremost center of learning at the beginning of the second millennium. Stand at the entrance door's left side for a peek through the dozen horseshoe arches into the mihrab (marked by a hanging light). An east-facing alcove or niche used for leading prayer, the mihrab is rounded and covered with an arch designed to project sound back through the building. Lean in and look up to the brightly painted and intricately carved wood ceiling. If you're lucky enough to visit during the early morning cleaning, two huge wooden doors by the entrance swing open, providing a privileged view of the vast interior. For a good view of the courtyard, also head to the rooftop of the Attarine Medersa.

Musee des Armes
Built in 1582 under the command of Saadian sultan Ahmed el-Mansoor, this former fortress perched above the city guarded and controlled the Fez el-Bali. In 1963, a huge collection of weapons originally housed in the Museum Dar el-Batha was brought to the historic site, creating the interesting display in what is now the Museum of Arms. Sabres, swords, shields, and armour from the 19th century showcase the history of how arms played a social role in tribal hierarchy. Of importance is the arsenal of sultans Moulay Ismail and Moulay Mohammed Beh Abdellah—the elaborate Berber guns encrusted in enamel, ivory, silver, and precious gems date back to the 17th century. Walk up to the crenellated rooftop in late afternoon for a beautiful panoramic view of the city.

 Musee Nejjarine des Arts et Metiers du Bois
This 14th-century fondouk, or Inn of the Carpenters, is without a doubt the medina's most modern-looking restored monument. The three-story patio displays Morocco's various native woods, 18th- and 19th-century woodworking tools, and a series of antique wooden doors and pieces of furniture. For 10 DH enjoy mint tea on the rooftop consommation terrassewith panoramic views over the medina. Don't miss the former jail cell on the ground floor, or the large scales—a reminder of the building's original functions, commerce on the patio floor and lodging on the three levels above. Check out the palatial, cedar-ceiling public bathrooms, certainly the finest of its kind in Fez.




Place Seffarine
This wide, triangular souk of the dinandiers, or coppersmiths, is a welcome open space, a comfortable break from tight crags and corners. Donkeys and their masters wait for transport work here, and a couple of trees are reminders this was once a fertile valley alongside the Fez River. Copper and brass bowls, plates, and buckets are wrought and hammered over fires around the market's edge, where the smells of soldering irons and donkey droppings permeate the air. Look towards the Kairaouine Mosque at the top of the square to see the Kairaouine University library, which once housed the world's best collection of Islamic literature. Recently restored, it is open only to Muslim scholars.


Sahrij Medersa
Built by the Merenids in the 14th century and showing its age, one of the medina's finest medersas is named for the sahrij (pool) on which its patio is centered. Rich chocolate-color cedar wall carvings have significantly faded from intense sun exposure and the zellij mosaic tiling, some of the oldest in the country, are crumbling, but the medersa remains active, providing rooms and an open bathing area for mostly Senegalese students of Koranic studies. Head up the narrow steps leading to empty rooms over the central patio—you may hear the chanting of Koranic verses or see numerous birds roosting in the ancient eaves.

Souk el-Henna
 This little henna market is one of the medina's most picturesque squares, with a massive, gnarled fig tree in the center and rows of spices, hennas, kohls, and aphrodisiacs for sale in the tiny stalls around the edges. The ceramic shops on the way into the henna souk sell a wide variety of typically blue Fassi pottery. At the square's end is a plaque dedicated to the Maristan Sidi Frej, a medical center and psychiatric and teaching hospital built by the Merenid ruler Youssef Ibn Yakoub in 1286. Used as a model for the world's first mental hospital—founded in Valencia, Spain, in 1410—the Maristan operated until 1944.

Terrasse des Tanneurs
 The medieval tanneries are at once beautiful, for their ancient dyeing vats of reds, yellows, and blues, and unforgettable, for the nauseating, putrid smell of rotting animal flesh on sheep, goat, cow, and camel skins. The terrace overlooking the dyeing vats is high enough to escape the place's full fetid power and get a spectacular view over the multicolor vats. Absorb both the process and the finished product on Chouara Lablida, just past Rue Mechatine (named for the combs made from animals' horns): numerous stores are filled with loads of leather goods, including coats, bags, and babouches (traditional slippers). One of the shopkeepers will explain what's going on in the tanneries below—how the skins are placed successively in saline solution, lime, pigeon droppings, and then any of several natural dyes: poppies for red, tumeric for yellow, saffron for orange, indigo for blue, and mint for green. Barefoot workers in shorts pick up skins from the bottoms of the dyeing vats with their feet, then work them manually. Though this may look like the world's least desirable job, the work is relatively well paid and still in demand for a strong export market.

