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Morocco - Where to go



Geographically, the country divides into four basic zones: the coast,Mediterranean and Atlantic; the great cities of the plains; the Rif and Atlas Mountains; and the oases and desert of the pre- and fully fledged Sahara. With two or three weeks – even two or three months – you can’t expect to cover all of this, though it’s easy enough (and highly recommended) to take in something of each aspect, such as the climate and weather.

You are unlikely to miss the mountains, in any case. The three ranges of the Atlas, with the Rif a kind of extension in the north, cut right across the interior – physical and historical barriers, and inhabited for the most part by the indigenous Moroccan Berbers. Contrary to general preconceptions, it is actually the Berbers who make up most of the population (only around ten percent of Moroccans are “pure” Arabs) although with the shift to the industrialized cities, such distinctions are becoming less and less significant.

A more current distinction, perhaps, is the legacy of Morocco’s colonial occupation over the fifty-odd years before it reasserted its independence in 1956. The colonized country was divided into Spanish and French zones – the former contained Tetouan and the Rif, the Mediterranean.

Amazigh community 

The Berbers were Morocco’s original inhabitants. The Arabs arrived at the end of the seventh century, after sweeping across North Africa and the Middle East in the name of their new revolutionary ideology, Islam. Eventually, nearly all the Berbers converted to the new religion and were immediately accepted as fellow Muslims by the Arabs. When Muslim armies invaded the Iberian peninsula from Morocco, the bulk of the troops were Berbers, and the two ethnic groups pretty much assimilated. Today, most Moroccans can claim both Arab and Berber ancestors, though a few (especially Shereefs, who trace their ancestry back to the Prophet Mohammed, and have the title “Moulay”) claim to be pure Arabs. But in the Rif and Atlas mountains, and in the Souss Valley, groups of pure Berbers remain, and retain their ancient languages (Tarfi t, spoken by about 1.5m people in the Rif; Tamazight, spoken by over m people in the Atlas; and Teshalhit, spoken by –4m people in the Souss Valley region). Recently, there has been a resurgence in Berber pride (often symbolized by the Berber letter ) TV programmes are now broadcast in Berber languages, and they are even taught in schools, but the country’s majority language remains Arabic.

"Fes and Marrakesh are almost unique in the Arab world for city life which remains in large part medieval"
Broadly speaking,  the coast is best enjoyed in the north at Tangier, beautiful and still shaped by its old “interna-tional” port status, Asilah and Larache, and in the south at El Jadida, at Essaouira, perhaps the most easy-going resort, or at remote Sidi Ifni. Agadir, the main package tour resort, is less worthwhile – but a functional enough base for exploration.




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 Inland, where the real interest of Morocco lies, the outstanding cities are Fes and Marrakesh. The great imperial capitals of the country’s various dynasties, they are almost unique in the Arab world for the chance they offer to witness some city life which, in patterns and appearance, remains in large part medieval. For monuments, Fes is the highlight, though Marrakesh, the “beginning of the south”, is for most visitors the more enjoyable and exciting.



Tajines

Like paella or casserole, the word tajine strictly refers to a vessel rather than to the food cooked in it. A tajine is a heavy ceramic plate covered with a conical lid of the same material. The prettiest tajines, decorated in all sorts of colours and designs, come from Safi (see p.404), but the best tajines for actual use are plain reddish-brown in colour, and come from Salé .The food in a tajine is arranged with the meat in the middle and the vegetables piled up around
it. Then the lid is put on, and the tajine is left to cook slowly over a low light, or better still, over a charcoal stove (kanoun), usually one made specifically for the tajine and sold with it. The classic tajines combine meat with fruit and spices.

Chicken is traditionally cooked in a tajine with green olives and lemons preserved in brine. Lamb or beef are often cooked with prunes and almonds. When eating a tajine, you start on the outside with the vegetables, and work your way to the meat at the heart of the dish, scooping up the food with bread.


Beyond a line drawn between Casablanca and Meknes – is, on the whole, easier and more relaxing than in the sometimes frenetic north. This is certainly true of the mountain ranges, where the Rif can feel disturbingly anarchic, while the southerly Atlas ranges (Middle, High and Anti) are beau-tiful and accessible. Hiking in the High Atlas, especially around North Africa’s highest peak, Djebel Toubkal, is in fact something of a growth industry. Even if you are no more than a casual walker, it’s worth considering, with summer treks possible at all levels of experience and altitude. And, despite inroads made by commercialization, it remains essentially “undiscovered” – like the Alps must have been in the nineteenth century.

Equally exploratory in mood are the great southern routes beyond – and across – the Atlas, amid the oases of the pre-Sahara. Major routes here can be travelled by bus, minor ones by rented car or local taxi, the really remote ones by four-wheel-drive vehicles or by getting lifts on local camions (lorries), sharing space with the market produce and livestock.

The oases, around Tinerhir, Zagora and Erfoud, or (for the committed) Tata or Figuig, are classic images of the Arab world, vast palmeries stretching into desert horizons. Equally memorable is the architecture that they share with the Atlas – bizarre and fabulous pisé (mud) kasbahs and ksour, with Gothic-looking turrets and multi-patterned walls.

Further south, you can follow a route through the Western Sahara all the way down to Dakhla, just 20km short of the Tropic of Cancer, where the weather is scorching even in midwinter.

 memorable is the architecture that they share with the Atlas – bizarre and fabulous pisé (mud) kasbahs and ksour, with Gothic-looking turrets and multi-patterned walls.
Further south, you can follow a route through the Western Sahara all the way down to Dakhla, just 20km short of the Tropic of Cancer, where the weather is scorching even in midwinter.

BOUFOUSS

BOUFOUSS is a freelance Blogger, Adventurer and a pet owner with a passion for interaction and share advices. He studied English Languistics and Computational Logic and loves cats and dogs.

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