Popular Moroccan Cities
Marrakech is the third largest city in Morocco after Casablanca and Rabat and boasts Morocco’s most impressive market area (Souks), a display of how Morocco used to be, sitting below the High Atlas Mountains (snow covered in winter).
Although it is a favorite destination of many tourists, these tourist have been looking for the traditional Morocco and have not caused Marrakech to change.
The famous square, Jemaa el Fna, is not attractive in itself but the life that goes on there IS attractive. There are likely to be snake charmers, musicians, story tellers plus stalls to buy food, herbal medicines, or have a tooth pulled!
Around the square are plenty of cafes and restaurants where you can relax and watch everyone else.
The souks are close to the square and cover the largest area of any souks in Morocco. Here you will find a wealth of craftwork, material, rugs, pottery, and food. A lot of bargaining will be required to get anything at a good price and you need to be prepared for the sellers to bit intimidating if you then leave without buying.
Typical lamps on display in a souk. There are a number of gardens in and around Marrakech, irrigated by water brought down from the Atlas Mountains by canals, creating cool areas in a city that can get very hot during the summer.
One of the most notable gardens are the Jardin Majorelle, located less than 1km outside the North West medina wall
Built over a 40 year period by the French painter Jaques Majorelle in the middle part of the last century, these gardens, although the area open to the public is not particularly large (certainly not 12 acres as quoted elsewhere), are a popular tourist attraction. Since 1980, these gardens have belonged to Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé. The gardens offer a cool, shady, and peaceful (though sometimes busy) change from the city outside. The building that was originally Majorelles studio now functions as a museum dedicated to the Berber tribes.
Fes was the capital of Morocco for 4 centuries and Fez el Bali the old city (medina) is possibly the oldest and largest medieval cities in the world and one of the best preserved.
Fez is the cultural and religious center of Morocco together with being home to Morocco’s oldest university.
The medieval medina of Fez is a truly working city, not a museum piece, where craftsmen use techniques which may not have changed for many centuries.
There is an important tanning area in Fez el Bali where animal skins are cured and dyed together with a wool dying quarter. These areas and the methods used will certainly not have been changed by modern technology.
The city of Agadir today is a modern city, built as a holiday resort around the curving bay, with a development of low rise hotels between the city and the sand.
Agadir was planned to be very different from the old cities of Morocco, having wide tree lined roads and open squares.
There is a thriving commercial and fishing port to the north of the city and Morocco’s most popular beach resort stretches to the south. Agadir can be accessed via Agadir Airport, 20 km south east of the city.
Casablanca had been a small coastal town until the period of French rule from 1907 when it grew to become Morocco’s busiest port and its industrial and economic centre.
Casablanca now has a population approaching 5 million. The city centreis impressive and modern with wide streets and clean buildings. Possibly the most impressive building in Casablanca is the Grand Mosque of Hassan II, completed in 1994 with room for 20,000 to worship inside and 80,000 outside in the courtyard. The tower (or minaret) is 210m high and is the highest minaret in the world. The cost of constructing the mosque is reported to have approached 1 billion dollars and is built partly over the sea, with a glass floor and opening roof.
There is also an old part (medina) to the city and market area (Souk) though not as impressive as some of the older cities. It was originally a relatively small town after all.
The city of Ouarzazate is a little different from other Moroccan cities, it appears to have been designed with tourism in mind, having a long wide street and a number of lovely hotels.
The city has a well preserved Kasbah and Palace of Glaoui, while the whole area has been extensively used as a film set.
Ouarzazate can be accessed by road from Marrakech – a 200 Km journey through the stunning Tizi-n-Tichka pass, rising to 2,260m (7,400ft) above sea level, through the High Atlas. There is also an airport in Ouarzazate but you will have difficulty finding international flights heading there.
The walled town of Essaouira lies on the Atlantic coast, north of Agadir, and due west of Marrakech. This town is not as old as some, having been built approximately 200 years ago, in a reasonably orderly fashion.
On the southern side of the town is a fishing harbor where, at certain times of the day, local fishermen cook freshly caught fish and serve them up at simple tables.
Though not particularly developed as a tourist destination, Essaouira has a fine beach stretching to the south, lined with hotels. This Atlantic coastline is often windy and attracts wind surfers.
The town of Chefchaouen (spellings vary and can be shortened to Chaouen) in the Rif Mountains was founded by the Muslims and Jews who fled southern Spain at the time of the Christian reconquest in the 15th century.
The town was effectively closed to outsiders and unknown to the outside world until the 20th century and had remained relatively unchanged for 500 years. It is said to give the best possible view of what an Andalucian town would have been like in the time of the Moors.
The Medina or old town has narrow streets with whitewashed houses colored powder blue below.
Although the town now receives tourists and caters for them, it is unique and has an air of mystery, augmented by its location in the mountains.
Tangier (or Tanger) has been under the rule of a varied list of countries through the ages including a brief period of British rule in the 17th century. During the Franco-Spanish Protectorate period in the 20th century, Tangiers was declared an international zone. This attracted many European and American visitors to the city and has given it a more cosmopolitan feel than others in Morocco.
Spanish is widely spoken here as a second language whereas other city dwellers will normally speak French and the souks are more geared towards tourists or even day-trippers. Tangiers, after all, is only 15Km across the water from Europe and is very accessible by ferry.
About 120Km south west of Tangier, is the village of Chefchaouen, founded by Muslems and Jews who were pushed out of Spain by the Christians in the 15th century. This village high in the Rif Mountains was largely cut off from the rest of Morocco and gives a good indication of what Moorish Andalucia (southern Spain) used to be like.
The city of Taroudant has been described as the largest untouched city of Morocco and also as a smaller and slower version of Marrakech.
Situated 70km inland from Agadir, 220Km south west of Marrakech and surrounded by olive groves, orchards of citrus fruit, and green fields watered by the melting snow of the High Atlas, this is a pleasant place to be.
The city walls are of shades of brown and gold and you will see buildings with beautiful facades. The souks may be smaller than Marrakech but just as varied – the city is noted for its crafts.
Rabat had been the imperial capital of Morocco in the 12th century but this title later went to Fez and Meknes.
During the Franco-Spanish Protectorate in the 20th century, The French made Rabat the administrative center, and it became the capital when Morocco gained independence in 1956.
Although Rabat has its old quarter (medina) and markets (souks) these are not as fascinating as those of Fez and Marrakech which have played a more important part in history. Rabat is mainly a large modern city, with a population of 2 million, and wide tree lined streets with smart cafes.