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“Traveling west, with some difficulty, I have found a land of great bounty,
sensuality, and paradox.”
-Letter from a 15th century Islamic traveler,
on first encountering Morocco
Morocco, the Maghreb, or Land of the Furthest West, is indeed a paradox. It is a land apart, nestled on the great northwestern shoulder of Africa, separated from the rest of its African neighbors by imposing mountain ranges and the vast Saharan desert. And yet, the country is also a melting pot of African, Islamic, European and indigenous Berber influences, reaching back millennia.
It was the first Islamic kingdom, part of the larger dar-al-Islam, a vast stretch of Islamic countries stretching across the northern part of the African continent. And it remains one of the most culturally diverse Islamic nations, with centuries-old Jewish enclaves.
Within Morocco’s boundaries, simple Berber villages, their ways untouched for hundreds of years, coexist with the most sophisticated Imperial cities. The kingdom is home to the starkly beautiful minimalism of the desert, and the constant bustle of the cosmopolitan medina. The West is here, too, in the legacy of post-colonial French and in more contemporary influences, like the ring of world-class golf courses the country is increasingly known for. In fact, it’s possible, in a city like Fez, to see ancient, medieval and contemporary cultures coexisting side-by-side.
What binds Morocco together is the distinctive spirit of her people. Moroccan tolerance, hospitality and generosity are legendary – and with good reason: they are vital components of the culture. In Morocco, you will likely receive many invitations for share tea, if not a full meal. These should not be viewed cynically – they are genuine expressions of the deep social bonds all members of Moroccan society feel.
In the consumer-driven culture of the West, Morocco is often known for the quality of crafts from her souks. These are indeed some of the most remarkable expressions of human creativity, made all the more powerful by the desert that serves as backdrop to their creation.
Yet what’s often missed in the West is to see how all of these elements come together: art, architecture, music, cuisine, and craft all blend with history, cultural and social values to profoundly give shape to life in this extraordinary place.
This is the magic of Morocco, and it can only be witnessed firsthand!