Population: 36 million
Area: 711,000 sq km (274,520 sq miles)
Capital of Morocco: Rabat
Largest city: Tangier
Official languages: Arabic and (since 2011) Berber
Major religion: Islam
Head of state: King Mohammed VI
Time zones: Moroccan time is the same as Greenwich Mean Time, with the exception of a few months in the year when Morocco can be an hour behind GMT (usually due to Ramadan); when it is noon in Morocco, it is noon in London (11am during the UK’s daylight saving), 7am in New York and 8pm in Perth
Currency: Dirham (Dh); 1Dh = 100 cents (c)
Country code: +212
Emergency number: 19 (police) 15 (fire)
Morocco, Land of the Setting Sun or “El Maghreb el Aqsa” (the Farthest West), is one of the most dramatic, exotic and compelling countries this close to Europe. Its strategic position on the border zone of Africa and Europe, East and West, has long attracted conquerors and colonialists – from the Phoenicians and Romans of antiquity to the Arabs and French of more recent times. Morocco has always adapted and absorbed these many influences, but the country’s wild hinterlands and rugged mountain regions have also sheltered and preserved the indigenous Berber culture. The result is a country of powerful extremes, where the traditional and the modern thrive side by side, and the lifeblood of the country is a vibrant intermingling of dozens of cultural and social elements.
For centuries, Morocco’s breathtaking landscapes and unique heritage have inspired some of the most famous Western artists, from Delacroix to Matisse; writers, from Edith Wharton to William Burroughs; musicians, from Bob Marley to the Rolling Stones, and filmmakers from Orson Welles to Ridley Scott. Iconic cities such as Tangier and Marrakech also became the hippest places to stay for a weekend or a lifetime, their romantic riad palaces and villas the scenes of decadent parties and all manner of expat intrigues, in particular from the 1920s–70s.
From the Riffians of the north to the Berbers of the Atlas and the Arab nomads of the south, the people of Morocco are as distinct as its landscapes. Their individuality is reflected in their dress and local traditions, which remain remarkably intact in most places. The music of Morocco, too, is a vibrant mix of old and new, with a wealth of eclectic influences: Algerian Rai, Saharan sounds originating in Mali and Senegal, the hypnotic rhythms of Gnaoua and Western-inspired hip-hop and rap. All of these elements – dress, music, customs and dialects – are further demarcated by the urban–rural divide that is especially pronounced, and ever-widening, in Morocco.
The Berbers – the ancient indigenous race of Morocco who today account for roughly 60 percent of the population – face a battle to protect their culture in the face of the dominant, but minority, Arab culture that spread throughout Morocco following the Islamic conquest in the 7th century. The native Berber language, Tamazigh, has now begun to be taught in schools, and has only just been recognised as an official language of Morocco, in spite of the fact that most Moroccans speak a variant of it as their first language.
Today most Moroccans are of mixed ancestry – Berber, Arab and black African (the last being mostly Haratin and Gnaoua, which originated from black slaves imported from Mali during the Saadi dynasty) – as can be seen from the rich variety of faces, even within the same family.
With the effects of the Arab Spring still reverberating around North Africa, there is little doubt that King Mohammed VI understands the need for reform; indeed, he cannot ignore the increasingly strong pressure for change. In March 2010, the king made an unprecedented speech, announcing that a new constitution would be drafted that would devolve roughly half his powers to a prime minister elected by the Moroccan people. In addition, Amazigh, the Berber language, would for the first time be recognised as an official language of Morocco alongside Arabic.
As Egypt, Tunisia and Libya struggle with their turbulent transitions, it seems possible that Morocco may stand alone on its path to reform and change, setting an example for the rest of the Maghreb, and indeed the Arab world.
Read more about Morocco in Insight Guides: Morocco
Insight Guide Morocco is illustrated with hundreds of specially commissioned photographs. Our inspirational Best of Morocco section picks out the highlights, ensuring you see the best the country has to offer.For centuries, Morocco's breathtaking landscapes and unique heritage ha...Read full description
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