From Hitchcock to Bourne, Morocco has been paid homage to over and over by the silver screen -- think Casablanca and Lawrence of Arabia to Babel and Inception. It's no surprise, given the magic and allure of a country that's rich in its coast, culture, and history.
At the cross-roads of Europe and Africa, Tangier opens the door onto Morocco. The port city located near the Strait of Gibraltar was originally an ancient Phoenician trading post, and later a Carthaginian and then a Roman settlement, laying the foundation for its rich history amd making it a mecca of museums, mosques, churches and souks.
Popular tourist spots include the Dar el Makhzen (Sultan's palace), the Kasbah Mosque and Tangier Grand Mosque, Anglican Church of St. Andrew, the Grand Socco or big square, museums like American Legation, Museum of Moroccan Arts and Antiquities and Museum of Contemporary Art. Its enigmatic charm has historically attracted artists (Matisse), musicians (Hendrix), politicians (Churchill), and writers (Burroughs, Twain).
Founded by Berber fishermen in the 10th century BC, Casablanca is Morocco's largest city and main port. The ancient city was called 'Anfa' and believed to be the prosperous city on the Atlantic coast. It was destroyed and rebuilt by the Portuguese, then by the Moroccan Sultan and occupied by the French who built the Ville Nouvelle (New Town). It remains Morocco's business center and has a population of almost 4 million.
Sights include the Hassan II Mosque, its minaret the world's tallest at 210 metres; the Parc de la Ligue Arabe - the city's largest public park; the Mauresque style Casablanca Cathedral (Cathédrale Sacré-Coeur), no longer used for religious purposes but open to visitors; Mahkama du Pacha - a Hispanic-Moorish building with more than 60 ornate rooms, intricate tiles and wrough iron railings. A popular site among locals is the small island Marabout de Sidi Abderrahmane that contains the tomb of Sidi Abderrhamane Thaalibi, a Sufi fromBaghdad and the founder of Algiers, considered a saint in Morocco.
While not the best shopping city, the Maarif neighborhood has many European and American fashion chains and designer acessories at at bargain prices and the Derb Ghalef neighborhood has a huge souq that is a cluster of small shanties loaded with 'genuine' brandname items. But do try a hammam (Turkish bath) like the Solidarite Feminine.
Morocco's third largest city Marrakech, which means "Land of God," is Morocco's third largest after Casablanca and Rabat, and lies near the foothills of the snow capped Atlas Mountains and a few hours away from the foot of the Sahara Desert. It is often called "Red City" or "Ochre City" because of the red sandstone used extensively in the 12th century to build its walls. Marrakesh grew rapidly and established itself as a cultural, religious, and trading centre for theMaghreb and sub-Saharan Africa. After a period of decline, Marrakesh again became the capital of the kingdom and reestablished its former glory especially during the reigns of the wealthy Saadian sultans Abu Abdallah al-Qaim and Ahmad al-Mansur who embellished the city with great palaces like the El Badi Palace (1578), and restored ruined monuments. As a centre for sufism, the city became known for its "Seven Saints".
It has two distinct parts: the historical city of Medina with intertwining passageways and local shops full of character, and the European modern district called Gueliz or Ville Nouvelle, host to modern restaurants, fast food chains and big brand stores.
As one of the biggest tourist cities in Africa, Marrakech has over 400 hotels. It has been cited by the French as the second St. Tropez and is a shopper's delight. Souk Semmarine is one of the largest markets selling everything from bejewelled sandals and leather pouffes to jewellery and kaftans. Don't forget to check out the local tanning industry and leather shoes, Argan oil produced only in Morocco, the potters' souk, and boutique d'artisans.
For nature lovers, Morocco offers high peaks, deep canyons, vast acres, forests full of wildlife and coastal stretches. Explore the golden Merzouga sand dunes, the snow-capped Atlas mountains, the Ouzoud Falls, the Dades gorge, the Toubkal National Park,or the blow holes north of Agadir. Morocco is known for its biodiversity, Avifauna being the most notable.
Despite its widespread poverty and illiteracy, this North African kingdom with an elected parliament remains a mecca for tourists who want to feel the magic of Morocco. Rabat is the political capital. Other major cities include Tetouan, Salé, Fes, Agadir, Meknes,Oujda, Kenitra and Nador.