Royal cities and other beauties
The origin of Morocco’s name has been explained in many ways, perhaps the best known being “Kingdom of the Western Territory”. The fifth largest economy in Africa, it has a significant influence on Arab countries and the continent as a whole. The driving sectors of the economy are agriculture, tourism and manufacturing. The country produces a wide variety of crops, including wheat, barley, olives, citrus fruits and vegetables. Morocco is also a major producer of phosphates used in fertilisers. Morocco has a vibrant tourism sector, which contributes significantly to the country’s economy. The country’s rich history, diverse culture and stunning landscapes attract millions of tourists every year. Popular tourist destinations include the royal cities, the ocean-front resorts, the landscapes of the Atlas Mountains and the Sahara. The country has a growing variety of manufacturing sectors producing textiles, clothing and car parts, among others. The country has also attracted significant foreign investment in recent years, particularly in the automotive and aerospace sectors. The services sector is also an important part of Morocco’s economy. The country has a well developed banking and financial sector and a growing information technology industry. The climate is basically Mediterranean in the north and hot desert in the interior, but the Atlantic Ocean on the west coast and the Atlas Mountains that cross the country also have a significant influence on the climate, so be prepared to get a bit of everything on a cross-country trip. Morocco’s gastronomy is the subject of a special article, as it has had such an impact on us.
Marrakech – the living history, jewel of the royal cities
You can arrive in Marrakech as we did, as there are international airports in the country’s largest cities. Visas are not required for travellers from Hungary; you may be asked at the airport, as a random check, about the accommodation you will be staying in, as is the case in other countries. Marrakesh, the “red city”, one of the most beautiful of the royal cities, was founded in 1062 by the Almoravid dynasty and served as the capital of Morocco for more than two centuries. Morocco’s architecture is unique and has had a great influence on the architecture of neighbouring countries, with its unmistakable stylistic elements, rich colours and unique patterns. The masterpieces of world-famous Moroccan architecture can be found in Marrakech.
Among the many architectural wonders, the Bahia Palace is one of the first to be mentioned. This 19th-century palace complex is known for its beautiful gardens and intricate tiled decorations. The complex is made up of several wings connected by intricate corridors, with rich gardens and fountains in the inner courtyards. No two mosaic decorations are alike, with floors, ceilings and even the plinths of the courtyards decorated with centimetre upon centimetre of artistically composed mosaics.
Another symbol of the city, a classic example of Almohad architecture and Moroccan mosque architecture in general, is the centrally located Kutubia Mosque, the largest mosque in Marrakech. With a 77-metre-high minaret in sandy brown, this classic Moroccan building inspired successors such as La Giralda in Seville and the Hassan Tower in Rabat, which were built shortly afterwards. The famous Jema el Fna square, one of the end points in a series of markets that start at the mosque and link streets and squares, is home to famous street performers, food vendors and market stalls selling everything from spices and teas to clothing in the city’s medina, the busiest traditional market in Morocco and Africa.
Not all the city’s attractions can be mentioned here, but the Majorelle Garden, a one-hectare botanical garden and artistic landscape garden, is worth a mention. It was created by French Orientalist artist Jacques Majorelle over a period of almost forty years, from 1923 onwards, and includes a Cubist villa designed by French architect Paul Sinoir in the 1930s and later purchased by the famous fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent. The incredibly beautiful gardens and villa are open to the public, along with a museum and even a Berber museum.
Agafay – hot air ballooning and luxury in the Sahara
Just a short forty-kilometre drive from Marrakech, you will find unspoilt red rock country, the vast and majestic Agafay plateau of canyons, dunes, ridges and gorges. There is a luxury campsite here, in fact a hotel-complex, where the houses are looking like tents, covering some 600 hectares, offers unrivalled comfort and standards for those wishing to explore the Sahara, where you can even gaze out from the pool at the distant outline of the Atlas Mountains. From here, you can embark on extreme tours in hot air balloons over the fabulous African landscape or ride a quad bike or camel for miles and miles, to your heart’s content.
Agadir – an unadulterated snow-white holiday city on the Atlantic coast
Our next stop is the unadulterated holiday town of Agadir on the Atlantic coast. Between its snow-white houses, fabulous villas and elegant hotels, the public spaces with their immaculate green lawns and well-tended gardens are refreshing. In the early 1500s, the Portuguese founded a port city here for a reason, the location is perfect for trade. Apart from tourism, fishing and fish processing are nowadays the most important industries, as well as the metal industry, with ship transport from the port. We would certainly come here on holiday if we had to choose, because although the city has a subtropical dry climate, this is significantly influenced by the Atlantic Ocean, making the weather much more pleasant than in Saharan cities. The city is known for its beautiful sandy beaches along the Atlantic Ocean and its pleasant climate makes it a popular destination for sunbathing, swimming and water sports, and a famous surfing paradise. There are also numerous surf schools and rental shops along the coast. Near the town, a small colony is dedicated to this sport, where the waves are stronger and suitable for competitive surfing.
