There is a Moroccan proverb that says, “The tar of my country is better than the honey of others,” revealing the deep pride of its people and their beloved country. All one has to do is note the sweeping history, abiding culture, and dramatic settings to understand this pride fully. Just take a look at the incredible cities of Morocco; Rabat, Fez, Marrakesh, Essaouira and Casablanca, all of which you will visit on your Discovery 15 Day Moroccan Allure tour. Learn how Rabat, Fez and Marrakesh have all been called the capital and what beautiful sites Essaouira and Casablanca have to offer visitors. There is no better way to explore Morocco than with Discovery Small Groups Tours and come to fully understand the Moroccan pride that fills the hearts of its people.
Rabat is an old city, settled as Chellah in 300 BC and renamed Sala Colonia by the Romans in the first century. It was the Almohads who made it a capital in the 12th century and used the area as a royal burial ground. The ruling Sultan ordered the building of the world’s largest minaret, the Hassan Tower, with a grand mosque and madrasa, to show his kingdom’s might. The Sultan died and the tower was capped at just 140 feet (about half the height he intended) where it remains to this day.
The beloved sultan’s death led to the decline of the city and the loss of its capital status. By the 17th century, it had a new reputation as a pirate port. As the base for Barbary pirates who called their territory the Republic of Bou Regreg, Rabat was the launch pad for countless sailing attacks on western traders for nearly 200 years. The days of unruliness ended when France set it up as a protected state in the early 20th century, and Rabat became a port people wanted to visit once again.
From the ruins of Chellah and Sala Colonia to the unfinished Hassan Tower, it’s easy to see why Rabat was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Come and see it for yourself with Discovery Tours.
Sultan Idriss II, established Fez, Morocco’s first capital, early in the 9th century, directly across the river from the city his father founded. The city takes its name from the word for pickaxe, as Idriss II is said to have used one made of gold and silver to mark the city’s borders. The son’s handiwork soon outgrew his father’s when the new city welcomed 800 Berber families fleeing conflict in Andalusia; they were soon followed by 2,000 displaced Arab families.
Over centuries, the two cities, Idriss II’s and his fathers, merged into one, blooming into an ancient metropolis whose city walls extended for nearly 10 miles. By 1170, it was home to over 200,000 and the largest city on the entire earth. In the present day, visitors enjoy incredible sites including the constantly bustling medina, the “new” city from the 13th century, and the French-influenced Ville Nouvelle.
Here, one experiences an array of Moroccan delights from the colors and textures of ancient madrasas to the artisan district where carpets are made, leather is dyed, and copper craftsmen ply their trade. The world’s oldest continuously operating university, the Islamic Al-Karaouine, is here, coexisting for centuries with the adjacent Mellah, the Jewish Quarter. A special experience allows you to enjoy a meal with a local family which will offer you the best insight of all.
Even while Fez was still growing, an underdog stole the title of capital. Marrakesh was made an Imperial capital by Berber empires in the 12th century.
With the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains to one side and deserts stretching into the distance on the other, Marrakesh was a natural caravan stop for camel-riding traders. It greeted weary travelers with hundreds of acres of lush greenery and a stand of more than 100,000 palm trees. No wonder the Berbers called it the “land of god.”
Not everyone agreed with this praise, and the capital returned to Fez, launching a rivalry that, in many ways, continues to this day. From copper-topped Koutoubia Mosque to the 360-room Bahia palace, it’s easy to see how Marrakesh stakes its claim. There is truly something for everyone here, from the serenity of the Jardin Majorelle to the electricity of lively Djemaa el Fna square, the souk of all souks.
Essaouira, formerly Mogador and pronounced “essa-we-rah”, is possibly Morocco’s most picturesque coastal city. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a perfect example of a typical North African fortified town, with its preserved walls, medina and bright blue fishing boats as well as becoming an artist’s paradise in the recent day. Walk along the city’s ramparts just north of Moulay Hassan Square where artists sell their paintings. Continue on to the Skala de la Ville, the fortification built along the cliffs that once defended the city from sea attacks. It now provides visitors with an excellent view of the port and the picture-perfect bright blue boats. Stroll through the medina where artisans and craftsmen have practiced their trades for hundreds of years.
Casablanca is one of Morocco’s most visited cities because of its setting for the classic movie of the same name. This commercial heart of Morocco lies on the coast of the country and set aside the beautiful Corniche seaside. Explore the heart of Casablanca, the Mohammed V Square, the administrative seat of the city built under the French protectorate. Visit the incredible example of Moorish Revival architecture that is the Hassan II Mosque. It is Africa’s second largest mosque and the fifth largest in the world. It also boasts the second tallest minaret in the world at just under 700 feet! Built partly on the sea, the mosque can accommodate 25,000 worshippers inside and 80,000 in its courtyard.
For the last century, Rabat has remained capital, its seaside location making it both a practical and aesthetically pleasing choice. Visitors are always quick to choose their favorite capital of the past and they might even be able to suggest a new contender for the future! No matter which modern capital calls to you most, remember this: the pride of Morocco always endures. See the these cities and so much more for yourself on our 15 Day Moroccan Allure trip with Discovery Tours!