Three quarters of the Moroccan people trace their ancestry to the original inhabitants, the Berbers who weathered invasions by the Phoenicians in the 12th century BC, by the Carthaginians in the 6th BC, by the Romans in the 2nd BC, by the Vandals in the 5th AD, by the Byzantine Empire in the 6th, by the Arabs in the 7th, the Portuguese in the 15th, the Spanish in the 19th and the French in the 20th. In spite of all that, a third of the population still speaks the ancient Berber Afro-Asiatic language.
In 1956, France recognized Morocco as an independent monarchy with Sultan Mohammed V as king. He was succeeded in 1961 by his son Hassan II who has enjoyed a largely autocratic rule for 35 years before conceding a measure of democratization in order to arrest the spread of Islamic fundamentalism from Algeria.
When Spain withdrew from Spanish Sahara in 1976 Morocco and Mauritania divided it between themselves and Morocco took over the southern third in 1979 when Mauritania could not defend it against the Polisario Front striving for independence. Algerian support of the Polisario guerrilla forces caused severe friction that almost resulted in war between the two countries. In 1991 a UN supervised cease-fire was signed with the Polisario and a referendum was set for 1992 but it has not been held yet.
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The old walled city, called Medina, spreads northward behind this clock tower on Place des Nations Unies in the center of Casa.
I was glad to come back to Morocco where I had spent two wonderful weeks touring with a friend thirty years ago. This time I was alone but I had good memories! I stayed at the Hotel Périgord not far from here for 8 US$.
The narrow streets of the medina are an attraction just by themselves for those who enjoy people watching.
Below, more narrow medina streets.
The huge new Hassan II Mosque overlooks the Atlantic Ocean just north of the medina. Completed in 1993, it is said to be the largest in the world but I know several others that make the same claim. Largest or not it is at least a testimony of the quality of Moroccan craftsmanship and of Hassan II's wealth and power.
The "Habous" district of Casablanca.
This tower in the "Habous" district is very characteristic of 12th century Almohad architecture. Almost identical towers can be found in Marrakesh, the Koutoubia, in Rabat, the Hassan tower and in Sevilla, the Giralda.
Marrakesh is too touristy to my taste but I decided to go there just for old times sake!
The world known Place Djemaa el Fna had not changed a bit in thirty years.
The Place Djemaa el Fna had the same kebab stands, water peddlers, snake charmers, musicians and folkloric dancers as thirty years ago. They must have been the children of those I had seen...
Musicians on the Place Djemaa el Fna.
A snake charmer on Place Djemaa el Fna.
Even the souk near Place Djemaa el Fna was the same as thirty years ago. Full of gawking tourists!
When I finally had my fill of reminiscing I took a bus to Essaouira.
Essaouira, on the Atlantic coast, was new to me and I loved it. This is the north gate near the bus station.
Seaward ramparts and fort (Skala).
Essaouira was founded in the 16th century by the Portuguese like most of Morocco's Atlantic towns but most of these fortifications were built in the 18th by the Alaouite dynasty.
Harbour and port Skala.
Essaouira's main street, called Rue Zerktouni here in the east, becomes Avenue de l'Istiqlal in the center and Avenue Oqba ben Nafii at its western end.
There are several local restaurants in this small street off Rue Mohammed el Qory.
Below on the left, the street of the "Hotel des Remparts" where I stayed for 6US$ and a traditional gentleman in one of the souks on the right.
There are several souks (markets) in Essaouira, this one is the fish souk.
From here I moved up the coast to another fortified town, Safi.