10 Things you didn't know about Morocco
Updated: Jun 23
You’ve probably heard quite a bit about Morocco. Perhaps someone you know has told you about their visit to the beautiful blue city of Chefchaouen, their camel ride in the desert and shopping at the Medina. Or maybe you’ve been considering a trip to Morocco and read up on the traditions and culture. There is more to Morocco than meets the eye. Between the urban legends and common misconceptions lies the real Morocco, a country full of surprises. So, allow us to reveal some of the better-kept secrets and mysteries of Morocco.
Here are a few things you didn’t know about Morocco:
1. Morocco is the most visited country in Africa
With everything that Morocco has to offer, it is no surprise that it is the most visited country in Africa. Over 12 million tourists traveled to Morocco in 2018, which was an 8.2% increase from previous years. The popularity of Morocco as a tourist destination lies in its diversity. It is a fascinating country with a rich culture, vibrant cities, and sleepy little towns, sweeping vistas, and majestic mountains. It is both historic and modern, African and European. Morocco offers something for everyone and is the perfect destination for a family vacation, a romantic getaway and is even great for a solo trip.
2. Most Moroccans are multilingual
Contrary to what you might think, Moroccan do not speak “Moroccan.” Morocco has two official languages, Berber and Moroccan Arabic (also known as Darija). Berber and Darija are two very different languages, and it is often found that Moroccans can understand classic Arabic, yet those who speak only classic Arabic cannot understand Darija very well. There are also plenty of regional dialects. Aside from their own languages, Moroccans are often fluent in one or more European languages as well. Due to the French colonization, a lot of Moroccans still speak French and, in the northern regions they often speak Spanish thanks to the proximity to Spain. With heavy influence from the tourism industry you’ll find that the locals have no trouble with English and even Italian, Dutch or German.
3. Moroccans love coffee, but worship tea
The coffee culture in Morocco is different from most western countries. It is not about iced lattes to go or even the quality of the coffee. In Morocco, coffee is a social ritual. It is meant to be sipped sitting down. It is also a gendered activity. Cafés are strictly the domain of men, and you’ll see plenty of them enjoying a cup of coffee and a conversation. Women have coffee at home with their friends. But even more important than coffee in Morocco is tea, which is the country’s national drink. Traditional Moroccan tea is a blend of Chinese green tea and mint with a lot of sugar and requires several steps, or “washings,” to brew. Real Moroccan tea is worth the wait and perfect in the heat. The sweet and fragrant drink is nicknamed “Berber Whiskey” and offered to guests upon visiting Moroccan houses and shops.
4. Morocco has the oldest university in the world
Morocco has a long history of civilization. The Kairaouine Mosque in Fes became the world’s first university in 859. It was built by Fatima al-Fihri, the daughter of a wealthy Kairaouine refugee. Until Casablanca’s Hassan II Mosque was built in the early 1990s, the Kairaouine Mosque was the largest mosque in Morocco. The University operated independently for a long time but became part of the state educational system in 1963. It is known today as the University of al-Kairaouine.
5. Morocco has the second oldest ruling dynasty in the world
Did you know that Morocco has the second oldest ruling dynasty in the world? The current royal family has been in power since 1631. The House of Shorafa Aloui claims descent of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad. Morocco became a constitutional monarchy in 1957 and the current king, Mohamed VI, is the 23rd of his line.
6. Morocco has been a beloved refuge for artists
The beauty of Morocco has been an inspiration for artists for centuries. During the 20th century, Tangier became a haven for writers. In the 50s and 60s, many writers including William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Tennessee Williams, and Brion Gysin moved there. Paul Bowles ended up staying in Morocco for over 50 years. And even the Rolling Stones took up residence in Tangier, while singers Cat Stevens and Jimi Hendrix lived in Essaouira.
7. Morocco is a favored filming destination
Not just writers and singers love Morocco; filmmakers do as well. Morocco is home to the largest film sets in the world, outside of Hollywood. The Atlas film studios in Ouarzazate are nicknamed “Morocco’s Hollywood.” Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator, Bertolucci’s The Sheltering Sky, and Scorsese’s Kundun were all shot in Morocco. As were Mission Impossible, Babel, Kingdom of Heaven, The Mummy Returns, and of course: Casablanca. Most recently, Morocco served as a film location for Game of Thrones. In 2014, indie movie director Jim Jarmusch borrowed the lovely scenery of Tangier as a shooting location for the arthouse vampire movie Only Lovers Left Alive.
8. Morocco produces excellent wine
As a Muslim country, alcohol consumption in Morocco is minimal. So, it might surprise you to know that Morocco has a thriving wine production. The Romans first brought viticulture to Morocco some 2,000 years ago. When Islam was established in Morocco in the 7th century, the vineyards were mostly abandoned. This is until Morocco became a French Protectorate and the French revived the vineyards. In the 1990s, French wine brand Castel took over the wine production in Morocco. The most popular Moroccan wine is a fruity rosé with hints of citrus called Gris de Boulaouane.
9. Which goes well with their delicious food
In 2015, Morocco was rated the second-best destination for food lovers, a well-deserved title. Traditional Moroccan cuisine is based on flavorful, fresh ingredients and balanced use of dried spices and herbs. Famous Moroccan dishes include tajine and couscous. Moroccan cuisine is also bread-based, and it is served with almost every meal, sometimes used instead of utensils. But be sure to handle it with your right hand, as eating with your left hand is considered impolite. It is also considered impolite to refuse meat when offered. Traditionally, meat was quite expensive, and the type of meat served reflected the host's attitude towards the guest. Dinner is the most important and largest meal of the day in Morocco, and it tends to be served quite late. Traditionally, food is meant to be shared, and they will always offer you some of what they are having. As beloved as traditional Moroccan food is, there is also an abundance of modern, high-end restaurants that elevate the humble rustic cuisine to new levels.
10. Moroccans don’t like to rush
Not unlike most other Mediterranean people, Moroccans have a very laissez-faire attitude. Instead of planning trips or visits, they will spontaneously come by without calling. They also don’t like to be rushed. They prefer to let things unfold naturally in their right time leaving it up to God’s will, Insha’Allah. Although a lot of things are becoming more organized and scheduled, especially in the tourism industry, do not be surprised at delays. Simply relax and enjoy the fact that you are in Morocco.