BACKGROUND INFORMATION on MOROCCO
Perched on the North West tip of Africa, pierced by the mighty Atlas Mountains and on the edge of the vast Saharan basin, Morocco is endowed with a rich and complex cultural history…
With a population of over 32 million people and an area of 710,850 square kilometers, the political capital city is Rabat, with other major cities including Casablanca, Marrakech and Fes. King Mohammed VI leads a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament. The official languages are Arabic and Berber. Moroccan Arabic, called Darija is the local dialect. French is also widely spoken.
At the very heart of Morocco lies the enduring culture of the indigenous Amazigh (Berber) people (plural – Imazighen). Ancient traditions continue alongside the Arab Islamic overlay introduced in the 7th century and the various influences brought throughout its history by the Phoenicians, the Romans, Portuguese, Spanish and most recently the French. The Amazigh people make up over half of the population in a society that has very strong links with the Arab world, as well as Africa and Europe. The diverse culture retains age-old traditional values that cherish family and community while also striving to embrace aspects of the modern world, especially new technology, education, improved human rights and standards of living.
The history of Morocco spans many centuries with a series of ruling dynasties. The first Arab Islamic state began with the Idrisid dynasty in 780AD. Others followed with the most recent Alaouite dynasty, who have ruled since 1666. In the 20th century, European power struggles had their impact, dividing Morocco into a French and Spanish ‘protectorate’. In 1956, after 44 years of occupation Morocco regained independence from France as the Kingdom of Morocco.
The main religion in Morocco is Islam (most are the Sunni variant) and many people pray 5 times a day and visit the Mosque on Friday afternoons for communal prayer. You will get to know the regular call to prayer that sounds out across the landscape throughout the day. A Mosque is considered a holy place and only Muslims are allowed to enter them in Morocco. Moroccans a generally very tolerant of varying religious beliefs although it is illegal to speak against Islam or attempt to convert Moroccan residents to an alternative belief. There are also many Christians, mostly amongst the foreigners and people of French descent, as well as a small Jewish community. Catholic and Protestant churches, and synagogues can be found in all of the major cities.
Ramadan is the Holy Month of the Islamic calendar when people fast from sunrise until sunset. This means no food, water, cigarettes or sex. Many cafes and restaurants are closed during the day, except for those catering for tourists. Tourists are not expected to fast but if visiting Morocco during Ramadan we encourage our guests to show respect and try not to eat or drink in public. You will possibly experience some disruption as tourist venues might close early to allow staff to take time to break their fast or staff may disappear for a short time to eat at sunset. Please be mindful of your driver or guide who will need time to break their fast or who may seem a bit tired during the day.
Morocco is described as having a cool climate with a hot sun, with a great variety of conditions throughout the regions and throughout the seasons each year. Summer can be extremely hot, especially inland and in the southern Saharan region, with cooler conditions near the mountains and coast. Winter snow caps the Atlas Mountains, while you can enjoy sunny days in the Sahara, but the nights are cold. Check weather predictions for the season before your visit.
Citizens holding passports from U.S., Australia and most of Europe do not need a visa to enter the Kingdom of Morocco for up to 90 days. Check the status for your country before you come. If your stay is longer than 90 days, a resident permit is required. However, you must ensure that your passport is valid for at least 6 months.
The Moroccan Dirham cannot usually be obtained or exchanged outside of the country. Currency can be exchanged at the airport on arrival and ATMs are readily available. Travellers Cheques are less common these days but can be exchanged at any bank. Retain your transaction receipts when making a withdrawal as they are required if you want to convert left over dirham at the airport on departure. http://www.xe.com/currencyconverter/
You will possibly find Morocco is like nothing else you have ever experienced. The hustle and bustle of the souks (markets) in the ancient Medinas of the imperial cities are a total sensory overload, with an intensity of colour, aromatic exotic oils and spices and the abundant decoration of woven, painted, carved and tiled surfaces.
That urban life is juxtaposed with the spectacular geography and landscape where the Atlas Mountains take your mind and soul back to the geological formation of the Earth’s crust, when lava flowed and continents collided. The Sahara also presents another concept of time and space with its vast space and extreme climate.
It is a country of great contrasts. Medieval architecture is now peppered with satellite dishes, and a network of electrical cables and wiring bring the new world media to the masses. While many people still plough and reap the crops by hand, or do their washing in the river, everyone seems to have at least one mobile phone!
Many services that we take for granted at home are not available in Morocco. You will inevitably see some evidence of poverty and struggle in a poor economy where infrastructure and welfare services may not exist. In particular many people find the litter of rubbish disturbing. Please consider the basic needs that have to be met before the environment can become a priority.
Moroccan’s themselves give alms to the poor and you may feel compelled to give as well. We only ask that you do not ever give anything to children. Problems have arisen where children take to begging instead of attending school. Even giving sweets or pencils is discouraged. If you feel compelled to give something, please find an adult guardian. At ACTM we try and support some local schools and charitable ventures en route with our group tours and we will discuss options during our general orientation briefings when you arrive.
Otherwise, Moroccans are very hospitable. They often have a wicked sense of humour and a very laid back attitude. Things are not rushed in Morocco. One needs lots of time to relax after all, and everything will come together ‘Insha’Allah’ (as God wills it)!
It is considered offensive in Morocco to take photographs of people or their personal environment without first seeking permission. You are advised to be mindful of where you point your camera and always ask permission first. Sometimes you will be either asked to make a payment or denied permission altogether. Other times people are more than happy to be the subject of a photo! Taking photos of landscape or general scenes is generally not a problem.
SAFETY in Morocco
Morocco is essentially a safe country to visit and violent crime and political unrest are rare. As with travel in any region in the world ZIG ZAG suggest you consider the risks and take time to research aspects of the culture and landscape you are visiting. Follow this link for more information…