From the sun-kissed dunes of the Sahara to the vibrant streets of its bustling medinas, Morocco is a country that effortlessly weaves ancient traditions with modern energy.
Nestled at the crossroads of Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, this North African gem has captured the hearts of adventurers, artists, and culture enthusiasts for centuries.
In this article, we’ll uncover a tapestry of surprising facts that paint a vivid picture of Morocco’s rich history, diverse landscapes, and captivating allure.
1. Morocco is officially called the Kingdom of Morocco. Its name in Arabic (one of the country’s two official languages, along with Tamazight) means “The Kingdom of the Western Place”.
2. Morocco is only 13 kilometers (8 miles) from Europe. That’s the width of the Strait of Gibraltar between Spain and Morocco at its narrowest point.
3. Morocco has Europe’s only land border with Africa. Two tiny Spanish enclaves, called Ceuta and Melilla, are on the northern shore of Morocco.
4. Only 1.5% of Africa’s total landmass belongs to Morocco. Still, it is larger than more than half of the countries in Africa, including Tunisia in North Africa. Morocco can fit into its neighbor, Algeria, more than five times.
5. While you’ve probably heard of famous Moroccan cities like Fes, Marrakesh, Casablanca, and Tangier, a city called Rabat is the capital. The French, who colonized Morocco, made Rabat their administrative capital, and it remained as capital after independence in 1955.
6. Although it isn’t an official language, French is still commonly spoken throughout the country. Moroccan students still have to learn it at school, and most post-secondary students are fluent.
7. Morocco has major Andalusian connections. Many Moroccans are of Andalusian descent, their ancestors having fled Spain during the 15th century when the Moors were kicked out.
8. The country boasts sands of many colors. Forget plain old beige – Morocco’s sand dunes come in a rainbow of colors, from golden to pink, thanks to the mineral-rich soil. These deserts cover just under 80% of the country.
9. The name “Atlantic” (as in the Atlantic Ocean) comes from the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. The highest mountain in the Atlas Mountains, Mount Toubkal, is in Morocco. You can even see snow on these North African peaks!
10. One city in Morocco is a “blue wonderland”. The enchanting village of Chefchaouen is famously drenched in shades of blue – it’s like stepping into a dreamy, azure wonderland.
11. Fes (Fez) is considered Morocco’s cultural capital. Its ancient Medina (old quarter) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was the capital of the country in the 13th and 14th centuries. This is where you’ll find Chouara Tannery, the famous (and very picturesque) place where leather is dyed in round stone vessels.
12. Marrakech is especially known for its traditional souqs (markets) – there are 18 of them! These markets are like a North African fantasy come to life, complete with rattlesnake flute players, monkeys, and (yes), just as many scams and pesky vendors as you might imagine.
13. While Casablanca is mainly known for the dreamy film of the same name, Casablanca today is an economic powerhouse. In the Global Financial Centers Index, it outranks cities like Athens, Mexico City, New Delhi, Moscow, and Istanbul.
14. There are tree climbing goats in Morocco. Prepare to do a double-take when you see goats perched in argan trees, munching on the fruit like they’re on a dinner date with the branches. In fact, the goats help these trees to disperse their seeds.
15. Storks are treated like royalty in Morocco because they’re believed to bring good luck; you’ll see their nests atop many buildings.
16. The world’s oldest continuously running university is in Morocco. The University of Al Quaraouiyine in Fez, founded in 859 AD, is usually cited as the world’s oldest continuously operating educational institution.
17. Morocco has nomadic roots. The Berbers, Morocco’s indigenous people, have been rocking their unique language and nomadic culture for thousands of years – talk about timeless style!
18. There are three major Roman ruins in Morocco. These are Volubilis, Lixus and Sala Colonia. (Read our fun facts about Rome here!)
19. Morocco used to be a pirate hideout. The infamous Barbary pirates had a heyday in Moroccan coastal towns during the 17th century, turning them into bustling pirate havens.
20. Morocco has long been considered a gateway to Africa. The historic city of Tangier was once an international zone, attracting writers, artists, and spies during its bohemian heyday.
21. A long list of famous authors and artists spent time in Morocco. These include authors Paul Bowles, artist Henri Matisse, and playwright Tennessee Williams.
22. The iconic fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent fell head over heels for Marrakech, where he and his partner Pierre Bergé purchased a stunning garden estate called Jardin Majorelle. The garden’s vibrant blue and yellow hues even inspired some of Saint Laurent’s fashion designs.
23. The Beat Generation poets William S. Boroughs and Jack Kerouac also loved Morocco. Boroughs was drawn to the bohemian atmosphere in Tangier and wrote part of Naked Lunch there. Jack Kerouac called Tangier “A city from Arabian Nights”.
24. In the 1960s and 70s, Morocco was a mecca for hippie travelers. They were drawn by the exotic allure of its culture, landscapes, and a sense of escape from Western norms. All the cheap, high quality, and readily available hashish in Morocco didn’t hurt, either!
25. Scenes from Gladiator, Lawrence of Arabia, Inception, and Casablanca were filmed in Morocco. Thanks to the country’s epic landscapes and proximity to Europe, it is a popular choice for filmmaking.
26. Certain episodes from TV shows like Game of Thrones, Parks and Recreation, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and The Amazing Race” were also set in Morocco.
27. Morocco is also a popular setting for books. Just a few examples of famous books set in Morocco include The Caliph’s House, The Sheltering Sky, and The Saffron Trail.
28. Many celebrities have been drawn to visit Morocco over the years. These include Charlie Chaplin, Winston Churchill, Jimi Hendrix, Bill Gates, Angelina Jolie, Madonna, David Beckham, and Leonardo DiCaprio.
29. The Marrakech International Film Festival is one of the biggest film festivals in Africa. It draws A-listers from around the globe, making it a star-studded cinematic extravaganza.
30. Morocco is a solar power powerhouse. Morocco receives a mesmerizing 3000 hours of sunshine per year, or 3600 in the desert. The country has launched one of the largest solar power projects the world has ever seen. It is also the only African country with a power link to Europe, sending a huge amount of power to Spain.
31. Morocco has been making strides in women’s rights, like passing laws to combat domestic violence and promoting gender equality in education. However, like many places, it still has a long way to go for true equality.
32. There’s a thriving street art scene in Morocco. The urban landscapes of Moroccan cities are splashed with vibrant street art, giving them an edgy, modern twist while paying homage to tradition.