Zaouia of Moulay Idriss II
Originally built by the Idriss dynasty in the 9th century in honor of the city's founder—just 33 at the time of his death—this zaouia (sanctuary) was restored by the Merenid dynasty in the 13th century and has became one of the medina's holiest shrines. Particularly known for his baraka (divine protection), Moulay Idriss II had an especially strong cult among women seeking fertility and pilgrims hoping for good luck. The wooden beam at the entrance, about 6 feet from the ground, was originally placed there to keep Jews, Christians, and donkeys out of the horm, the sacred area surrounding the shrine itself. Inside the horm, Moroccans have historically enjoyed official sanctuary—they cannot be arrested if sought by the law. You may be able to catch a glimpse of the saint's tomb at the far right corner through the doorway; look for the fervently faithful burning candles and incense and tomb's silk-brocade covering. Note the rough wooden doors themselves, worn smooth with hundreds of years of kissing and caressing the wood for baraka.


Fez El-Djedid
Fez el-Djedid (New Fez) lies southwest of Bab Boujeloud between Fez el-Bali and the Ville Nouvelle.  Built after 1273 by the Merenid dynasty as a govrenment seat and stronghold, it remained the administrative center of Morocco until 1912, when Rabat took over this role and diminished this area's visibility and activity.  The three distinct segments of Fez el-Djedid consist of the Royal Palace in the west, the Jewish Quarter in the south, and Muslim District in the east.

Bab es Seba
Named for the seven (seba) brothers of Moulay Abdellah who reigned during the 18th century, the Gate of Seven connects two open spaces originally designed for military parades and royal ceremonies, the Petit Méchouar and Vieux Méchouar, now known as Moulay Hassan II Square. It was from this gate that Prince Ferdinand, brother of Duarte, king of Portugal, was hanged head-down for four days in 1437 after being captured during a failed Portuguese invasion of Tangier.

Dar el-Makhzen
Fez's Royal Palace and gardens are strictly closed to the public, but they're an impressive sight even from the outside. From Place des Alaouites, take a close look at the door's giant brass knockers, made by artisans from Fez el-Bali, as well as the brass doors themselves. Inside are various palaces, 200 acres of gardens, and parade grounds, as well as a medersa founded in 1320. One of the palaces inside, Dar el-Qimma, has intricately engraved and painted ceilings. The street running along the palace's southeast side is Rue Bou Khessissat, one side of which is lined with typically ornate residential facades from the Mellah's edge. Note: Security in this area is high and should be respected. Guards watch visitors carefully and will warn that photographs of the palace are forbidden; cameras are sometimes confiscated.

Mellah
With its characteristically ornate balconies and forged-iron windows, the Mellah was created in the 15th century when the Jews, forced out of the medina in one of Morocco's recurrent pogroms, were removed from their previous ghetto near Bab Guissa and set up as royal financial consultants and buffers between the Merenid rulers and the people. Fez's Jewish community suffered repressive measures until the beginning of the French protectorate in 1912. Faced with an uncertain future after Morocco gained independence in 1956, nearly all of Fez's Jews migrated to Israel, the United States, or Casablanca. Head to the terrace of Danan Synagogue on Rue Der el-Ferah Teati for a panoramic view of the district.

Museum of Moroccan Arts
Housed in Dar Batha, a late-19th-century Andalusian palace built by Moulay el Hassan, the museum of Moroccan Arts has one of Morocco's finest handicrafts collections. The display of pottery, for which Fez is particularly famous, includes rural earthenware crockery and elaborate plates painted with geometrical patterns. Other displays feature embroidery stitched with real gold, astrolabes from the 11th to the 18th century, illuminated Korans, and Berber carpets and kilims.

