Perhaps one of our favorite countries to visit, the kingdom of Morocco is found along the northwest coast of Africa and is one of only three nations – along with Spain and France – to have both Atlantic and Mediterranean coastlines, which has long made it a prominent regional power who has enjoyed more independence than that of its neighbors thanks to its distinct blend of Arab, Berber, Sub-Saharan African, and European cultures. Characterized by a rugged mountainous interior and large tracts of desert, Morocco has long been recognized as the western most border of the Muslim world and is often simply referred to as Al-Maghribmeaning “the West,” while its English name is derived from the Spanish and Portuguese names “Marruecos” and “Marrocos” which in turn had been taken from the medieval Latin name for the former Almoravid dynasty [1040–1147 CE] and the Almohad Caliphate [1121–1269 CE] capital Marrakesh. However even this was derived from the Berber “Mur N’Akush” meaning “Land of God,” and illustrative of the many influences the country has felt over its history.

The area itself has been inhabited since Paleolithic times [190’000–90’000 BCE] but the first significant societies weren’t established until approximately twenty-two thousand years ago and shared similarities to the Iberian cultures of that period. However it would be the Phoenicians [1200–539 BCE] that would draw the region into the emerging Mediterranean trade as they established settlements throughout the early Classical period. The first true Moroccan kingdom would have to wait approximately five hundred years for the Berber king Bocchus I to establish Mauretania [110–33 BCE], but would unfortunately be shortlived as the Roman Empire [509 BCE – 476 AD] took control of the region for almost six centuries until its fall during the Vandals and Visigoths incursions which in turn paved the way for the first Islamic conquest. During all of this many Berber tribes maintained their own customs and even attempted to form their own independent kingdoms only forty years into Arab rule, with control of the region shifting hands between them and foreign Caliphates until the rise of the eleventh century Almoravid and Almohad Berber dynasties who seized power and turned their attentions outward upon the surrounding Mediterranean region. So successful were they that successive dynasties would emulate them, expanding their spheres of influence into Algeria and Spain before being ended by the Reconquista and Portuguese efforts to control the Atlantic sea trade in the fifteenth century.

Volubilis – Roman outpost

This unfortunately would spell the end for the Wattasid dynasty [1472–1554 CE] who would be limited from this point to Morocco’s interior and eventually overcome by the Saadian dynasty [1554–1659 CE] and ultimately the Alaouite dynasty [Founded 1631] who still rules the country to this day.

Hassan II mosque – Casablanca, Morocco

Train depot – Meknes, Morocco