Morocco History, Language and Culture

History of Morocco

Whether you’re exploring the ruins of Volubilis, strolling through the streets of an ancient medina, shopping for spices in a centuries-old souk, or following a chain of pack mules up to a remote Berber village, you can’t escape the power of Moroccan history. In the valleys of the High Atlas, the descendants of the country’s original nomadic inhabitants still live in a remarkably similar style to their ancient ancestors. Architecture in urban areas often carries traces of the Roman and Islamic occupations that helped shape modern Morocco.

The country’s history is tied up with the story of the Berber tribes, who repelled the Ancient Roman colonialists with a campaign of harassment, and later survived through a cycle of rising and falling Islamic dynasties. The largely Berber Istiqlal (independence) party aggressively contested the brief French occupation of Morocco during the early 20th century and control was eventually ceded to a line of Moroccan kings. Throughout the latter part of the century borrowing, corruption, poverty, and civil discontent took their toll.

Since King Mohammed VI was enthroned in 1999, however, Morocco has instituted sweeping political and economic changes. Poverty is still widespread and unemployment high, but initiatives to attract foreign investment and tourism are bringing new opportunities.

The human rights record is markedly improved and today ranks among the cleanest across Africa and the Middle East. Women have benefitted from education initiatives, a new legal code that protects their rights to both divorce and custody, and new protections for Berber (Amazigh) culture including the introduction of Tamazight (written Berber) in schools.

The country’s first municipal elections in 2002 were hailed as a step towards democratisation, but Islamist and other political factions are closely monitored, as are news media. Further progress was made during the Arab Spring, which saw thousands of protestors take to the streets of Rabat, Casablanca, Tangier, and Marrakech to demand a new constitution and a change in government. Their peaceful tactics paid off and in spring 2011, the King announced his intention to stamp out corruption and reform the constitution. Immediate changes included handing more executive authority to the prime minister and parliament and making Berber an official national language alongside Arabic.

Did you know?

• Morocco’s cinema history stretches back to 1897 when Louis Lumière, one of the first ever film makers in history, made Le Chevrier Marocain.

• UNESCO considers the al-Qarawiyin University, founded in Fez in AD 859, to be the oldest in the world.

• Astapor, an ancient city in Game of Thrones, was filmed in Essaouira.

Morocco Culture

Religion

Morocco is predominantly Muslim with Jewish, Christian, and Hindu minorities.

Language in Morocco

The official languages are Arabic and Berber. Berber is the language of the country's first inhabitants and the majority of its current citizens. French is widely spoken throughout the country, except in the northern regions where Spanish is more predominant. English is also understood, particularly in the north and major tourist destinations like Marrakech.

Visa and passport information is updated regularly and is correct at the time of publishing. You should verify critical travel information independently with the relevant embassy before you travel.