Moulay Abdellah Quarter
 Built by the Merenids as a government seat and a stronghold against their subjects, this area lost its purpose when Rabat became the Moroccan capital under the French protectorate in 1912. Subsequently a red-light district filled with brothels and dance halls, the quarter was closed to foreigners for years. Historic highlights include the vertically green-striped Moulay Abdellah Mosque and the Great Mosque Abu Haq, built by the Merenid sultan in 1276.


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Morocco -- Ouarzazate


Ouarzazate is Morocco's Hollywood, and the industry can regularly be found setting up shop in this sprawling desert crossroads with wide, palm-fringed boulevards. Brad Pitt, Penélope Cruz, Angelina Jolie, Samuel L. Jackson, Cate Blanchett, and many more have graced the suites and streets. Despite the Tinseltown vibe and huge, publicly accessible film sets, Ouarzazate remains at its heart a dusty ghost town. Its main recommendation is the dramatic surrounding terrain that makes it a mainstay for filmmakers: the red-glowing kasbah at Aït Ben Haddou; the snow-capped High Atlas and the Sahara, with tremendous canyons, gorges, and lunar-like steppes in between.



Ouarzazate, which means "no noise" in the Berber Tamazigh language, was once a very quiet place. An isolated military outpost during the years of the French protectorate, it now benefits from increased tourism and economic development thanks to the Moroccan film industry. The movie business provides casual work for almost half of the local population and there is now a film school providing training in the cinema arts for Moroccan and international students. But the town retains its laid-back atmosphere, making it a great place to sit at a sidewalk café, sip a café noir, and spot visiting celebrities.


Friday, November 8, 2013

Morocco -- Ait Benhaddou




Aït Benhaddou is a fortified city, or ksar, along the former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech in present-day Morocco. It is situated in Souss-Massa-Drâa on a hill along the Ounila River and is known for its kasbahs, although they take damage with each rainstorm. Most of the town's inhabitants now live in a more modern village at the other side of the river; however, eight families still live within the ksar.
Aït Benhaddou has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987[1] and several films have been shot there, including:
Also used in parts of the TV series Game of Thrones.


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Morocco -- Marrakesh



Marrakesh is Morocco's most intoxicating city. Ever since Morocco's Jewel of the South became a trading and resting place on the ancient caravan routes from Timbuktu, the city has barely paused for breath.


Ali ben Youssef Medersa


If you want a little breath taken out of you, don't pass up the chance to see this extraordinarily well-preserved 16th-century Koranic school, North Africa's largest such institution. The delicate intricacy of the gibs (stucco plasterwork), carved cedar, and zellij (mosaic) on display in the central courtyard makes the building seem to loom taller than it really does. As many as 900 students from Muslim countries all over the world once studied here, and arranged around the courtyard are their former sleeping quarters—a network of tiny upper-level rooms that resemble monks' cells. The building was erected in the 14th century by the Merenids in a somewhat different style from that of other medersas; later, in the 16th century, Sultan Abdullah el Ghallib rebuilt it almost completely, adding the Andalusian details. The large main courtyard, framed by two columned arcades, opens into a prayer hall elaborately decorated with rare palm motifs as well as the more-customary Islamic calligraphy. The medersa also contains a small mosque.




Souks
The vast, labyrinth of narrow streets and derbs at the center of the medina is the souk—Marrakesh's marketplace and a wonder of arts, crafts, and workshops. Every step brings you face-to-face with the colorful handicrafts and bazaars for which Marrakesh is so famous. In the past, every craft had a special zone within the market—a souk within the souk. Today savvy vendors have pushed south to tap trading opportunities as early as possible, and few of the original sections remain. Look for incongruities born of the modern era. Beside handcrafted wooden pots for kohl eye makeup are modern perfume stores; where there is a world of hand-sewn djellabas at one turn, you'll find soccer jerseys after the next; fake Gucci caps sit beside handmade Berber carpets, their age-old tassels fluttering in the breeze.


As you wander through the souk, take note of landmarks so you can return to a particular bazaar without too much trouble. Once the bazaars' shutters are closed, they're often unrecognizable. The farther north you go the more the lanes twist, turn, and entwine. Should you have to retrace your steps, a compass comes in handy, as does a mental count of how many left or right turns you've taken since you left the main drag. But mostly you'll rely on people in the souk to point the way. If you ask a shopkeeper, rather than a loitering local you'll be less likely to be "guided."



winston churchill painting




















This is an oil painting of Marrakesh done by Prime Minister Winston Churchill, which he gave to his friend President Franklin Roosevelt following the 1943 Casablanca Conference. The painting depicts the Tower of Katoubia Mosque in Marrakesh.


