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9 Cultural Experiences in Morocco

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9 Cultural Experiences in Morocco

Date: Nov 29, 2021
Author: Collins.cidar 104 No Comments

Morocco is a country that has been celebrated years before now with vibrant culture and traditional heritage, giving travelers a reason to visit the country. The country has been a major adventurous host the world has ever witnessed, starting from Camel riding in the sandy desert of the Sahara, to the hiking across the mountains and also seeing worship in an ancient architectural structural mosques built with real stone that will take you by Wonder. If you never had Morocco on your bucket list, is high time you include her. Below is our list of cultural experience that will help to have that magical moment in Morocco.

Archaeological Site of Volubilis

Archaeological Site of Volubilis/Photographer:ceetje/Pixabay

Volubilis contains essentially Roman vestiges of a fortified municipium built on a commanding site at the foot of the Jebel Zerhoun. Covering an area of 42 hectares, it is of outstanding importance demonstrating urban development and Romanisation at the frontiers of the Roman Empire and the graphic illustration of the interface between the Roman and indigenous cultures. Because of its isolation and the fact that it had not been occupied for nearly a thousand years, it presents an important level of authenticity. It is one of the richest sites of this period in North Africa, not only for its ruins but also for the great wealth of its epigraphic evidence.

The archaeological vestiges of this site bear witness to several civilizations. All the phases of its ten centuries of occupation, from prehistory to the Islamic period are represented. The site has produced a substantial amount of artistic material, including mosaics, marble and bronze statuary, and hundreds of inscriptions. This documentation and that which remains to be discovered, is representative of a creative spirit of the human beings who lived there over the ages. The limit of the site is represented by the Roman rampart constructed in 168-169 AD. The features of the site reveal two topographic forms: a relatively flat sloping area in the North-Eastern part, the monumental sector and a part of the sector of the triumphal arch, where the Romans employed an urban hypodamian system, and a rougher hilly area covering the South and Western parts where a terraced plan was adopted. The vestiges bear testimony to diverse periods, from Mauritanian times when it was part of an independent kingdom, to the Roman period when it was a metropolis of the Roman province of Mauritania Tingitana, a period called the « dark ages » with towards the end a Christian era, and finally an Islamic period characterised by the founding of the dynasty of the Idrissids.

Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou

Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou/Photographer: Toa Heftiba/Unsplash

Located in the foothills on the southern slopes of the High Atlas in the Province of Ouarzazate, the site of Ait-Ben-Haddou is the most famous ksar in the Ounila Valley. The Ksar of Aït-Ben-Haddou is a striking example of southern Moroccan architecture. The ksar is a mainly collective grouping of dwellings. Inside the defensive walls which are reinforced by angle towers and pierced with a baffle gate, houses crowd together – some modest, others resembling small urban castles with their high angle towers and upper sections decorated with motifs in clay brick – but there are also buildings and community areas. It is an extraordinary ensemble of buildings offering a complete panorama of pre-Saharan earthen construction techniques. The oldest constructions do not appear to be earlier than the 17th century, although their structure and technique were propagated from a very early period in the valleys of southern Morocco. The site was also one of the many trading posts on the commercial route linking ancient Sudan to Marrakesh by the Dra Valley and the Tizi-n’Telouet Pass. Architecturally, the living quarters form a compact grouping, closed and suspended. The community areas of the ksar include a mosque, a public square, grain threshing areas outside the ramparts, a fortification and a loft at the top of the village, an caravanserai, two cemeteries (Muslim and Jewish) and the Sanctuary of the Saint Sidi Ali or Amer. The Ksar of Ait- Ben-Haddou is a perfect synthesis of earthen architecture of the pre-Saharan regions of Morocco.

Historic City of Meknes

Historic City of Meknes/photographer: Fabio Santaniello Bruun/Unsplash

The Historic City of Meknes has exerted a considerable influence on the development of the civil and military architecture (the kasbah) and works of art. Founded in 1061 A.D. by the Almoravids as a military stronghold, its name originates from the great Berber tribe Meknassa who dominated eastern Morocco as far back as the Tafilalet in the 8th century. Geographically, it is remarkably located in the Saïss Plain between the Middle Atlas and the pre-rifan massif of Zerhoun. It contains the vestiges of the Medina that bears witness to ancient socio-economic fabric and the imperial city created by the Sultan Moulay Ismail (1672-1727). It is the presence today of this historic city containing the rare remains and important monuments located within a rapidly changing urban environment that gives this urban heritage its universal value. The two ensembles are surrounded by a series of ramparts that separate them from one another.  In addition to its architectural interest of being built in the Hispano-Moorish style, Meknes is of particular interest as it represents the first great work of the Alaouite dynasty, reflecting the grandeur of its creator.  It also provides a remarkable approach of urban design, integrating elements of both Islamic and European architecture and town planning.

