Fès, Meknes and Rabat are known
as the Imperial Cities, each having been Morocco’s
capital at some time during its history.
Rabat, the present capital of the country, was founded during the
12th century. It is a town of trees and flowers, several monumental
gateways, including the Oudaias Kasbah Gate and
the Gate of the Ambassadors. There is a great selection
of hotels and many pavement cafes. The nearby Mamora forest
and the numerous beaches are very popular tourist attractions, particularly
in the summer.
Other attractions include Tour Hassan, the grandiose
minaret of a vast, unfinished 12th-century mosque, the Mohammed
V Mausoleum, an exceptional example of traditional Moroccan
architecture, the Royal Palace; the Chellah, with
great monuments, delightful gardens and Roman ruins.
The Oudaias, the Archaeological Museum,
the National Museum of Handicrafts and the antique
Moorish cafe are also among the attractions. The battlements
adjoining the town, and part of the new city, date from the mid-12th
century. Also worth a visit is Salé, Rabat’s
twin city, at the opposite side of the river, believed to have been
founded during the 11th century.
Meknes is confined by battlements, flanked by towers and bastions.
The city suggests the power and the constructive genius of King
Moulay Ismail, a contemporary of Louis XIV, who ruled Morocco
for fifty five years.
The Djebel Habri and Michlifen
are 2 ski resorts above Meknes. The city boasts a magnificent souk
and the old town is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage
About 30 kilometres (19 miles) from Meknes, the Roman ruins at Volubilis
are on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. Excavations
and ruins dating back to the 3rd century can be visited for a diminutive
admission fee and there is also an interesting archaeological museum
Fès is the most ancient and striking of the imperial cities,
built in the 8th century, it has more history and mystery than anywhere
else in Morocco. Officially consisting of 2 cities –
El Bali and Jadid – Fès is
famous for the the Er Rsif and Andalous
(Al-Andalus) mosques, the Kasbah
and Karaouine (Al-Qarawiyin) University,
which is older than Oxford University, the Nejjarine Square
and Fountain and the Royal Palace.
The Dar Bath Museum is also worth visiting.
The old part of the city – Fès El Bali
– still retains the magical, active atmosphere of an ancient
time and it is centred around the 2 famous mosques of Al-Andalus
and Al-Qarawiyin. It is a vast maze of winding streets
and covered bazaars where, if one is not careful, it is easy to
get lost and therefore it is a great idea to hire an official guide.
There are magnificent examples of Hispano-Arabic architecture as
well as several opportunities to see traditional craftspeople working.
The medina (market) in Fès El Bali is 1
of the biggest in the world and is also on UNESCO’s
World Heritage list and one can buy almost anything. It
is particularly good for rugs, carpets and metalwork. As in all
of Morocco, the market business is conducted in a leisurely, although
deadly earnest way, with the addition of endless glasses of
Fès is, perhaps, 1 of the most fascinating
cities anywhere in the Middle East or in north Africa.
The valley of Ouergha to the north is well-known
for its souks and Morocco’s most celebrated gathering of riders,
which is said to have been attended by Pope Sylvester II
previous to his accession during AD 999 and resulted in him introducing
Arab mathematics into Europe. Other attractions include the
Mesbahai Medersa, an old school, notable for its traditional
architecture and late afternoon auctions in the Kissaria and the
Karaouine (Al-Qarawiyin) Mosque.
Founded during 1062, Marrakech was once the capital of an empire
that stretched from Toledo to Senegal.
Called the ‘Pink City’ because of the
colour of the earth used in its construction, it is a city of labyrinthine
alleyways, museums, secluded palaces, mosques and markets. Marrakech’s
gardens are supplied with water from 11th century underground irrigation
The Djemaa el-Fna (Place of the Dead), the city
square, comes alive in the evening, thronged with dancers, musicians,
fortune-tellers, acrobats, storytellers and snake charmers, it is
an exciting and sometimes bewildering place – an outstanding
Koutoubia, the 12th-century mosque, as tall as
the towers of Nôtre Dame and overlooks the Marrakech skyline.
The Ben Youssef Medersa, with its marbles, mosaics
and carved woodwork, is the biggest theological site in the Mahgreb.
It forms part of Marrakech’s UNESCO-listed medina, now a World
Heritage site, crammed with many architectural masterpieces.
Further interesting places to see include the beautiful
Saadian Tombs housing the remains of rulers
of the Saadian Dynasty, the Bahia Palace,
the Dar Sisaid Museum the Menara and Aquedal
gardens and the well known camel market.
An hour’s drive from Marrakech is Oukaimeden,
Morocco’s best ski resort and this trip can be combined with
a visit to Ourika (which has a donkey market) and
Asni. The latter is an brilliant place to stay
whilst visiting Jebel Toubkal, Morocco’s
highest mountain, set amidst the spectacular scenery.