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Morocco -- Special Experiences



For a sense of Moroccan culture, a good start would be to embrace some of the ongoing rituals of daily life. These are a few highlights—customs and sites you can experience with relative ease.

 

Mint Tea

When in Morocco, it's a good idea to make friends with mint tea. This sweet and aromatic brew is the national drink, offered for, with, and following breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It's served as an icebreaker for anything from rug selling in the Meknès souk to matchmaking at the Imilchil marriage market. Dubbed "Moroccan (or Berber) whiskey," thé à la menthe is Chinese green tea brewed with a handful of mint leaves and liberally loaded up with sugar. Introduced to Morocco only in the mid-19th century when blockaded British merchants unloaded ample quantities of tea at major ports, the tradition has now become such a symbol of Moroccan hospitality that not drinking three small glasses of tea when your host or business contact offers it to you is nearly a declaration of hostilities. Generally ordered by the pot and poured from on high in order to release the aromas and aerate the beverage, mint tea is recommended in cold weather or in sweltering heat as a tonic, a mild stimulant, and a digestive.

 

Music

Music is integral to daily and ritual life in Morocco, both for enjoyment and as a form of social commentary. It emanates from homes, stores, markets, and public squares everywhere you go. Joujouka music is perhaps the best known, but every region has its own distinct sound. In the Rif you'll hear men singing poetry accompanied by guitar and high-pitched women's choruses; in Casablanca, rai (opinion) music, born of social protest, keeps young men company on the streets; cobblers in the Meknès medina may work to the sounds of violin-based Andalusian classical music or the more-folksy Arabic melhoun, sung poetry; and you know you've reached the south when you hear the banjo of the roving storytelling rawais in Marrakesh. Gnaoua music is best known for its use in trance rituals, but it has become popular street entertainment; the performer's brass qaraqa hand cymbals and cowrie shell–adorned hat betray the music's sub-Saharan origins. Seek out live music at public squares such as Marrakesh's Djemaâ el-Fna, or attend a festival, a regional moussem (pilgrimage festival), or even a rural market to see the performances locals enjoy.

 

Markets

Moroccan markets, souks, and bazaars buzz with life. Every town and city in Morocco revolves, in one way or another, around its market, and beginning your exploration at the hub of urban life is one of the best ways to start a crash course in wherever you find yourself. The chromatically riotous displays of fruit and vegetables are eye-bogglingly rich and as geometrically complex as the most intricate aspects of Islamic architecture and design. Fez el-Bali is virtually all market, with the exception of the craftsmen and artisans preparing their wares for market. Fez's henna souk is famous for its intimate ambience and archaic elegance. Marrakesh's central market stretching out behind Djemaâ el-Fna square could take a lifetime to explore. The Meknès market next to Place el-Hedim is smaller but loaded with everything from sturdy earthenware tagines to a wide selection of Moroccan spices and fish fresh from the Atlantic. Casablanca's Marché Central in the heart of the city is one of the most picturesque and least Europeanized parts of an otherwise unremarkable urban sprawl. Essaouira's crafts and produce market shares this light and cheerful town's easygoing atmosphere, and shopping there becomes a true pleasure rather than a grim battle over haggling leverage.

Trek the mountains of the High Atlas.

For spectacular vistas and fresh air, the High Atlas is a perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of urban Morocco. Hiking North Africa's tallest peak, Djebel Toubkal, rising to nearly 14,000 feet, is only a two-day climb best done in late summer. Guides can lead amateur hikers through rural Berber villages and rocky paths less strenuous but equally rewarding. Head to the Ourika Valley for a variety of outdoor adventure—it's a justifiably popular region to hang-glide, ski, or ride mules to hidden waterfalls and tranquil hilltop gardens.

 

Bargain for babouches in the leather tanneries of Fez.

