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Guide To Morocco – The Most Interesting Destination In North Africa

Morocco is in competition with Egypt as the most interesting destination in North Africa. This country on the far western tip of the continent attracts ever more visitors because of its year-round sunshine, long beaches, Muslim architecture, royal cities, and tours in the High Atlas Mountains and the Sahara—all at reasonable prices. Cities And Monuments In Morocco The four royal cities alone—Mar­rakech, Fez, Rabat, and Meknes—ale worth a trip to Morocco. Marrakech, where the Alma­hads, Almoravids, and Saadians ruled, has an elegant cityscape with fortified walls, lush gardens, the 12th-century minaret of the Kou­toubia Mosque, the 16th-century Ben Yusef Madrassa, and traditional souks. The old town, the medina, is a jewel of Muslim architecture. Other sights include the remnants of the eI-Badi Palace (end of the 16th century), the Jewish Quarter (the Mellah), the Saadian tombs, and the lively main square Dje­maa el Fna. The city is the hub of Moroccan tourism, catering to an upscale clientele. Fez, the first royal city, is the artistic and intellectual capital of the country. The city boasts a walled, large medina the Fes el-Bali quarter—which surrounds the Zaouia Madrassa of its founder Mou­lay Idriss. It also has several other madrassas (Bou Inania, Al-Attarine) and the Karaouine Mosque, which holds 20,000 believers but is accessi­ble only to Muslims. In this famous medina of pearly 2,000 streets and 200 mosques, the aromas of spices mingle with the smells of the henna souk and the stench of tanning hides in the leather souk.   Rabat, the capital city, features its monumental gateway to the Cas­bah of the Udayas, surrounded by a three-mile-long wall with five entry gates (constructed in the 12th cen­tury), which is simply an architec­tural masterpiece. The Bou Inania Madrassa, the Ismail I Mausoleum, and the Bab Mansour gate are the major sites in Meknes, the least well known of the royal cities. In the fishing port of Safi, the attractions include the ribat (a forti­fied monastery) and Portuguese-era fortifications. Casablanca shines with its old town, art deco houses, and the Hassan II Mosque, the larg­est in Africa. Tangier also stands out for its old town and casbah. The for­tified, white port city of Essaouira, the former Mogador, designed in the 18th century in its current form, is a favorite enclave of artists and intellectuals today. Moulay Idriss, the holy city with the mausoleum of Zaouia of the Idrisid dynasty (eighth century) is a pilgrimage site. The nearby ruins of the Roman city of Volubilis, with columns and a triumphal arch of Emperor Cara-calla (third century), are some of the best preserved in North Africa.   Landscape And Walking Tours In Morocco Walking tours in the Atlas Moun­tains is a new chapter in Morocco’s organized tourism, but the country’s landscapes, whether north or south, have always had a special attraction. The scenic vistas begin on the limestone plateau of the Rif Moun­tains with the Kef Thogobeit, the deepest cave system in all of Africa, and the underground network of the Ouargha River cave, which swallows up a number of water­courses until they emerge as water­falls from the Chiker grottoes. The three Atlas ranges, providing the most idyllic landscapes in Morocco, follow in succession. Jbel Toubkal in the High Atlas reaches 13,700 feet; it majestic snowy peaks invite skiers. The Ames-frane cliff, called the “cathedral,” is sculpted into an ornamented folded surface. In the Dades Valley, some of the red rock faces are cut into steep canyons. The region is famous for its thousand casbahs, palm forests, and rose gardens (El Kelaa, M’Goun), where Berber tradition reigns high (Ait Bou Goumez Valley) and reli­gious festivals are important. The Middle Atlas is appealing for its rivers, cedar and oak forests, and the hill stations oflfrane and Midelt. The Anti-Atlas Range cuts through the Draa Valley. In an excursion from Ouarzazate, the main attraction is the Taouirt Casbah, one of the most striking fortified homes of a local leader of old, followed by ksurs (fortified mud-brick villages), palm forests, rose gardens, gorges, and orchards with pomegranates, figs, and sea buckthorn. Once arrived in Zagora, a visitor can join a camel tour to ride into the first high dunes (ergs) of the Sahara. Coasts In Morocco Tourists from all over beat a steady path to Morocco’s white Atlantic beaches, where it’s swimming sea­son all year round. Most famous is the nearly six-mile-long beach of Agadir, which is blessed with sunny weather all winter. North of town is surfer territory (Anchor Paint). South of Agadir, the Souss­Massa National Park of beaches, dunes, and wetlands is an important bird sanctuary. The fishing port of Essaouira is not quite as famous for its beaches but is concentrating on thalasso­therapy in its resort hotels. Far­ther south, the towns of Tiznit and Tan-Tan are developing excellent new resorts. From Agadir to Dakhla, some 30 miles of coastline, called the White Beach (Plage Blanche), merge directly with the desert, where anglers and surfers hold court. The town of Mirleft attracts more of the fishing enthusiasts. Even the beaches of the western Sahara around the towns of Laay­oune and Dakhla (for fishing) near the Mauritanian border are attract­ing more and more tourists. The rugged Rif Mountains stretch nearly to the Mediterranean coast cre­ating rocky rather than sandy beaches, but small fishing villages are hidden in some of the coves. The water here is warmer than in the Atlantic. [caption id="attachment_801" align="aligncenter" width="900"] Bab Mansour - beautifully decorated gate of the old medina in Meknes, Morocco, Africa[/caption] Festivals In Morocco After the harvest in July and August, Moussem, a festival to honor the marabouts (Islamic saints), is cele­brated all over the country The high point is the Fantasia, when riders in traditional dress charge in a straight line, firing guns into the air. The date of Moussem changes from year to year. The best-known festivals are held in Moulay Abdellah, south of Casablanca, and Moulay Idriss Zer­houn near Meknes. Advice Pros A wide variety of tour options, including cultural sites, walking tours the mountains or the desert, and beaches Cons Morocco gets crowded in the summer months. Possible terror activity. Special Tips Spending the night in a riad. a tra­ditional house with a tiled courtyard and fountain, rather than in a hotel, is the latest trend. Marrakech was a pioneer in offering riads, and Essaouira has followed. Images Source: hiremyguide.com

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