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Things to know: history, climate, religion

Background to Morocco:

Religion and culture

Much of Moroccan culture revolves around religion and the family. Although fairly liberal by the standards of many Muslim countries, Islam is still a way of life for the majority. Even those who don’t visit the local mosque five times a day (as decreed by the Qu’ran) have strong religious beliefs. Most social events centre around the family, with wedding and birth celebrations going on for days on end. However, the country is changing at a lightning fast pace, with young urban Moroccans taking their cue from French culture, bars and nightclubs opening up in cities, and improving rights for women under the youngforward-thinking King Mohamed VI.

That said, Morocco remains a poor country with a huge proportion of the 32 million strong populations living on fairly limited means. The rich minority continues to pull the strings and the economic gap between the swish modern urban centres and rural communities continues to widen. On our tours through Morocco, this fact will certainly not escape one’s notice.

Moroccans are generally-speaking, warm, friendly, well-mannered and extremely hospitable people who are always pleased to welcome foreign visitors to their country.

History:

  • Some important landmarks in the history of Morocco:
  • 146AD Volubilis (near Meknes) is established by the Romans
  • 714 Berbers embrace Islam after first Arab incursions
  • 788 First Arab dynasty established in Morocco
  • 807 Idris II founds Fez
  • 1062 Marrakech founded by the Almoravid dynasty
  • 1062-1669 Series of dynasties take power and drive out Christianity
  • 1912 The Treaty of Fez when Morocco becomes a French protectorate
  • 1956 Morocco gains independence from France
  • 1975 The Green March, where 350,000 Moroccans claim the Western Sahara from Spain
  • 1976 – Fate of the disputed territory remains undecided
  • 1999 King Hassan II dies and his son Mohamed VI takes power

Geography:

Morocco is the most mountainous country in North Africa and has enormous variations in topography across the country. There are numerous mountain ranges; the most important in terms of land mass are the High Atlas, the Middle Atlas, the Anti-Atlas and the Rif mountains. The Atlas Mountains stretch all the way from the Algerian border to the Atlantic coast and have numerous sub-chains. In the south the volcanic ranges of the Sirwa and the Saghro lie just south of the Atlas and other more minor ranges extend towards the desert.

Marrakech sits on a flat (and quite fertile), plain and much of central Morocco is fairly flat and classified as semi-arid. Morocco has some 3200km of Atlantic and Mediterranean coast, and much of the south of the country is classified as desert. The south of the country in fact borders the Sahara desert.

Environment and Wildlife:

Morocco has a wide diversity of flora, from cedar forests in the Middle Atlas, to oak, thuya and pine forests in the High Atlas. Walnut and almond trees are also widespread in the villages of the High Atlas. Coastal areas support more “Mediterranean” vegetation, and the plains around Marrakech are home to mile upon mile of olive groves and citrus orchards. Vegetation peters out as you head into the Deep South, with acacia and date palm trees among the few species to thrive. Spring is a wonderful time to visit the mountain areas of Morocco when snow melt and warm sun spawn great carpets of colourful wild flowers.

Morocco is an interesting and diverse destination for bird watchers. Highlights include one of the last remaining colonies of the bald ibis, on the Atlantic coast, and a huge variety of birds found in mountain habitats. Morocco’s mammals include the Barbary fallow deer, Barbary monkey, Atlas red fox, and wild cats (rarely sighted). Snakes and scorpions are prevalent in desert areas, but rarely cause injury to man!

Climate:

In a country the size of Morocco and in one with such varying topography it is difficult to generalise about climate so is best divided into zones: coastal areas tend to have a less extreme and more temperate climate than the interior, feeling pleasantly warm in winter and not ferociously hot in summer. Most Atlantic regions benefit from a stiff sea breeze which keeps summer temperatures down, and rainfall levels, although not high, are significantly higher than in low lying areas in the interior of the country.

The plains of the interior, for example around Marrakech and Fez show extremes of temperature, from punishingly hot in summer (particularly during July and August) to cold in winter, although the Moroccan sun is always hot, year round. Precipitation levels are very low, and any rain that does fall is most likely in November, February and April.

The Atlas Mountains and their associated sub-ranges are subject to variable climatic conditions with much higher levels of precipitation (falling both as rain and snow in the high mountains), and colder – often sub-zero – conditions. There are significant regional variations, but generally the north side of the mountains is more bearably hot in summer and colder in winter than the south side. Night time winter temperatures can fall as low as -10ºC and daytime summer temperatures can climb into the upper 30sºC.

The south of Morocco is notoriously hot in summer, particularly on the fringes of the Sahara. It’s not the time to visit these regions with burning hot sandstorms regularly flaring up. In winter (particularly December and January), daytime temperatures are very pleasant but there’s a dramatic tailing off by evening time and at night temperatures can drop well below freezing.

PS. The north of Morocco is very lush by comparison as a result of much higher rainfall and temperate conditions.

Please consult your trip dossier for information more specific to your tour.

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