Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Morocco - Maroc A few facts for a short visit

Morocco is located on the northwestern corner of Africa. It is bordered with Algeria to the east and southeast, Mauritania to the south, to west by the Atlantic Ocean and north east by the Mediterranean. It is a fantastic country to visit with great contrasts of wealth and poverty. It is slightly smaller than France or Spain and it slightly larger than California,USA.

From a geographical point of view it is divided into four zones: - The Coastal area - Atlantic and Mediterranean - The plains with the great cities. The Rif and Atlas Mountains and the Sahara - desert and oasis.
A section of History: November 2005 saw the 50th anniversary of independence from French and Spanish rule. The country has a monarch at the head of state and an elected government. Prior to 1956 it was divided into French and Spanish zones. The Spanish running Tetouan, the Rif, Mediterranean and North Atlantic coast and parts of the Western Sahara and the French running the main cities - Casablanca, Fes, Marrakech and Rabat the capital. There is a very a much a French influence the cities and they even have the same yellow Post office letter boxes as in France and when entering the Motorway /autoroute network, you could briefly think you were in France looking at the signage.
The Spanish still have their two colonies Ceuta (opposite Gibraltar) and Melilla that run an hour ahead on Spanish time.
It is a constitutional monarchy with a popularly elected parliament, but the king has considerable excecutive powers. The country is a moderate Arab state which maintains close relations with Europe and the USA and was granted major non-NATO ally status in 2004. The political situation is stable.
The Economy: For many years Morocco has suffered from a weak economy based on agriculture. Over the last five years (from 2001) the economy has begun to expand, growing by 6.8 per cent in 2004. Today the three largest revenue earners are tourism, export of phosphates and remittances from expatriate Moroccans.The expanding economy owes much to the policies of King Mohammed VI who succeeded his conservative father in 1999. He is keen to see the country develop as a modern Islamic nation and to encourage foreign investment, that creates employment. Morocco has a Free Trade Agreement with the USA which took effect in January 2006. This allows for 98 per cent of trade in consumer and industrial products to be tariff free. A Free Trade Agreement with the EU will take effect in 2010.
Climate:The rugged mountain ranges and the Atlantic Ocean moderate the tropical heat of the country. The temperature is 16 degrees - 23 degrees C (62-73 F) on the west coast and 10 to 27 C (50 -81 F) in the interior. There are small variations of temperature along the Atlantic coast and the interior has extreme variations. The Atlas Mountains that divert the Atlantic winds have a pre-Saharan climate. The eastern slopes are relatively cool and well watered. The rainy season is from October to November and April to May. The maximum annual rain is in the north west.
MAIN CITIES Many of the larger towns and cities have the traditional old town "Medina" and a "Ville Nouvelle" where you will normally find hotels serving alcohol

Casablanca: Is the Principal city of Morocco. Although not the Capital (See Rabat below) with a population of over 5 million, it is close to the Aeroport Mohammed V. It is a large port city, larger than Marseilles in France - It was modeled in this port under French colonial rule. The city has the Mosquee Hassan II, built with a glass floor on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean. The minaret is the tallest in the world - 200 hundred meters high. The roof also opens and shuts.
The city has the interesting Old Medina dating from the late 19th century. Casablanca is well known for the famous 1940's film with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. As the second world war was on - it was actually filmed in Hollywood. The Hotel Hyatt Regency located on the Place des Nations has a bar decorated from this film. Nearer the port and the docks Mosquee Hassan II you can find "Rick's bar" There is plenty to do and see here for 3/4 days.

Rabat: The Capital city -Since independence in 1956 is a lot smaller than Casablanca. The lively area is the Medina with many good value places to eat and this borders onto the beach. Points of interest are the Hassan Mosque, Mohammed V Mausoleum, The Kasbah des Oudaisas and the Citadel of Chellah.

Tangier / Tanja / Tanger:Is an international city located on the Atlantic/Mediterranean border that up to independence in 1956 had a special status as an "International zone". There is an international airport at Ibn Batouta and the main attractions are Place de France, The Grand Socco, The Medina, The Kasbah and the Dar el Makhzen.
Fes: Is the oldest of the Imperial Capitals. It is also a complete medieval city in the Arab world. There is an airport 15 km away at Sais. Sights to see: Fes el Bali, Medina, Ville Nouvelle, Merenid tombs and The Bou Inania.

Meknes:It is a sprawling prosperous provincial city situated south west of Fes. What to see:- The Imperial City, Bab Mansour, The Rouah and The Medina and the Souks (markets like in many Moroccan towns)

Marrakesh / Marrakech: Was called "Morocco City" by early travelers. It is Morocco's second largest city after Casablanca. A visitor there will immediately see the difference in wealth and people living on a day to day existence. The Djemaa el Fna is described as the most wonderful city square in the world. It is an open air circus with snake charmers, acrobats, musicians and very inexpensive restaurants that are wheeled out from a storage yard at night
holiday resort after the original town was ruined by an earthquake in 1960. It is a wonderful to experience to visit this city.

Essaouira: Is a traditional fishing town west of Marrakech on the Atlantic coast. It is considered fashionable with foreign holiday home buyers.

Travel: The railway network that is run by ONCF is mostly in the north. A good service that is not expensive to travel on and even first class travel does not cost a lot. There is a motorway /autoroute along the north west coast (south of Casablanca to Tangier and to Fes.
Taxis are a feature of the country. The "Grand" taxi operate on a wide selection of routes - normally a Mercedes that came from the 1970s / 1980's - don't expect to find seat belts!. These carry up to 6 passengers and it is often normal to share the taxi. Each town or city will have its "Petit Taxi" a much smaller (and nearly as old Peugeot 205 / Fiat Uno) and there will be a different colour for each town. - Red in Casablanca - blue in Rabat - yellowish brown in Marrakesh etc. These are very econominical for traveling around in. Finally there are the buses - they are slightly cheaper than the Grand Taxi.

Riads - houses built around a patio garden. They are like a guest house although many are being transformed into houses to rent out to tourists. The interest in this type of property took off in Marrakesh where many a fine example can be found, some now just offering food.
Currency: - Dirham (DH)=100 centimes . Morocco is well worth a visit

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