About Morocco Cities
The "Pearl of the Straits", Tangier wins hearts and minds through the elusive atmosphere pervading its streets. Many are those who came for a day and remained for a lifetime. From Tennessee Williams to Jean Genet, From Henri Matisse to Paul Bowles or from Samuel Beckett to Roland Barthes , the number of celebrities, artists, writers, who succumbed to the charms of a town to which they devoted at least part of their work, is legion. If you arrive from the sea, you are overwhelmed by the grace of a town that has acquired mythical status. Its dazzling white Kasbah spreads over a hill looking down on a bustling fishing harbour. From the Café Hafa, there is an overwhelming view over the Straits of Gibraltar. Seated at the gate of Africa, you are presented with one of the most fascinating landscapes. You are in Tangier, a city so beautiful that even the Atlantic arranges to meet the Mediterranean there.
The fourth of the imperial cities, Rabat is a curious mix of a long past and a highly modernized present. The city's glory days were in the 12th century, when the sultan used the Kasbah (citadel) as a base for campaigns against the Spanish. It was during this time that the city's most famous landmarks sprang up. A haven for Muslims driven out of Spain in the end of the 15th century and a capital city only since the days of the French occupation (1912), Rabat's ambience comes from Islam and Europe in fairly equal proportions. For every place of worship there are three or four European-style cafes. The city's most famous site is the Tour Hassan, the incomplete minaret of the great mosque begun by Yacoub al-Mansour. An earthquake brought construction to a halt in 1755. Alongside is the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, the present king's father. The Kasbah des Oudaias, built on the bluff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, houses a former palace which is now a museum of traditional art. Beyond the city walls are the remains of the ancient city of Sala. Also known as Chella, it has Morocco's best Archaeology Museum.
Of all the cities in the entire world, Hollywood chose this one to immortalize as the classic exotic colonial outpost. Those looking for a latter-day Humphrey Bogart round every corner will be disappointed. This is no sleepy dive, Morocco's largest city and industrial centre. This port city was deep in decline until the French decided to remodel it with wide boulevards, public parks and imposing Moresque (Moorish) civic buildings. Casablanca's medina, or ancient quarter, is worth a look and the Hassan II Mosque here is one of the largest in the world. At the square known as the Place Mohammed V you'll find the country's most impressive examples of Moresque architecture.
One of Morocco's most impressive cultural centers, Marrakech is a lively former capital famed for its markets and festivals. Its wildly beating heart is the Place Djemaa el-Fna, a huge square in the old city. Rows of open-air food stalls are set up here and mouth-watering aromas fill the air. Jugglers, storytellers, snake charmers, magicians, acrobats …The souks (markets) here are among the best in Morocco. Among the many attractions of the ancient quarter is the rare Almoravid-style Badie Palace (12th century) annex, the magnificent Koutoubia mosque and the Palais Dar Si Said (Museum of Moroccan Arts).
The oldest of the imperial cities, Fez is arguably the spiritual capital of Morocco. Its labyrinthine streets and crumbling grandeur add to its air of intrigue and self-importance. The medina of Fez el-Bali (Old Fez) is one of the largest living medieval cities in the world and the gates and walls that surround it make it all the more magnificent. Within the old city, tucked among roughly 9,400 streets and alleys, is the towering Medersa Bou Inania, a theological college built in 1350. Not far from here the henna souk is a market specialising in the dye used for colouring hair and tattooing women' hands and feet. Next door to the old walled city is Fez el-Jdid, home to the city's Jewish community and many spectacular buildings. In between the two self-contained cities is the Dar Batha, now the Museum du Batha. Off the Beaten Track:
Near the High Atlas town of Tineghir, at the end of a lush valley of palms and mud-brick villages hemmed in by barren craggy mountains is one of Morocco's most glorious natural sights. This is the Todra Gorge: some 300m high but only 10m wide at its narrowest point, and with a crystal clear river running through it. Although the main gorge can be explored in half a day, those with more time should head further up the gorge towards Tineghir. The people here are very friendly and there are numerous Kasbahs. Rock climbing is becoming increasingly popular on the vertical rock face of the gorge and camping around the base is also an attractive option. There are plenty of hotels in and around the gorge itself. For the more adventurous, a network of difficult pistes links the sporadic villages here in the High and Middle Atlas mountains.
This town is the most popular of Morocco's coastal spots with independent travellers, and only rarely do you see package tours here. By the looks of things, however, this won't last forever. Essaouira has a beautiful beach that curves for kilometres to the south. Those who've had enough haggling and jostling in the big cities will be glad to hear this town can be summed up in one word: relaxing. The forts of the old city are a blend of Portuguese, French and Berber military architecture, and their massiveness lends a powerful mystique to the town. The Skala du Port, designed to protect the town's sea, has good views and was also where Orson Welles shot some of his film Othello.
About 33km from the city of Meknès is the site of the largest and best preserved Roman ruins in Morocco. Volubilis dates largely from the 1st and 3rd centuries AD, although excavations have revealed that the site was originally settled by Carthaginian traders even earlier.