Morocco is a country made legendary by such cities as the fabled Casablanca, and by a fluid movement of cultures across the centuries. A Moroccan cruise will reveal a kaleidoscope created from indigenous Berber, Arab and Roman, to Spanish and French influences. Men and women wear beautifully-colored traditional dress, and take great pride in the quality of home-cooked Moroccan cuisine. The food in Morocco is some of the best that can be found in Africa and the Mediterranean, with an exquisite blend of spices and a delicious focus on meats and couscous. A Mediterranean cruise would be incomplete without a visit to this beautiful African country!
Historic Cities and Cultures of Morocco
The region of modern-day Morocco has been inhabited since 8,000 BC. The Berbers were the first significant civilization to call the region home. They are an indigenous group that has lived North Africa for centuries, and have seen a long line of invaders, colonizers, and empires come and go on the northern reaches of the continent.
As Phoenicians founded Carthage and settled the surrounding regions, the Berbers became exposed to the wider world of the Mediterranean through trade and other encounters. Over the years, the Roman Empire took hold of Morocco, followed by the Vandals, Visigoths, and Byzantines. The Berbers patiently maintained their own strongholds in the mountainous highlands.
Islam came to the area in the seventh century, and a widespread assimilation took place across the countryside. As Arabs exerted their influence on the region, kingdoms formed and declined until finally the country broke away from the distant rulers of Baghdad. The Idrisid Dynasty established their capital as Fes, and soon became a considerable regional power.
Morocco didn’t reach its height as a powerful country until the Berber dynasties of he 11th century, when its reach extended across most of Northern Africa. Science, mathematics, medicine, and astronomy flourished under the Berbers’ rule. A Moroccan cruise will reveal some of the cultural legacies of this influential era.
Morocco's Kaliedoscope of Culture
Morocco’s eventful history has helped to create a culture influenced by many others: Phoenicians, Jews, Arabs, Romans, Moors, etc. Morocco has therefore experienced a chain of religious transformations from pagan to Judaism, Christianity, and finally to Islam. It is a crossroads of the Mediterranean, Africa, the Sahara, and the Arab world.
The great majority of Moroccans, 99%, identify themselves as Berber-Arabs. Arabic and Berber are spoken widely throughout the country, although French is still used as a business language.
Visitors to Morocco will see many men wearing the traditional clothing, called djellaba, which is a long loose tunic with full sleeves. They wear baboosh, leather heel-less slippers, on their feet, and sometimes a cap on the head for special occasions. Women also wear djebella, but in beautiful bright colors with beads or ornate stitching, often with gold or silver high-heeled slippers.
The legendary city of Casablanca is located in Morocco, and a Moroccan cruise may stop there for sightseeing. It is now Morocco’s chief seaport on the Atlantic, and is home to Hassan II University and the Great Mosque. Casablanca is Morocco’s largest city, one of the best places to encounter the colorful bazaars that characterize the country.
Resistance and Nationalism
The Alaouite Dynasty took control of Morocco in the 17th century, and faced increasing aggression from the Spanish and Ottoman Empires. It annexed modern-day Tangier in an effort to stave off impending invasion.
Morocco was the first nation to offer recognition to the United States as a country in 1777. Morocco’s sultan declared American merchant ships to be under his protection from the pirates ravaging the Barbary Coast. Today, the U.S.’s oldest friendship treaty remains unbroken with Morocco.
The country resisted European colonization even as interest in the region escalated in the 17th and 18th centuries. In 1904, Spain and France concluded a secret agreement that divided the country between the two powers. Germany attempted to gain some control of the mineral-rich country in 1905, nearly sparking a European war. The Moroccan sultan forced an agreement that maintained his control over his kingdom and curtailed French privileges. Six years later, the sultan submitted and allowed the nation to become a French protectorate. Spain maintained control of the south, which became known as the Spanish Sahara. Many Moroccan soldiers served in the French army during the World Wars.
Moroccan nationalism spread throughout the country during the 19th century, flaring up in 1953 when the French deposed the sultan; the Moroccan people forced his return to the throne two years later. In 1956, both Spain and France grudgingly recognized Moroccan sovereignty. Those years are known as the Revolution of the King and the People, as it strengthened the bond between the sultan and his kingdom. It is celebrated in the country every year on August 20. An African cruise may provide the opportunity to take part in these festivities.
Morocco has an astonishing variety of wildlife that roam within its borders. One of the highlights of a Moroccan cruise is a glimpse of the country’s famous Barbary ape. It inhabits the beautiful cedar forests of the Atlas Mountains, and is the best known of the Old World monkeys.
Over 100 other mammals can also be found in Morocco, including the jackal, red fox, and African Savannah hare. Wildcats include cheetahs, lions, leopards, and sand cats. The rare elephant shrew may also be seen, high in the Atlas Mountains.
