Discovering the Imperial Cities of Morocco
Discovering the rich culture and history of Morocco is an eye opening effervescent experience. It draws influence from all over the world, from the Middle East to Southern Europe; Morocco is a country with a unique vibrancy forged throughout history.
It's also a country of contrast, from sweeping seaside cities to it's pink dirt medina's, to fully appreciate this country, a well planned Morocco Tour itinerary is necessary, and what better way to discover it's past than through its Imperial Cities.
There are four Imperial Cities of Morocco, each boasting an array of historical sites, bustling medinas and each piecing together a different piece of the puzzle that is Morocco's history.
From King's Palaces to mosques and city squares, the four Imperial Cities of Rabat, Meknes, Marrakech and Fez are must see destinations on for any Moroccan itinerary.
The starting point of any Moroccan adventure begins in vibrant Marrakech, possibly it's most famed tourist destination and also home to the country's' international airport.
Marrakech is a vivacious city that combines every quintessential aspect you'd come to expect from Morocco, and more! From the lively Djemaa El Fna Square, the heart of the Medina, fused with a modern cosmopolitan city centre, Marrakech combines the old and the new Morocco seamlessly.
The historical significance of Marrakech is profound, with sites such as the towering Kotoubia Mosque, dating back to the early 11th century overlooking the media square. The stunning El Badi Palace, built in the 1500's, and the Saadian Tombs, frequented due to the beauty in it's decoration and home to the final resting place of the ruling family of the Saadi Dynasty over 600 years ago.
Marrakech set's the scene for any journey through Morocco and is the perfect destination to begin and end your journey.
Seemingly in constant pandemonium, the workings of the inner Fez medina are beyond mind boggling, yet the 70,000 locals that call this city home seem to manoeuvre through it with no apparent trouble.
Fez' central medina is the biggest in all of Morocco and is the major drawcard to the city for tourists from all over the world - It sells literally anything your mind could quite possibly conjure!
From delicious fresh fruit to it's tantalising spices, hand-made leather goods and glowing silver lanterns, Fez retains its medieval history and remains the world's largest car free central urban area.
The top sites in Fez are all centred around it's handicraft markets, see local tanneries in action from the rooftops of the surrounding leather good stores, watch the intricate art of creating colourful mosaics from start to finish and smell the fresh cuisine being cooked with local spices. Fez presents an insightful journey of Morocco's handicraft economy.
The quieter neighbour to Fez and the former Capital of Morocco some several hundred years ago, Meknes is packed with cultural history.
Although only now a glimmer of it's former glory, Meknes is home to some of Morocco's most remarkable architecture such as the Bab el-Mansour, the grandest gateway of any Imperial City in Morocco. Situated in the city's medina of Pl el-Hedim, the gateway is a must-see in Meknes for it's hand made mosaics which date back to the 17th century.
The Bab el-Monsour is inscribed across the top in Arabic, translating to 'I am the most beautiful gate in Morocco. I'm like the moon in the sky. Property and wealth are written on my front.' - it's a sight every tourist should see for themselves!
The capital of the country, Rabat is strategically placed on the Atlantic ocean and is the focal political city of Morocco.
Aside from it's political and economic importance, Rabat is a city that blends beautiful seaside views with ancient architecture and picturesque Kasbah's.
Featuring Moroccos very own imitation of 'Beverly Hills', driving through the palmed lined streets of Rabat boast charm, beautiful buildings and an opportunity to see where some of Morocco's elite call home.
Strolling the quiet alleys of the Kasbah les Oudaias also provide an insight into the lives of the everyday Moroccan; and more than a few photo opportunities of the beautiful white and blue painted homes!
Finally, a visit to Rabat's most famed landmark, the Le Tour Hassan (Hassan Tower) rounds out Rabat's must-see spots. The tower is surrounded by beautifully tended gardens and offers a sweeping view of the city. The site, which was ambitiously destined to be the second largest mosque in the world was never finished, and today remains a peculiar maze of pillars framing the tower itself. This site is also home to the Mausoleum of Mohammad V, an intricately designed modern site overlooking the tower itself.
Bonus City: Casablanca
Although not one of Morocco's Imperial Cities, Casablanca is the economic powerhouse of Morocco and home to the largest Mosque in the country - thus making it a worthy addition to your trip.
The best itinerary addition for Casablanca is en route from Marrakech to Fez or visa versa.
Perched strategically on the coastline, Casablanca is possibly Morocco's most modern and cosmopolitan city. It's beaches are well equipped for tourists with the major drawcard to the city being the Hassan II Mosque, a staggering 72 foot tall grand mosque, hand tiled by over 10,000 Moroccan men in just six short years - it's an architectural wonder!
Unlike other mosques in Morocco, the Grande Mosque is also open to tourists at certain points throughout the day, giving you the opportunity to tour it's beautiful interior and hear more about it's history in over five different languages.
After a visit to the mosque, visit the very modern Casablanca Shopping Mall, complete with an enormous two storey aquarium, 3D cinema and all of the international brands you'd come to expect from a modern shopping mall.
Travelling in Morocco:
Morocco is a vast country and the landscape varies considerably en route to it's various Imperial Cities. From winding mountainious roads to sandstorms sweeping the highway, it is possible to self navigate through Morocco, but your time will be much better spent travelling with a quality tour company.
The best way to get the most out of your Morocco Tour is to travel with a tour expert. Navigating the inner workings of Morocco's medinas, city centres and souks can be a headache for the unprepared traveller, however with the right tour guide, this is made easy.
Morocco is also a fantastic destination to travel as a female, couple or solo traveller at any age, but again, your experience will be far more seamless by choosing the right tour operator. For the more adventurous there are overnight bus options from Marrakech both north and south and you can also take a train to the Northern parts of Morocco such as Casablanca.
Encounters Travel are a fantastic, small scale, personal yet still budget conscious tour operator that specialises in tours of the Imperial Moroccan Cities. Their eight day tour takes in all the highlights necessary in discovering these amazing cities and really takes the leg work out of planning.
I've personally toured with this company on this very tour, along with my mother who joined me on the adventure. The tour was perfect for both of us, it covered our delicious meals, accommodation in central spots and a fantastic, local knowledgable guide who taught us more about Morocco in eight days than we were likely to learn in a lifetime!
Safaris also leave commonly from Marrakech and can take anywhere from one night to a few days trekking camel back through the desert if you're really up for an authentic Moroccan experience!
Morocco is a fusion of cultures with the predominate religion being muslim. It's highly advisable for women in particular to dress modestly and consider covering your shoulders and at least to your knees. As in any country, respect cultural norms as not only is it polite to the locals, but it will also save you any unwanted attention.