Ethnically speaking, Morocco is composed mainly of Berbers. Some segments of the population are descendants of refugees from Spain and Portugal who fled from the Reconquista, the Christian reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula, that spanned until the 15th century.
Morocco’s long struggle for independence from France ended in 1956. The internationalized city of Tangier was turned over to the new country that same year. Morocco annexed much of Western Sahara, a former territory of Spain, in 1975.
Gradual political reforms in the 1990s resulted in the establishment of a bicameral legislature in 1997, although the King still possesses the actual political power. The press is mostly state-controlled, even though there are free newspapers, and clampdowns have occurred following criticism of the authorities or articles concerning the Western Sahara situation.
The foreign policy of independent Morocco has often differed from that of its Arab neighbors. Throughout the Cold War, Morocco generally sided with the Western European powers and the United States rather than with the Eastern bloc, whereas other Arab states usually chose neutral or pro-Soviet positions.
The major resources of the Moroccan economy are agriculture, phosphates, tourism, and textiles.
Critical development challenges include lingering widespread corruption and improving the education system.
The biggest event on the Moroccan calendar is the month of Ramadan, during which Muslims fast during the day time and break the fast at sunset. Most restaurants are closed for lunch (with the exception of those catering specifically to tourists) and things generally slow down. Traveling during this time is entirely possible, and the restrictions don’t apply to non-Muslims, but it’s respectful to refrain from eating, drinking or smoking in public during the fast. However, outside tourist “trap” areas it may be difficult to find any food at all all day. Surprisingly this applies even to cities like Casablanca. At the end of the month is the holiday of Eid al-Fitr, when practically everything closes for as long as a week and transport is packed as everybody heads back home. Although alcohol consumption is not prohibited for tourists during Ramadan, only a few restaurants and bars serve alcohol. In addition, alcohol can be purchased in a supermarket if a tourist shows their passport to the staff (Moroccans are not allowed to buy or consume alcohol during the holy month).
At just a few hours from the main European cities, Morocco has everything to overwhelm you with the amazing colors, smells and sounds of Islamic Africa. Imagine bustling souqs and spice markets, stunning mosques, white-washed seaside towns, and medieval city centers. With panoramic views varying from snow-covered peaks in the High Atlas to the endless sand dunes of the Sahara, no-one ever has to be bored in this beautiful country.
Movie-famous Casablanca might be the most famous of Moroccan cities and is home to the huge Hassan II mosque, the second largest mosque in the world with only the Grand Mosque of Mecca surpassing it. Many travelers quickly leave this vibrant and modernist metropolis on a search for a more traditional Moroccan experience, but admiring the impressive colonial architecture, Hispano-Moorish and art-deco outlook of the city center is actually time well spent. Marrakesh, known as the “Red City” and probably the most prominent former imperial capital, will leave you with memories to cherish for life. Spend your days wandering through the lively souqs, admiring the old gates and defensive walls, see the Saadian Tombs, the remnants of the El Badi Palace and visit the Koutoubia Mosque with its 12th-century minaret. However, when evening falls make sure to head back to Jamaa el-Fnaa, the largest square in Africa, as it fills up with steam-producing food stalls. Indulge in the bustling activity there, listen to Arabic story tellers, watch magicians and Chleuh dancers. Fez, once Morocco’s capital, is another gorgeous imperial city. Get lost in its lovely labyrinth of narrow Medieval streets, enjoy its huge medina, see the beautiful city gates, the ancient University of Al-Karaouine and the Bou Inania Madrasa. Also, make sure to visit a traditional leather tanning factory. The city of Meknes is often called the “Versailles of Morocco” for its beauty. Its lovely Spanish-Moorish style center is surrounded by tall city walls with impressive gates and you’ll be able to see the 17th-century blend of European and Islamic cultures even today.
For a more laid-back experience of city life, catch a sea breeze at Asilah or lovely Essaouira. The blue-washed town of Chefchaouen is an old-time travelers’ favorite and a great starting point to explore the impressive High Atlas Mountains. Climb Jebel Toubkal, the highest peak in North-Africa, passing lovely adobe villages and exploring the gorgeous Ourika and Amizmiz valleys on the way. The stunning panoramic view from the top will make it worth every bit of your effort to get there. Other praised hiking routes lead through the beautiful Ameln Valley in the Anti-Atlas and the wooded Rif Mountains in the very north.
Hop on a camel back for a trip through the golden Sahara sand dunes at Erg Chebbi, near Merzouga. Spend the night in a desert tent, under the incredibly starred sky. The Sahara is also accessible near the town of Zagora; it’s easier to get to from Marrakech but doesn’t have the imposing dunes of Erg Chebbi. Somewhat less easy to reach but therefor also less crowded are the dunes of Erg Chigaga near M’hamid. On your way to the desert, make sure not to miss the stunning Todra gorge near Tinghir. The ancient fortified city of Aït-Benhaddou is another must-see sight. Although rainstorms damage the mud-brick kasbahs time and again, this mostly abandoned village remains an impressive sight and has been the decor for a range of movies, including Lawrence of Arabia and Gladiator.