The diversified geography, the rich history and the multicultural atmosphere of Morocco make of this country a unique place in the world. A mix of Berbers, Arabs and other African ethnicities meet in towns full of mosques and traditional Kasbahs alternating to the modern architecture. Also known as Maghreb el-Aqsa (the westernmost country of the Muslim world), Morocco is a country radically different for many aspects from the rest of the North Africa. Also geography of Morocco is quite peculiar, having the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean bordering big part of the territory respectively in the North and in the West. The country is then joined to the African continent by the Sahara and it is diagonally bisected by the mountain chains of the High and Middle Atlas. The Rif Mountains, mainly inhabited by Berber people, stretch over the region bordering the Mediterranean from the North-West to the North-East.
As direct consequence, Morocco does not have a uniform climate. It is constantly cooled by the moist breeze coming from the North-West and warmed by hot and dry winds coming from the Eastern desert regions. Generally speaking, summer in Morocco is characterised by hot arid climate, while winter is generally mild except in the mountains.
Since gaining independence from France in 1956, Morocco has undergone deep social and cultural change and the society, characterised by an unusual percentage of young people (nearly 40% of the population is under 15 years old), is evidently breaking away from the past.
Morocco attracts more than 10 million tourists every year, mainly from the nearby Spain and from the rest of Europe. The government is heavily investing in the touristic industry and the country has now a quite efficient rail and road infrastructure able to connect the major cities and tourist destinations in a relatively short time despite their significant distance. Morocco’s capital city is Rabat; its largest city is its main port, Casablanca. Other major cities include Agadir, Fes, Marrakesh, Meknes, Ouarzazat, Tangier and Tétouan. The country is deeply characterised by the presence of Medinas (meaning “town” in Arabic language) all over its territory. Almost all medinas have the same layout and structure. The typical one is made up of a densely populated urban conglomeration protected by defensive wall with lookout towers, while the centre is generally cut through by wide avenues going from one main gateway to the opposite one. The mosque and the souks are always located in the middle of the town. Open-air souks are markets where crafts and food are sold, but they also work as social aggregators. The quarters of a medina are no more than loosely defined area. Each quarter, also known as hawma, has a communal oven, a hammam (steam bath), a Koranic school and a grocery shop selling basic necessities.
Morocco has successfully maintained over the years a certain cultural equality and stability between the Berber (also known as Tamazight) and the Arabic languages. Despite not being taught at school, Berber language still remains a widely spoken language in everyday life and commonly heard in the Moroccan media. According to statistics, two thirds of Moroccans today are Berber in cultural and linguistic terms. The Berbers settled in Morocco at different times and strictly speaking they do not actually make up a homogenous race. Finding refuge in the mountains, they survived several successive invasions and their cultural background did not receive some many external influences, also thanks to the strength of their tribal and family ties. The tribal structure is quite complex, however three different groups with their own histories can be identified. The Masmouda, which live mostly in the western High Atlas and are prevalently settled farmers. The Sanhaja, which are nomadic herdsmen, live in the central and eastern High Atlas, the middle Atlas and the Rif. The Zenets instead are hunters and herdsmen who came from the East and settled in eastern Morocco.
Interestingly, the basics of the Moroccan cuisine come from the rural Berber people even if many visible influences arrived from neighbouring lands. Arabs gradually introduced the use of the bread and of spices such as cinnamon, saffron, ginger, cumin, coriander and turmeric. They also brought into the local cuisine products like lemons, peppers and olives from Spain. Lamb meat and couscous definitely represent the backbone of Moroccan cookery, but fish and seafood are also widely present especially along the coastal region. Typical dishes include harira (a soup traditionally served at sunset during Ramadan to break the fast), tagine (a slow-cooked stew actually named from the traditional earthernware container used to cook it) and grilled merguez (spicy red sausages). Green mint tea is instead the national drink in Morocco and since it is caffeine-free it is served also several times a day. Although being drunk less than mint tea, coffee is another common beverage. Moroccan people like to drink very strong coffee, with (noss noss) or without milk (qahwa kahla). Sometimes almond milk is used in place of cow milk.
One of the most typical aspects of the Moroccan culture lies in the tradition of manufacturing utilitarian objects such as carpets, leatherwork and pottery and injecting beauty into any single craft. Gold leaf decoration is very frequently applied to handbags, desk sets and sheepskin binding for the Koran. Carpets are another popular product and a ubiquitous part of the house decoration. Those are made using bright colours and following a precise symmetry. However, knotting techniques can vary deeply from one region to another. Decorated pottery and shining brass jugs complete the traditional set of objects that are very easy to find in any city market.