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Marrakesh is one of the four imperial cities of Morocco. Along with Meknes, Rabat and Fes, these four cities make up the historical capitals of Morocco. Marrakesh is located to the north of the foothills of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains and is known as “the red city” due to the distinctly colored clay and chalk walls that fortify the city. Dotted with mosques, tombs, palaces and riads, Marrakesh is packed with beauty, charm and culture. The minaret of the Koutoubia mosque can be seen from almost any terrace in the city. Other popular destinations include the ornate El Bahia palace, with its gardens and tranquil courtyards, as well as the Djemaa el Fna, the largest market in Morocco and the biggest square in Africa. In the evening, the Djemaa el Fna fills with musicians, dancers, and story tellers. Wander around the many souks where you can buy everything from spices to shoes and teapots. Visit the famous Menara and Majerolle gardens or perhaps enjoy a ride on a traditional horse-drawn carriage. All of this and more is why Marrakesh is one of the top places to visit in North Africa.
Less than an hour’s drive from Marrakesh, the breathtaking Atlas Mountains stretch across the northern part of Africa extending 1,500 miles through Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. The ranges are divided into several sections including the High Atlas, Middle Atlas and Ant-Atlas, which are all found in Morocco. The highest peak is Jbel Toubkal, with an elevation of 13,670 ft (4,160 meters) in southwestern Morocco. The second highest mountain is the M’Goun at 13,350 ft (4,070 metres). Discover the beautiful scenery, amazing colors and the incredible Berber villages of the High Atlas range. Active travelers may enjoy a half day trek in the mountains while wandering through a forest of juniper and oak trees. This climb can also be enjoyed on horseback. Your trek ends with the opportunity to experience the amazing view from the Tadawt plateau followed by a refreshing mint tea in a Berber home.
The Sahara is largest sub-tropical hot desert in the world, stretching from the Red Sea in the east to the Atlantic Ocean in the west. Highlights of visiting the Sahara Desert in Morocco include Taroudant, a market town where the busy souks sell produce from the rich and fertile Souss Valley. Here you are able to tour the old Kasbah Quarter, where the ancient Saadians had their palaces. Also visit Erfoud – Erg Chebbi, a small town on the edge of the desert. The town lies amidst dormant volcanoes and endless sand dunes. Positioned between the dunes and with nobody around for miles lies a unique desert camp where travelers can experience the complete solitude of the desert and enjoy the dramatic sunsets behind the vast desert plains.
Casablanca is the largest and most populated city in Morocco and is considered to the economic capital of the kingdom. Known as “Casa” by locals, the city is home to the second largest religious monument in the Arab world. Second only to Mecca, the Hassan II Mosque was designed by the French architect Michel Pinseau. The mosque has room for 25,000 worshipers, with additional space in the courtyard for 80,000 more. It has a glass floor through which the Atlantic can be seen, and the mosque’s minaret is the world’s tallest at 689 ft (210 meters).
The historic city of Meknes is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Meknes’ golden age as the imperial capital of Morocco began in 1672 with Moulay Ismail’s ascension to the throne. The city has been referred to as the “Versailles of Morocco” due to its many extravagant monuments and buildings. Bab Mansour is the largest and most striking of the Meknes’ many gates. The Roman ruins of Volubilis, another World Heritage Site, are only a short trip from Meknes.
Another of the four imperial cities of Morocco, Fes is perhaps the most unspoiled, boasting the most enchanting souks. In Fes you can get a real feel for authentic Moroccan culture, a trip back in time, and a visit to this city is not complete unless you take a walk around the historic Nejjarine Fountain and one of the many madrassas (Quranic schools) located around the town.
The enchanted capital city of Rabat is home to many historic monuments. Rabat, which lies on the Atlantic coast, replaced Fes as the capital of Morocco in 1912 when Morocco was turned into a French protectorate. The French administrator General Louis Hubert Lyautey commissioned an architect to start building a French-style city, which today is the main area of Rabat. A must-see is the mausoleum of Mohammed V, which was completed in 1971 and contains the tombs of the late Moroccan king and his two sons. The building is considered to be a prime example of modern Alaouite architecture with its typical white silhouette and green tiled roof. Get your first taste of a Moroccan medina with a visit to the Oudaya Kasbah, built in the 16th and 17th centuries on ancient foundations. Travel outside the city walls to see the ancient city of Sala, the first city in Morocco to be built by the Berbers.
Situated between Fes and Rabat, Valubilis is an ancient settlement that has been under Phoenician, Carthaginian and Roman rule from the 3rd century BC onward. Around 285 the town fell to local tribes and was never reclaimed by Rome due to its remoteness and indefensibility along its southwestern border. By the 11th century Volubilis was abandoned when the seat of power relocated to Fes. During and after French rule over Morocco, about half the site was excavated to reveal fine mosaics and prominent public buildings and high status houses. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, listed for being “an exceptionally well preserved example of a large Roman colonial town on the fringes of the Empire.”
Nicknamed “The door of the desert” Ouarzazate is a city and capital of the Ouarzazate Province in the Souss-Massa-Drâa of southern-central Morocco. Sitting at an elevation of 3,810 ft (1,160 meters) it is in the middle of a bare plateau south of the High Atlas Mountains. To the south of the town is the Sahara desert. Ouarzazate is an important holiday destination in Morocco as a base for excursions across the Draa Valley and into the desert. The Ouarzazate area is a noted filmmaking location, with Morocco’s biggest studios inviting many international companies to work here. Films such as Lawrence of Arabia (1962), The Living Daylights (1987), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), The Mummy (1999), Gladiator (2000), Kingdom of Heaven (2005), Kundun (1997), Legionnaire (1998), Hanna (2011), and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2011) were shot here, as was part of the TV series Game of Thrones.