With the stench of animal skins curing in the hot sun and sounds of workmen laboring in the rainbow of dye vats beneath rows of open terraces, there is no better place to contribute to the artisanal cooperatives if you want to buy beautifully handmade leather house slippers, bags, belts, jackets, and poufs. Negotiating in one of the many shops claiming to be the best producer of leather goods guarantees a memorable experience as you haggle dirhams while sniffing a complimentary bunch of mint leaves to offset the strong acidic smell of natural curing ingredients in the medina air.

 

Dine on kebabs and harira from a street-market grill.

The intoxicating aromas of freshly grilled skewers of meat and simmering spicy soup in qissarias (open markets) and roadside stands tantalize even the most cautious traveler. Follow the rising smoke from burners and indulge in local cuisine ranging from beef brochettes and merguez sausages to fried calamari and whole fish caught fresh from the Atlantic and seared to perfection. For the more adventurous gourmand, snail soup and sheep's brains can be sampled. Sop it all up with freshly baked kesra (flatbread).

 

People-Watching

Morocco is a visual spectacle in every sense, and the human fauna are beyond a doubt the runaway stars of the show. French painters such as Delacroix and Matisse and the great Spanish colorist Marià Fortuny all found the souks, fondouks, and street scenes of Marrakesh, Fez, and Tangier irresistible. Today's visitors to this eye-popping North African brouhaha are well advised to simply pull up a chair and take in some of the most exotic natural street theater in the world.

 

People-watch in Fez el-Bali.

The to-and-fro pulsing of Fez's medina makes it the perfect place to watch Moroccans doing what Moroccans do. Great spots include the cafés around Bab Boujeloud and Bab Fteuh, though the latter is much less amenable to travelers.

 

People-watch on the Djemaâ el-Fna in Marrakesh.

From morning to night, the historic square at the center of the medina guarantees to entertain and provide a glimpse into local living and the unusual. Surrounded by colorful dried fruit and juice carts scattered near terraced cafés and rows of shops brimming with activity, the carnival-like atmosphere of snake charmers, fortunetellers, monkey handlers, musicians, and costumed water sellers adds to the exotic flavor of what was once the principal meeting point for tradesmen and regional farmers, as well as gruesome site for public criminal beheadings in ancient times.

 

Appreciate Koranic scholarship in a historic medersa.

A quiet spot in front of the central marble ablutions pool is the perfect place to view masterpieces of Islamic architecture. Look for intricate zellij tilework along arched corridors, ornate wood carvings in domed ceilings, sculpted stone friezes bearing symbolic Arabic calligraphy, and beautifully detailed stained-glass windows in prayer halls and reflection rooms of these culturally rich buildings.

 

Savor the scents and sights of a food souk.

Weave through the labyrinth of open and covered streets to discover a feast for the senses. The indoor food souk of Meknès is a must. Along coastal towns, discover fish markets by the harbor. In rural villages, look for carts peddling freshly picked apricots and dates. From pyramids of marinated olives and preserved lemons to bulging sacks of finely milled grains and multicolored spices and nuts, the food souks reflect the wide range of aromatic ingredients used in traditional Moroccan cuisine. Follow your nose to sweet rosewater and honey-laden pastries flavored with cinnamon, saffron, and almonds.

 

Listen and learn at a local festival.

One of the best ways to experience the rich heritage is to participate in a local event. Head to Kelaa-des-Mgouna in the Dadès Valley in May; home to the country's largest rose water distillery plant, this small oasis village celebrates the flower harvest each spring. In early June, enjoy the chants, lyricism, and intellectual fervor of international musicians, Sufi scholars, and social activists at the World Sacred Music Festival in Fez. In late June, the traditions of Gnaoua music, a blend of African, Berber and African song and dance, are celebrated in the seaside resort village of Essaouira. Experience the Imilchil Berber marriage feast in autumn. In December, the Marrakech International Film Festival is the hottest spot for international celebrity sightings. The all-important Eid al-Fitr (Feast of the Fast Breaking) best showcases Moroccan tradition with three days of joyous celebration at the end of Ramadan.

 

Pamper yourself in a hammam.

Getting scrubbed and steamed at a local hammam can do wonders for the weary. Whether you choose a communal public bath or private room in an upscale riad, this traditional therapy of brisk exfoliation and bathing using natural cleansers has promoted physical and mental hygiene and restoration for centuries. Public hammams are clean and inexpensive. Le Royal Mansour and the Angasa Spa in Marrakesh are exceptionally luxurious spots to experience this unique cultural ritual.