Behind the high defensive walls, pierced by nine monumental gates, are key monuments including twenty-five mosques, ten hammams, palaces, vast graneries, vestiges of fondouks (inns for merchants) and private houses, testimonies to the Almoravid, Merinid and Alaouite Periods.

Medina of Essaouira (formerly Mogador)

Medina of Essaouira (formerly Mogador)/Photographer:Anastasia Dimitriadi/Unsplash

The Medina of Essaouira, formerly named Mogador (name originating from the Phoenician word Migdol meaning a « small fortress »), is an outstanding example of a fortified town of the mid-eighteenth century, surrounded by a wall influenced by the Vauban model. Constructed according to the principles of contemporary European military architecture, in a North African context, in perfect harmony with the precepts of Arabo-Muslim architecture and town-planning, it has played a major role over the centuries as an international trading seaport, linking Morocco and sub-Saharan Africa with Europe and the rest of the world. The town is also an example of a multicultural centre as proven by the coexistence, since its foundation, of diverse ethnic groups, such as the Amazighs, Arabs, Africans, and Europeans as well as multiconfessional (Muslim, Christian and Jewish). Indissociable from the Medina, the Mogador archipelago comprises a large number of cultural and natural sites of Outstanding Universal Value. Its relatively late foundation in comparison to other medinas of North Africa was the work of the Alaouite Sultan Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdallah (1757-1790) who wished to make this small Atlantic town a royal port and chief Moroccan commercial centre open to the outside world. Known for a long time as the Port of Timbuktu, Essaouira became one of the major Atlantic commercial centres between Africa and Europe at the end of the 18th century and during the 19th century.

Medina of Fez

Medina of Fez/photographer:fotografu/Unsplash

The Medina of Fez preserves, in an ancient part comprising numerous monumental buildings, the memory of the capital founded by the Idrisid dynasty between 789 and 808 A.D. The original town was comprised of two large fortified quarters separated by the Fez wadi: the banks of the Andalous and those of the Kaïrouanais. In the 11th century, the Almoravids reunited the town within a sole rampart and, under the dynasty of the Almohads (12th and 13th centuries), the original town (Fez el-bali) already grew to its present-day size. Under the Merinids (13th to 15th centuries), a new town (Fez Jedid) was founded (in 1276) to the west of the ancient one (Fez El-Bali). It contains the royal palace, the army headquarters, fortifications and residential areas. At that time, the two entities of the Medina of Fez evolve in symbiosis forming one of the largest Islamic metropolis’s representing a great variety of architectural forms and urban landscapes. They include a considerable number of religious, civil and military monuments that brought about a multi-cultural society. This architecture is characterised by construction techniques and decoration developed over a period of more than ten centuries, and where local knowledge and skills are interwoven with diverse outside inspiration (Andalousian, Oriental and African). The Medina of Fez is considered as one of the most extensive and best conserved historic towns of the Arab-Muslim world. The unpaved urban space conserves the majority of its original functions and attribute. It not only represents an outstanding architectural, archaeological and urban heritage, but also transmits a life style, skills and a culture that persist and are renewed despite the diverse effects of the evolving modern societies.

Medina of Marrakesh

Medina of Marrakesh/Photographer:MAX LIBERTINE/Unsplash

Founded in 1070-1072 by the Almoravids (1056-1147), capital of the Almohads (1147-1269), Marrakesh was, for a long time, a major political, economic and cultural centre of the western Muslim world, reigning in North Africa and Andalusia. Vast monuments dating back to that period: Koutoubia Mosque, with the matchless minaret of 77 metres, an essential monument of Muslim architecture, is one of the important landmarks of the urban landscape and the symbol of the City, the Kasbah, ramparts, monumental gates and gardens. Later, the town welcomed other marvels, such as the Badiâ Palace, the Ben Youssef merdersa, les Saâdians tombs,  Bahia Palace and large residences. Jamaâ El Fna Square, inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, is a true open-air theatre that always amazes visitors. Due to its still protected, original and well conserved conception, its construction materials and decoration in constant use, and its natural environment (notably the Gardens of Aguedal, Ménara and the Palm Grove (Palmeraie) the plantation of which is attributed to the Almoravids), the Medina of Marrakesh possesses all its initial components both cultural and natural that illustrate its Outstanding Universal Value. 

