It seems like the other side of the world. Muezzins calling Muslim followers to prayer, huge mosques and minarets reaching to the sky, bazaars that glint with gold as they did a thousand years ago; it truly is a magical world. For those of us who have always been fascinated with tales of Aladdin and Ali Baba, we don’t need to go to Baghdad or Moorish Spain to experience the ancient culture (unfortunately there are very few hints anywhere in the world of that medieval Islamic culture). You just need to visit North Africa and soak in the ambiance of Morocco.
Marrakesh is one of the most famous and most well-visited cities in this vibrant country. You will probably notice the minaret (tower) of Koutoubia Mosque soon after you arrive. The minaret has an impressive history dating from the 1100s. A striking amount of detail and architectural grandeur was used to create the Koutoubia minaret and mosque. Nearby you will also find an Almoravid Palace (the Almoravids were one of many dynasties who ruled the Islamic world) which makes for a great visit. Keep in mind that if you are not of the Islamic faith, your entrance to the grounds will be restricted, but you can still tour the exterior.
You can’t go to Marrakesh without being immersed in the spirituality of the country’s population, and another place where religion holds high court is the Ali Ben Youssef Madrasa (also spelled Medersa). Madrasas were schools that were famous throughout Islam in the Middle Ages and were considered even by Europeans to be places of learning and high prestige. Keep in mind to pay the proper respect to these places that were once held in high regard by people all across the medieval world. Take time to stop and examine a wall or ceiling; notice small patches of artwork instead of trying to soak in the big picture.
For another glimpse of the how the “important” people lived in Marrakesh, visit Bahia Palace. Although it isn’t as old as many of Marrakesh’s historical attractions (being built during the last turn of the century) it is still worthy of a visit and many memories. Some of the most striking artwork is contained within the bright tiles and wall decorations that characterize Islamic art. Stop by and be awed by the details that helped to bring the whole picture together.
Another famous Moroccan city, Casablanca, is next on our agenda. The Spanish name, meaning “white house,” doesn’t seem to fit this Middle Eastern city. You will find that religion permeates daily life here as well. If you want to soak in this peaceful atmosphere, try the Hassan II Mosque. It is unique because anyone can go inside the complex, regardless of religious conviction. Take advantage of this and you won’t regret it. You will find plenty of the interior beauty that Islamic culture is famous for. Hassan II Mosque’s striking tower is a photographic wonder waiting to be explored.
Like in Marrakesh, mosques often sit side by side with royal residences and fancy hideaways for Marrakesh VIPs. Casablanca’s Royal Palace is one of these places. You will find a high level of security here, so you may be content with gazing at the outside architecture. After all, no one wants to be deported back to America because they were “peeking!” You’ll discover there is quite enough that you are allowed to visit in Casablanca that will keep you content.
Come to Fez to experience yet another aspect of amazing Morocco. This is a place that words can’t describe, where old meets new in a striking and fascinating way. Rather than rushing around visiting attraction after attraction, take time to notice what you are seeing. Gaze through gilded archways; find unique angles for pictures. In many ways, life hasn’t changed since the days of Aladdin. It is still a simple struggle to live day to day. In many ways, Fez is more of a visual treat than a place crawling with tourist attractions. Even the huge palm trees that sprout over the city give the place a romantic air.
For those who want to experience Morocco in the United States, there is actually a way to do this! Hop on down to Orlando, Florida, to EPCOT’s “World Showcase.” The Morocco pavilion is a beautifully detailed, faithful reconstruction of this venerable country. The artwork was actually created by Moroccans and the Koutoubia prayer minaret is a great reproduction. The ambiance of the pavilion is enough to make you think you truly have landed in Morocco.