 

Relax in a riad.

Forgo the standard setting of a modern hotel chain, and opt for a room with character in the heart of the medina. Former private homes, multistoried riads have been restored to their original beauty and authenticity, furnished with antiques and local crafts, and outfitted with latest technology for those who want to stay connected. Many are family owned and operated, providing guests with personalized service, generous breakfasts, and spacious accommodations overlooking lush inner courtyard gardens. More luxurious riads have full-scale spas, panoramic terrace bars, swimming pools, and world-class restaurants.

 

Soothe the eyes in the blue-washed town of Chefchaouen.

Founded in the 15th century by Spanish exiles, the village of Chefchaouen tucked in the foothills of the Rif Mountains, is widely considered to be one of Morocco's most picturesque places. Relax beneath verdant shade trees on the cobblestoned Plaza Uta el-Hamman. Wander the steep Andalusian passageways, where buildings bathed in cobalt and indigo hues blend with terracotta-tiled roofs, pink-scarved women, violet blossoms, and ochre-and-poppy red wool carpets to create an incredibly vibrant canvas of color.

 

Ride a camel to the dunes of the Sahara.

For an unforgettable adventure, mount a dromedary to experience the undulating orange dunes and abandoned kasbahs of the desert, a magical region immortalized in film and fiction. Select an overnight tour to stay in a Bedouin tent in the Erg Chebbi or Erg Chigaga desert wilderness.


The Outdoors

A range of spectacular landscapes has made Morocco a major destination for rugged outdoor sporting challenges and adventure travel. Much of Morocco's natural beauty lies in its mountains, where the famous Berber hospitality can make hiking an unforgettable experience. You can arrange most outdoor excursions yourself or with the help of tourist offices and hotels in the larger cities. Rock climbing is possible in the Todra and Dadès gorges and the mountains outside Chefchaouen. Oukaïmeden has facilities for skiing, and a few other long, liftless runs await the more athletic. Golf is available in Rabat, Casablanca, Marrakesh, and Agadir. Several High Atlas rivers are suitable for fishing.

High Atlas. People come from around the world to trek in these mountains, drawn by the rugged scenery, bracing air, and rural Berber (Imazighen) culture. Hiking is easily combined with mule riding, trout fishing, and vertiginous alpine drives. Merzouga dunes. Southeast of Erfoud, beyond Morocco's great oasis valleys, these waves of sand mark the beginning of the Sahara. Brilliantly orange in the late-afternoon sun, they can be gloriously desolate at sunrise. Palm groves and villages, Tafraoute. A striking tropical contrast to the barren Anti-Atlas Mountains and the agricultural plains farther north, the oases are scattered with massive, pink cement houses built by wealthy urban merchants native to this area.

 

Architecture

Refined Islamic architecture graces the imperial cities of Fez, Meknès, Marrakesh, and Rabat. Mosques and medersas (schools of Koranic studies) dating from the Middle Ages, as well as 19th-century palaces, are decorated with colorful geometric tiles, bands of Koranic verses in marble or plaster, stalactite crevices, and carved wooden ceilings. The mellahs built by Morocco's Jews with glassed-in balconies contrast with the Islamic emphasis on turning inward. French colonial architecture prevails in the Art Deco and neo-Mauresque streets of Casablanca's Quartier des Habous. Outside these strongholds of Arab influence are the pisé (rammed earth) kasbahs in the Ouarzazate–Er-Rachidia region, where structures built with local mud and clay range from deep pink to burgundy to shades of brown.

Aït-Benhaddou, near Ouarzazate. Strewn across a hillside, the red-pisé towers of this village fortress resemble a melting sand castle. Crenellated and topped with blocky towers, it's one of the most sumptuous sights in the Atlas Mountains. La Bahia Palace, Marrakesh. Built as a harem's residence, and interspersed with cypress-filled courtyards, La Bahia has the key Moroccan architectural elements—light, symmetry, decoration, and water. Bou Inania medersa, Fez. The most celebrated of the Kairaouine University's 14th-century residential colleges, Bou Inania has a roof of green tile, a ceiling of carved cedar, stalactites of white marble, and ribbons of Arabic inscription.