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sun and light.
Fez is the spiritual heart
of Arabic Morocco. The city, one of the oldest medieval cities in the
world, is one of the holiest in Islam. In fact, so precious is Fez's
history, architecture, and culture that the entire city has been
declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is, simply, the soul of the
was founded by Moulay Idriss, grandson of the prophet Mohammed in the
9th century, as the capital of his Islamic kingdom, and has served at
various times as the capital of the country, and the principal
residence of Morocco's kings.
important as its role in Morocco's national origins, for more than a
millennium Fez has been one of the lights of knowledge, learning,
culture and spirituality. Its Kairyaoune University is argued to be the
oldest in the world, dating to 850 c.e., and was one of the places
responsible for keeping alive the light of ancient knowledge during
Europe's dark ages.
medina of Fez, the largest in Morocco, houses some 60,000 residents,
and is organized around trade. Fez is known for the extraordinary
quality of its imperial crafts, such as fassi pottery,
extraordinary leatherwork, and incredible complex zellij tile mosaics.
the end, Fez is both sacred and mysterious, its spirit both evocative
and elusive, even to those that know her well.
Marrakesh is the jewel of
the south, one of the four Imperial cities of Morocco, and an important
cultural and commercial center set at the foot of the High Atlas
Marrakesh is a city of
vibrancy and solemnity, souk and square, palace and riad, mosque and
garden. It is a city wrapped in faded red, ochre walls, and dominated
by the Koutoubia mosque, visible from throughout the city.
also a crossroads - where ancient Arab culture of the valley and the
Berber culture of the mountains meet. At its center is the deservedly
famous Djemaa el Fna - a public space unlike any found in any city in
Morocco, or the world. In the evenings, as dusk approaches, the square
hums with the activity of musicians, food vendors, storytellers, snake
charmers, the curious, the odd. The spirit in the square is one of
mystery, magic and possibility.
The High Atlas
the province of the Berber tribes that fiercely resisted all efforts at
external governance, the High Atlas are less than an hour's drive from
Marrakesh. Two mountain passes, the Tiz n' Tichka, and the Tizn n Test,
cut through these mountains, past breathtaking vistas, spectacular rock
formations, and river valleys in their beauty rivaling, if not
surpassing, any others in the world. Hikers and climbers from around
the world come to the Atlas.
people of these extraordinarily beautiful, romantic mountains were,
even until quite recently, wholly untouched by modernity, still live
largely as they have for millennia, in small, self-sufficient
"The Sahara is
priest, mage, and confessor, a place
so purely itself, we can finally see ourselves clearly."
- William McBride
the greatest desert in the world, rending Africa in two, with its
endless mountains of sand, dunes that stretch beyond the imagination.
Evenings of such clarity one can see the literal dome of the earth, and
fall asleep counting the innumerable stars - one forgets how many there
are. This is the land of camels, and nomads, of ancient songs and the
is a challenge, not easily reached, but richly rewarding those who make
the journey. To get there, one travels along ancient river routes,
lined with oases, blooming, green lifelines that extend like veins into
the heart of the desert. Along these ancient paths are constructed the ksar
and kasbahs, mudbrick fortresses and towns that rise
mysteriously out of the very earth, only to return, in time, like
famous of these is the Draa Valley, the land of a thousand
kasbahs, starting point for trans-Saharan camel routes of old, when
tens of thousands of camels would make the perilous, many-months
journey across the sands to bring back treasures from the East.
Fez is the spiritual heart of Arabic Morocco, then Meknes, her smaller
twin, located a short distance to the west, is a center of Berber
culture and learning. Like Fez, Meknes has also served as the capital
of Morocco during a later point in the long dynastic struggles of its
Arabic and Berber leaders.
Meknes occupies a plateau
overlooking the Boufekrane River, and is less trafficked than Fez,
giving the city a more laid-back and relaxed air.
sights of Meknes are extraordinary in their own right.
than 40 kilometers of walls, each more than 12 feet thick,
encircle the city in three giant, concentric rings. Set in the walls
are exquisite gates, including the Bab Mansour, widely considered to be
the most beautiful gate in all of North Africa. One of the four sacred
sites open to non-Muslims, the Mausoleaum of Moulay Ismail (the founder
of Meknes) is located here, one of the most stunning sights in Morocco.
Once the capital of the Roman
province of Mauritania, as the region was then known, the ruins of
Volubilis are near-perfectly preserved, providing a clear window into
Roman urban planning and design. The entire site was perfectly
preserved for thousands of years, until some of the marble was removed
to build nearby Meknes. What remains is still some of the most stunning
Roman ruins outside of Rome, with exquisitely impressive mosaics
preserved, literally where they were built.
along the southwestern Atlantic coast of Morocco, Essaouira is a
beautiful, white and quite coastal town, founded in the 16th century as
a trading post for the Portuguese. It is located amidst some of the
most spectacular seashore; virtually untouched beaches lie only a few
miles away from the heart of the town.
home to 50,000, Essaouira is one of the most beautiful cities in
Morocco. There are few things in Morocco more pleasurable than a stroll
along its whitewashed streets and crenellated ramparts, looking out
over the Atlantic ocean. And given its location, it boasts some of the
very best seafood in the country.
is also home to an annual festival of Gnaoua music, a powerful tribal
music wildly popular throughout Morocco.
the North of the country, nestled in the Rif mountains, and a short
trip from Tangier is the small picturesque town of Chefchaouen. Founded
in 1492 by Moorish exiles from Spain, the town is decorated in a
mixture of whitewash and every shade of blue, from pastel sky tones to
deep indigos. The effect is dreamlike, making this an extremely
romantic place to rest for a few days.
Rabat and Casablanca
completely modern city of Casablanca, Morocco's industrial center,
bears little resemblance to its famous movie namesake. (No scenes for
the famous film were even filmed here!) Like any other major city in
the world, Casablanca is filled with bustle and energy, and most
flights in and out of Morocco travel through its busy airport.
is deservedly famous for the Hassan II Mosque, one of the largest in
the world, and one of the few mosques open to non-Muslims in the
country. It is one of Morocco's most extraordinarily beautiful
statements to faith.
the great capital of Morocco, is unlike any other city in the country.
It is a country that reveals itself slowly, and one gets the sense that
it holds secrets of great value - and indeed it does. For as imposing
as the Royal Palace gates are, and as beautiful as the city's great
gardens, the real treasures are hidden from view.
treasures include wonders wonders both ancient and modern, from the
ruins of Chellah to the Mausoleum of the great King Mohamed V, who
brought independence to Morocco and is credited with saving Morocco's
Jews from Nazi deportation during World War II.