There’s no shortage of things to see and do in Agadir, home to one of Morocco’s largest markets, Souk El Had, with its bustling streets selling everything from traditional Moroccan handicrafts to spices, textiles and fresh fruit.
The Marina – the marina and its surroundings are the result of a modern development, attracting visitors with its luxury yachts, upmarket waterfront restaurants, cafes and shops. It is a popular place for leisurely strolls and enjoying the ocean views with an excellent dinner.
But that’s not the end of the attractions. A modern cable car takes you up to Agadir’s fortress, the Oufla Kashbah, which offers increasingly beautiful views of the city as you climb higher and higher. It’s worth the climb, the panoramic views are simply stunning.
The Royal cities
In Morocco there are four so-called “Royal cities” that have played the most important role in the country’s history, culture and architecture. They are:
Marrakesh was founded in 1062 by the Almoravid dynasty and served as the capital of Morocco for more than two centuries. It is known for its bustling markets, ancient palaces and the famous Jemaa el-Fnaa square, which comes alive at night with food stalls, street performers and snake charmers.
Fez – Founded by Idris ibn Abdallah ibn al-Hasan, the first ruler of the Idrissid dynasty, in 789, Fez is considered the spiritual, cultural and religious heart of Morocco. It is home to the oldest university in the world, Al Quaraouiyine University, founded in 859. The city is also famous for its well-preserved medieval buildings and the ancient tanneries of the old town. It was the capital of the kingdom until 1912.
Meknes – founded in the 17th century by Sultan Moulay Ismail and served as the capital of the country. It is known for its impressive monuments, including the Bab Mansour Gate, the Heri es-Souani granaries and the mausoleum of Moulay Ismail.
Rabat – Morocco’s capital, founded by the Almohad dynasty in the 12th century. It is known for its historical sites such as the Udayas Kasbah, the Hassan Tower and the Chellah Necropolis. Rabat is also the official residence of the King of Morocco and home to several government buildings.
Tips and suggestions before travelling to Morocco
Check the weather – there can be significant differences between the country’s landscapes and cities depending on their location.
Learn a few Arabic and French words – they can help you communicate with the locals
Dress modestly – Morocco is a Muslim country and to respect local customs, cover arms and legs in public places.
Expressions of affection, such as hugging and kissing, are also discouraged in public places.
Activities should be booked in advance as they are very popular, such as hot air balloon rides, camel rides and quad biking.
Do not take photos of anyone without permission, especially women and children. It is considered disrespectful and offensive to the locals.
At various street performances, if you take a photo, don’t be surprised if they ask you for money afterwards – it’s the custom there.
You can change money anywhere at street ATMs and even in hotels. You can also take other currencies, and they accept them in places where you cannot pay by credit card, but check the exchange rates first.
Moroccan transport is very varied and developed, adapting to the large number of tourists arriving in the country, as well as to the needs of the country’s population. Let’s just look at the means of getting to the country.
Morocco has international airports in several cities, here:
Casablanca is Morocco’s largest city, home to the country’s busiest international airport, Mohammed V International Airport (CMN).
Marrakech is one of the most popular tourist destinations, with the Marrakech Menara Airport (RAK) serving the heavy traffic.
Agadir is an ocean-front city and you can arrive at Agadir-Al Massira Airport (AGA), an international airport serving both domestic and international flights.
Fez is the third largest city in the country and is home to Fes-Saïss Airport (FEZ), which serves a number of European destinations and receives international flights.
Tangier – Located in the north of Morocco, Tangier Ibn Battouta Airport (TNG) is an international airport. It is an important hub for travellers visiting the northern regions of the country.
Public transport systems in Moroccan cities are different. Here is a brief overview of this:
Buses: buses are the most common form of public transport in Moroccan cities. Major cities such as Casablanca, Marrakech, Rabat and Fez have an extensive bus network, connecting different parts of the city and providing inter-city services.
Trains: Morocco has a well-developed rail network, operated by the national railway company ONCF (Office National des Chemins de Fer). Trains connect major cities such as Casablanca, Marrakech, Rabat, Fez, Tangier and many others. Trains offer a relatively comfortable and efficient means of transport for both short and long distances.
Trams: some cities in Morocco, such as Casablanca, Rabat and Rabat-Salé, have modern tram systems. These trams provide convenient transport within the city, linking different parts of the city.
Grand Taxis. Grand taxis are shared taxis that run on fixed routes between towns and cities. They are usually larger vehicles and can carry more passengers. Grand Taxis are often used for interurban journeys and depart when full.
Petit Taxis: petit taxis operate within cities. They are usually used for short trips within the city and are a convenient way to get around. Petit taxis are usually colour-coded according to the city, for example red in Casablanca or blue in Marrakech, and cost a little more than buses alone.
Shared vans and buses: in addition to the official public transport systems, there are also so-called shared vans and buses, especially in smaller towns and rural areas. These operate on flexible schedules and routes and are often used by locals for commuting and short-distance journeys.
If you want to travel by car, there is an excellent network of motorways; interestingly, they were used to film some of the most brilliant motorcycle chase scenes in the Mission Impossible films.
Photos: László Wiandt