Morocco: must visit places

By Dr Mohamed Chtatou

Moroccan traditional mosaic fountains

Moroccan tradititional mosaic fountains

Sumptuous landscapes, ancestral heritage, smiling and welcoming inhabitants: Morocco is a refreshing and rewarding destination, which is also easy to access from anywhere. The stone here tells centuries of history and each city will have something to tell you beyond the walls of kasbahs and medinas. The desert offers silence and blue silhouettes of nomads, the Atlas will amaze you with the beauty of its different scenery and the sea will rock your seaside desires and dreams.

Nestled at the foot of the High Atlas, Marrakesh has become a trendy destination offering both the scenery and European infrastructure. A few hours’ flight is enough to reach the iconic Jemaa El Fna square and the UNESCO World Heritage listed medina. It concentrates the greatest assets of the city: the souks, the riads transformed into guest houses, the hammams and the magnificent Bahia Palace. In venturing beyond, one discovers the Jardin de Majorelle – the last home of Yves Saint-Laurent -, the luxurious neighborhoods of Guéliz and Hivernage, the Palmeraie and of course the breathtaking landscapes of the Atlas.

Jamaa’ el-Fna, Marrakesh

Jamaa’ el-Fna, Marrakesh

Cradles of knowledge, cultural capital and important religious center: Fez is one of the most influential cities in Morocco and the Muslim world. It takes several days to discover the riches of this walled city, starting with the famous medina and souks, mosques, palaces and Andalusian gardens, museums, madrassahs. The city, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, like the medina of Marrakesh, has an important historical and architectural heritage; it, also, cherishes its craft legacy so it is here that you will find the best memories to put in your suitcase.

The city of Casablanca, Casa, for the intimate, is a dynamic and modern metropolis that deserves a short stay. Astonishing mosaic of past and avant-garde culture, the city offers a whole range of visits and entertainment that can be observed from the highest minaret in the world, that of the Hassan II Mosque. One loves to get lost in the medina, to walk the old center and its market, to interfere in the art galleries or in the new Morocco Mall, the largest shopping center in North Africa which is respectful of the environment. And as soon as the sun goes down, you will enjoy the lively nightlife of many trendy bars, restaurants and clubs.

The spectacular mountain range of the High Atlas is a huge playground for all nature lovers. Highest point and emblematic site of the region, Jbel Toubkal rises to more than 4000 meters of altitude and allows hikes accessible to all. The region is blessed with varied landscapes: the Dades gorges and its flowering vegetation of rose gardens and almond trees, the volcanic massif of Saghro, the Taghia circus, the snowy mountain of Oukaïmenden and its ski resort, the waterfalls of the Ourika and many other treasures.

At the edge of the Atlantic, Essaouira is a city entirely turned towards the pleasures of the sea. The spectacle of the fishermen from the port, the hundreds of gulls in the sky and its immense beach where one practices many nautical activities: the city invites to delightful pleasures. Nestled in the hollow of the ramparts, its medina is shimmering; there are various craft shops, pretty riads and various bars and restaurants. The city also cultivates an artistic tradition that is discovered in the many art galleries and through its cultural events including the magnificent yearly Gnaoua and World Music Festival.

Located in the north of Morocco, Meknes has an exciting history and an impressive heritage. One remains breathed by the beauty of its Hispano-Moorish monuments like the famous Mansour gate which invites the visitor to venture into the beautiful medina but, also, enjoy the beauty of the multitude of minarets which overhang the mosques. At the discretion of the strolls, one discovers the Ksar Mansour palace, the Bassin Agdal, the royal stables, the underground Prison of Cara, the Museum Dar Jamaï or the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismaïl. Not far from the city are the Roman ruins of Volubilis, a great historical site of Morocco.

The Roman ruins of Volubilis were built in the 3rd century BC and today constitute a testimony of several civilizations, since the High Antiquity until the Islamic period. They extend for several kilometers and unveil certain monuments such as the triumphal arch, the basilica or the capitol, but especially sumptuous residences still adorned with mosaics. The Archaeological Park is the largest in the country.

Volubilis

Volubilis

You have never been there but you know its decorations! Since the success of “Lawrence of Arabia” in 1962, the landscapes of Ouarzazate host many successful film shoots including Gladiator and Asterix and Obelix. You can, also, visit the Atlas Studios, where relics of sets and costumes and the movie museum are on display, more devoted to biblical-themed films. The region and the city are also famous for their pretty kasbah, the best known are those of Aït Benhaddou and Taourirt.

The capital of Morocco is a pleasant garden city, comfortably installed at the edge of the ocean and at the mouth of the river Bou Regreg. Protected behind its ramparts, it shelters an important architectural heritage, museums and numerous galleries. One discovers with interest the Kasbah Oudayas, the Mausoleum Mohammed V and the Chellah, a necropolis of the time of the Merinid dynasty. The medina is attractive and bustling with life and activity, the modern city pulsating and you will find many gardens and green areas to recharge your batteries at heart’s content.

Chefchaouen, the blue city

Chefchaouen, the blue city

Located at the foot of the Atlas, the Valley of Roses offers contrasting landscapes for some desert, for others lush, for all beautiful! This authentic region is that of the Mgouna Amazigh/Berbers who settled their villages behind majestic Kasbahs. It is on these lands that one cultivates the Rosa Damascena giving rise each year to a splendid festival: the Moussem des Roses. Every second weekend in May, locals wear costumes and celebrate with singers, flute and drummers.

You can follow Professor Mohamed CHTATOU on Twitter: @Ayurinu

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