The Maghreb: Morocco

You Will Feel That Time Stands Still In Morocco, A Mysterious African Country With Coasts On Both The Mediterranean And The Atlantic.

Morocco is the only African nation that is not a member of the African Union, and you will see signs of Andalusia all around you in this country with its heady mix of native cultures.

EAST OF THE ATLAS MOUNTAINS
While people in many parts of Morocco don the jellabiya to appear to tourists, this way of dress really is part and parcel of life east of the Atlas Mountains, where desert and Bedouin live naturally with their traditions. But the desert is not what you think… The ever shifting sands of three deserts encompass the region: the golden Acacus Desert where the Paris Dakar Rally used to be run, the Black Sahara dotted with black volcanic rocks, and the Red Plateau (al-Hamada al-Hamra), which boasts the highest sand dunes in the world. Are all sharply delineated. Don’t look for roads and cars here where you will have to brave a journey on the back of an animal if you want to see the landscape. The houses are made of sundried bricks in this part of the world, where concrete is still unknown. Major settlements in the region include the towns of Merzouga, Al-Rashidiya and Al-Risani.

FEZ AND MEKNES
Fez is a city laced with thousands of narrow lanes through which no vehicle can pass. A city famous for its leather goods, you can get some fabulous photos in the tannery district. Fairs are set up nightly here in a city whose streets and markets have been unchanged for centuries. Neither the fabric of the city nor the way of life has changed at all. The only thing that’s new are the power cables that snake across the walls. Fez is divided into Old and New, and all concrete buildings are built a distance of 5-10 kilometers from the Old City.
Another of the country’s historic towns, Meknes is proud of its lake, on whose shores residents and tourists alike gather for picnics. The city also boasts a square teeming with traditional vendors to rival those of Marrakesh. If you want to buy traditional costumes, Meknes is the ideal place.

RABAT
With a history going back to the 3rd century B.C., Rabat is the capital of Morocco. A city where gleaming examples of the architecture that represents the country’s colorful history are ubiquitous. Mosques, palaces, museums and markets that have flourished since the Middle Ages make up the city’s architectural richness. In addition to being the capital, Rabat has also assumed the role of representing Arab Maghreb values. With its educational institutions serving those who want to learn Arabic and familiarize themselves Morocco’s syncretic culture, as well as its historic museums and palaces and its lively social life, Rabat is a highly hospitable and cosmopolitan city.

RED CITY MARRAKESH
Mysterious, mystical, fabled… With a past going back eight centuries, Marrakesh is an authentic central Moroccan city representative of the country’s entire texture. Known as Mur(n)akush in the Berber language, it means Land of God. Color is perceived when light waves of different lengths strike the retina, and there must be an inestimable number of wave lengths here for this is an ultra colorful city. The minute you set foot in it you will never forget it. You will even start to question the place where you live!

JAMAA  EL-FNA AQUARE
The most important part of Marrakesh’s medina quarter is Jamaa el-Fna Square, the first square to be taken under protection by Unesco to preserve its native life and culture. Bustling from the morning hours and never slowing down all day, it is a fairy-tale venue.

DAR AL BEIDA - CASABLANCA - HOUSE OF WHITE
Tranquility, love, nobility… The rose is love, the daisy innocence, bougainvillea deep thought, and Casablanca nobility. How can a city symbolize nobility? Well, how many cities have inspired the script and been the protagonist of a film about love? Casablanca in Spanish, Dar Al-Beida in Arabic, Morocco is definitely a country to be added to your list of must-see places.

Time stands still in Morocco’s narrow lanes with their rich tapestry of traditional architecture, a testimony to Andalusia’s glorious past. Dark blue, green and bitter orange dominate the palette.

Morocco is known as Al-Maghreb (the West) in Arabic and Turkish. Embraced by the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, this remote land offers visitors different reflections of Arabic culture.

Drinking mint tea is virtually a ritual in Morocco. Prepared by boiling water in authentic pots and pouring it over fresh mint leaves in tall, thin tea glasses, mint tea is the country’s best known hospitality drink.

Morocco is a country passionately attached to its ancient traditions and values, and the kingdom, which dates back centuries, is by far the most important. The King Hassan II Monument is a spot where the people of Morocco and visitors offer their respects and best wishes.

A traditional Moroccan dish, couscous is made of semolina, flavored with local spices and served as a tasty accompaniment to meats and vegetables.

One of Morocco’s biggest attractions is that you can find many different worlds here in this beautiful country. The streets of Casablanca with their European airs, the traditional leather makers of Fez, and the world’s highest sand dunes in the desert of Merzuga are just a few examples.

The burnoose is the traditional Moroccan hooded cloak. Also worn in parts of Algeria, it is produced in a variety of different colors and makes a nice gift to take home.

Morocco’s souks are rich in snacks and dried foods including a dizzying array of dates, nuts, dried apricots and other edibles you’ve perhaps never seen before in your life. Having them along as you tour the country is a special treat.

There is a wide variety of accommodation alternatives in Morocco, especially in the touristic cities of Marrakesh, Fez, Meknes and Casablanca. But the traditional Moroccan houses converted into boutique hotels are particularly recommended.

Morocco’s tourism showcase, Marrakesh is world-famous for its myriad vibrant souks. You’ll surely find something to buy in its shops bursting with colorful spices, herbal teas, medicinal herbs, fragrances and kohl.

Welcoming visitors year-round, Marrakesh offers countless shopping alternatives. Traditional footwear, local costumes, handmade leather goods and authentic musical instruments are just a few of the gifts you can bring from Morocco to friends and family back home.

With its delicate minarets and majestic city gates, the city of Fez is one of the best places for soaking up Morocco’s history and traditional texture. Well worth seeing.

You will never tire of gazing at the Mediterranean’s vast blue or the shores of Europe from the historically strategic Strait of Gibraltar.

Turkish Airlines has Istanbul-Casablanca-Istanbul flights seven days a week. For information:
www.turkishairlines.com

A NIGHT IN THE DESERT
Agdal Basin at Meknes is a popular Moroccan resort. Dotted with palm trees and ruins of the historic city, the lakeshore is a recreational area for kids and picnics.

Opening onto the Atlantic, the Caves of Hercules at Tangier bring to mind the map of Africa. It was at exactly this point that the Hercules of legend is said to have separated Africa from the European continent by creating the Strait of Gibraltar.

Built over the Atlantic Ocean at Casablanca, the Mosque of King Hassan II is considered the second largest in the world. Its 210-meter Maghreb-style minaret is an Islamic monument well worth seeing.

The Black Desert near Al-Risani is an astonishing geological formation of vast black terrain, and a sharp line separates it from the adjacent Red Desert.

Both the Euro and the U.S. dollar are in use throughout the country. Be sure to bargain when buying gifts. It is reasonable to pay one quarter of the asking price.

A journey of a few hours on the back of a camel from the village of Merzuga in the eastern Atlas Mountains is an experience not to be missed with everything from tents in the desert of the same name and tasty dishes cooked by Bedouin in earthenware vessels. If you get a chance to come here, be sure to watch the sun rise among the world’s highest sand dunes and sample the dates at the spectacular desert oases.

AHMET BİLAL ARSLAN /PhotoGRAPHER
“I’ve been going to Morocco since 2006 and my most interesting experience there was seeing the east of the Atlas Mountains. Unlike the ever popular Marrakesh and Casablanca, this area is still waiting to be explored in all its mystery.”