Medina of Tétouan (formerly known as Titawin)

Medina of Tétouan (formerly known as Titawin)/Photographer:Andres Giusto/Unsplash

The Medina of Tétouan developed on the steep slopes of the Jebel Dersa. In the Islamic period it had particular importance from the 8th century onwards since it served as the point of connection between Morocco and Andalusia. After the Reconquest, the town was rebuilt by refugees in this region who had been expelled by the Spanish.  This is well illustrated by its art and architecture which reveal clear Andalusian influence. It is one of the smallest of the Moroccan medinas but indisputably the most complete and the majority of its buildings have remained untouched by subsequent outside influences.

The Medina of Tétouan is surrounded by a historic wall of approximately 5 km in length and accessed by means of seven gates. The urban layout is characterised by main streets linking the gates to one another and giving access to open spaces (squares and smaller squares) and public buildings such as funduqs, mosques, zawayas and to the artisan and commercial districts, and on the other hand to smaller lanes leading to passages and semi-private residential areas. A true synthesis of Moroccan and Andalusian cultures, the historic town of Tétouan presents urban and architectural features that have influenced the architectural and artistic development during the period of the Spanish Protectorate. The town of Tétouan is famous for its school of arts and crafts (Dar Sanaa) and its National Institute of Fine Arts which testify to an ancestral tradition and an opening onto the world today.

Portuguese City of Mazagan (El Jadida)

Portuguese City of Mazagan (El Jadida)/Photographer:BELMEHDI MOHAMED AMINE/Unsplash

The Portuguese City of Mazagan (El Jadida), one of the first settlements created in Africa by Portuguese explorers on the route to India, bears outstanding witness to the exchange of influences between European and Moroccan cultures from the 16th to the 18th centuries, which are evident in the architecture, technology and town planning. Mazagan was built as a fortified colony on the Atlantic coast at the beginning of the 16th century. Located 90 km south of Casablanca, it dominates a natural bay of great beauty.  The brothers Francisco and Diogo de Arruda built the first citadel in 1514. In 1541- 1548, in accordance with the plans of the Italian architect Benedetto da Ravenna, Joao Ribeiro and Juan Castillo enlarged the citadel transforming it into a star-shaped fortification.

The Mazagan fortress with its ditch and inclined ramparts is one of the first testimonies in the Lusitanian period of the application by Portuguese technology of new architectural concepts of Renaissance adapted to the advent of the firearm. Complete and unique witness in Morocco to the advent of this new style, Mazagan is better preserved than other Portuguese fortifications in Morocco; most of the other Portuguese trading posts in the world having suffered many changes.

Following the departure of the Portuguese in 1769 and the resulting abandon of the city, the fortress was rehabilitated in the middle of the 19th century and named El Jadida (The New), and became a commercial centre and a multicultural society, embracing Muslims, Jews and Christians.

The shape and the layout of the fortress have been well preserved and represent an outstanding example of this category of construction.  The historic fabric inside the fortress reflects the different changes and influences over the centuries. The existent monuments of the Portuguese period are: the ramparts and their bastions, the cistern, an outstanding example of this type of structure, and the Catholic Church of the Assumption, of late Gothic style, the Manoeline style at the beginning of the 16th century. 

Rabat, Modern Capital and Historic City: A Shared Heritage

Rabat, Modern Capital and Historic City: A Shared Heritage/Credit:Pavliha/iStockphoto

Rabat bears witness to a capital city conceived at the time of the Protectorate, at the beginning of the 20th century. The project successfully adapts modernist town planning and architectural values within the context of the Maghreb, whilst incorporating them into the framework of the ancient city with its many historic and heritage components. The result embodies the emergence of a distinctive architectural and decorative style which is characteristic of contemporary Morocco.

The well-conserved modern city has been rationally designed, and contains quarters and buildings with clearly defined functions and significant visual and architectural qualities. The modern city is characterised by the coherence of its public spaces and by the putting into practice of public health ideas (services, role of vegetation, etc.). The habitat is illustrated by quarters with clearly asserted identities: the Medina and the Kasbah, the residential quarters and the middle-class housing of the modern city, and finally the neo-traditional quarter of Habous de Diour Jamaâ. The city includes a full range of monumental, architectural and decorative elements from the various earlier dynasties. The modern city of Rabat tangibly expresses a pioneering approach to town-planning, which has been careful to preserve historic monuments and traditional housing. The reappropriation of the past and its influence on 20th century town planners and architects has resulted in a distinctive and refined urban, architectural and decorative synthesis. The property as a whole makes visible a heritage shared by several major cultures of human history: ancient, Islamic, Hispano-Maghrebian and European.

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