There are millennia of history between the countries of North Africa, but none quite resonate with the romance, exoticism, and enchantment of Morocco. You might be able to ride a camel through endless dunes or listen to the muezzin’s call to prayer elsewhere, but Morocco has so much that is quintessentially its own.
The history of the Imperial Cities
You feel as if you’re travelling through time when you explore the former capitals of Fes, Marrakech, Meknes, and the current Rabat. You can see the progression from medieval and exotic Fes with its medina, oldest university, and ancient mosques, to the fabled and failed Meknes which was built to rival Louis XIV’s palace at Versailles but was then decimated by earthquake, to a bustling Marrakech still considered the heart of Morocco, with its famed Jemaa el-Fnaa Square, all the way to the cosmopolitan and sophisticated Rabat.
The tumult of the medina
The medieval medina of Fes houses 200,000 Fassi (locals), contains 80,000 shops, 365 mosques, and 80 fondouks, with accommodations for man and beast. You can shop for anything: snails, vegetables, meat and poultry, leather goods, babouches (pointy slippers), ornate brass, lanterns, tassels, and traditional sweets and spices. Just be careful not to get lost, as the winding narrow pathways seem concentric. Hire a guide to make sure you get the best prices and out of here safely.
The narrow, winding streets of the Fes Medina make up the largest living medieval city in the world. Houses might be behind high walls, but the endless shops make this market a world-class destination.
The music of mystical festivals
Every summer, half a million people flock to the annual Gnaoua Music Festival in the seaside town of Essaouira. The Gnaoua are a brotherhood of mystics descended from slaves and mercenaries from the Sub-Saharan African empire of Mali of the 16th century, who dress in bright colours and tasseled hats and play the drums, castanets, and lutes. But today you’ll find all genres of musicians collaborating to add depth and meaning to the festival. And the oceanfront backdrop of the white and blue town with the kasbah makes this music festival unlike any other.
Each year the Gnaoua masters invite artists from around the world to meld genres of rock, jazz, pop, and other contemporary forms to create an all-encompassing music festival in Essaouira.
The serenity of the gardens
The Jardin Majorelle is just over an acre in size, but as you meander through its lush greenery, all the bustle of surrounding Marrakech dissipates. It took French painter Jacques Majorelle 40 years to create and cultivate such an extravagant expanse of verdant greenery and flowers. Such was its beauty that fashion impresario Yves Saint Laurent owned it for a time to save it when it became threatened. Thanks to him, today it is public, and you can find generations meeting in the courtyards to escape the city and immerse themselves in the quixotic blooms.
Jacques Majorelle took inspiration from the ornate Moroccan mosaics when he painted the walls and fountains of his garden an intense blue, which he later trademarked Majorelle Blue. It takes about an hour to wander through the grounds and enjoy the museum, dedicated to the indigenous Berbers.