The wetlands of Morocco are host to a huge amount of birdlife. The exotic flamingo may be found here, as well as black-winged stilts ,ad little-ringed plovers, alongside more common ibises, herons, and ospreys.
An African cruise may offer the chance to visit one of Morocco’s many national parks. Bokkoyas and Merdja Zerga Biological Reserves, Sous-Massa, and Toubkal are just some examples of protected areas in the country.
Some of the Best Food in the Mediterranean
Morocco’s cuisine has been as diversely influenced as its culture by its colorful history. Travelers will find tastes reminiscent of the Mediterranean, Middle East, Moorish, African, Iberian, and Berber.
Moroccan dishes are generally spiced in a variety of flavors: cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, coriander, saffron, mint, and pepper are just a few. Couscous is a common base of most dishes.
Moroccan meals usually start with hot or cold salads, such as tomato and green pepper or eggplant, followed by a stew that often has a seafood base. A main dish of lamb or chicken will come next, with a plate of couscous topped with vegetables. The roasted lamb might be mechoui, or the chicken djej emshmel, cooked with olives and lemons. Dessert may come in the form of “gazelle’s horns”, a pastry stuffed with almond paste and sprinkled with sugar, or honey cakes. The most popular pastry is the bisteeya, which is a savory three layers of chicken, eggs, and lemony onion sauce.
A Moroccan cruise will feature some of the best food in Africa and the Mediterranean, although locals are quick to point out that it won’t be found in the restaurants. They acknowledge that the best food is cooked in the Moroccan home.
A Geographical Crossroads
Morocco is a North African country, with extensive coastline along both the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. It is just across the narrow Strait of Gibraltar from Spain, and bordered by Algeria and Western Sahara. The capital city is Rabat, although the fabled Casablanca is the largest city in the country.
The breathtaking Atlas Mountains cover the central and southern portions of Morocco. They are divided into the Middle Atlas and the High Atlas, and each are accessible to those adventurous travelers on a Moroccan cruise.
A Moroccan cruise will doubtlessly reveal the long stretches of Mediterranean beach that the country boasts. The warm, blue waters are a perfect contrast to the rich coastal plains that nudge up to their edges.
Morocco is a constitutional monarchy with an elected Parliament. The King of Morocco appoints the Walis (governors) who administer the country’s 16 regions. The King has vast administrative powers: he appoints the prime minister, members of government, can terminate the term of any minister, call for new elections, dissolve the Parliament, or rule by decree. He is Morocco’s religious leader as well as the head of the military.
Parliament consists of the Chamber of Counselors and the Chamber of Representatives. It has limited powers that include budget concerns, some investigations, and approval authority.
Morocco’s government is exceptionally stable, with the last elections in 2002 ruled free and fair. King VI declared that the government was working toward meaningful education, gainful employment, economic development, and increased infrastructure within the country. These are admirable goals, as the country’s literacy rate among women is only about 34%, and as low as 10% in rural areas.
Because Morocco has such a varied landscape, its weather patterns are diverse. Travelers on a Mediterranean cruise should be prepared for different temperatures depending on where in Morocco they plan to visit. The Atlas Mountains are covered in snow throughout most of the year, and temperatures at high altitudes can dip below zero, while some inland areas can reach 100 degrees in the summer.
Morocco, rather than a single rainy season, has some rainy months across the year, mainly April and May, and October and November. The winter in the Saharan south of the country is always dry and very cold.
Temperatures along the coast are perfect for a beach vacation. Summer temperatures range between a perfect 64 and 79 degrees, although winter temperatures can dip to between 45 and 65 degrees.
The Legacy of Carthage
Berber tribes, the indigenous people of North Africa, were the first inhabitants of what is now Tunisia. They were responsible for the earliest expressions of Saharan rock art. Its coast was settled around the 10th century BC by Phoenicians migrating from ancient Canaan.
The great city of Carthage rose two centuries later. It became one of the richest and most advanced cities along the Mediterranean coast. It’s reach extended all the way to Sicily at its height. The glory of the city under the Phoenicians came to an end in 146 BC, when its armies suffered great losses to Rome. The city came under Roman control, and became the capital of Rome’s empire in North Africa, as well as a center for early Christianity.
Carthage changed hands in quick succession in the 5th century when it was captured by the Vandals, and recaptured by the Byzantines a century later. Another 100 years later, it fell to the Arab invasion. They destroyed the city, and replaced it with Tunis as the capital of the region. The area was controlled over the next centuries by Berbers, Turks from the Ottoman Empire, and Arabs, with a brief interlude in the 1600s as a pirate stronghold. A Tunisian cruise may off the opportunity to discover this pirate legacy along the Barbary Coast.