Dreaming of Morocco on World Heritage Day – Caitlin Dearing Scott

Caitlin Dearing Scott, MAC
April 17, 2015
Caitlin Dearing Scott, SVP, Research, Projects, and Programs, MAC

Caitlin Dearing Scott, SVP, Research, Projects, and Programs, MAC

Dreaming of wandering the souks of Marrakesh, the ancient medina of Fez, or the magical ksar at Aït-Ben-Haddou (as made famous by Game of Thrones and Gladiator)?

Tomorrow is World Heritage Day, a good day to celebrate such wanderlust without even stepping on a plane. World Heritage Day is an annual event that was established in 1982 to celebrate the world’s rich historical sites and monuments, and to raise awareness about efforts required to conserve them for future generations.

Morocco – home to nine world heritage sites – has committed to both the celebration and conservation of such sites, which offer a rich setting for understanding Morocco’s history, its culture, and diversity.

The sites span Morocco’s history and geography, starting with Volubilis, a Roman ruin dating from the 3rd Century B.C. Volubilis contains archaeological vestiges from pre-history to the Islamic period — an ideal spot for understanding the various civilizations that have called Morocco home.

The medina of Fez, known as the cultural center of Morocco due in part to being home to the oldest university in the world, was founded in the 9th century. The architecture – including madrasas, palaces, and mosques– dates to the 13th century. One only needs to wander the maze-like medina to be taken back in time.

Moving south, Aït-Ben-Haddou is a magnificent example of southern Moroccan architecture. It is thought to date to the 17th century, though the style of the buildings and the techniques used to create them are ancient. Today the ksar is most famous for being the backdrop for numerous Hollywood movies.

On the Atlantic cost, the Medina of Essaouira has long served as a major trading port, linking Morocco to Europe, Africa, and beyond. The town’s cultural history reflects that, marked by coexistence between Amazighs, Arabs, Africans, and Europeans — Muslims, Christians, and Jews. Today that spirit continues, and there is no better place to listen to music from around the world:  Essaouira is host to the annual Gnaoua World Music Festival, “a melting-pot of musical fusion.”

Other World Heritage Sites in Morocco:

  • The Medina of Marrakesh, best known for Place Jamaâ El Fna, where the city comes alive at night, and also home to several impressive mosques and palaces.
  •  The historical city of Meknes – per UNESCO, “an impressive city in Spanish-Moorish style, surrounded by high walls with great doors, where the harmonious blending of the Islamic and European styles of the 17th century Maghreb are still evident today.”
  • The Medina of Tétouan served as the link between Morocco and Andalusia, which is marked in its distinct art and architecture.
  • The city of Mazagan, known today as El Jadida, a former fortified Portuguese colony on the Atlantic coast, where one can explore the ramparts, as well as several Portuguese-style buildings that remain. Like Essaouira, Mazagan was a melting pot, having served as a settlement for Portuguese explorers en route to India.
  • The city of Rabat, Morocco’s capital, chosen as a World Heritage Site because of its seamless mixture of past and present. The city contains areas built under the French protectorate (1912-1956), a Kasbah dating back to the 11th century, and a “new town” built after Moroccan Independence described by UNESCO as “one of the largest and most ambitious modern urban projects built in Africa in the 20th century and probably the most complete.”

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