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A modern country, with a wealth of contemporary bars, restaurants and nightspots, step inside the medina in Morocco and you’re transported to a different world. Encompassed by towering walls, the medinas are filled with narrow streets, tiny alleyways, market places and historical mosques. The purpose of each medina was to keep out invading armies, which is the reason why all four imperial cities of Morocco boast their own. Each medina has its own unique story to tell; lose yourself in the history and beauty of these 10 Moroccan medinas.
One of the four imperial cities of Morocco, Marrakesh is the cultural, economic and political center of the country. Sometimes called the ‘Land of God’ or the ‘Red City’, Marrakesh is a bustling, vivacious combination of old and new Morocco, of cultural tradition and innovative practices. In the historical part of the city lies the medina. Djemaa El-Fna square forms the heart of the medina, a place brimming with stalls and shops selling food, spices, handicrafts, traditional clothes, henna tattoos and perfume. Tourist hotspots here include the Koutoubia mosque and the El-Badi Palace, two beautiful examples of enthralling Arabic architecture, culture and history.
Fez is another imperial city and is the former capital of Morocco. It is one of the oldest and largest medieval areas in the world. Built in the 9th century, the Medina of Fez is perhaps the most well preserved in the country. The new city of Fez is built outside the medina, meaning that when visitors cross the threshold of the bab boujeloud they enter into an entirely different place. Take a stroll down the historical path of Talaa Kebira here, the main street of the medina leading to an array of hidden Arabic gems, residences and mosques.
The nearby imperial city of Meknes is sometimes known as the ‘Versailles of Morocco’ because it is so beautiful and majestic. Sultan Moulay Ismail, also called the Warrior King, was the ruler of Meknes, and is the man responsible for the shaping of the city. The medina is located inside the Historic City of Meknes. The eye-catching combination of 17th century European and Islamic architecture here is stunning and unlike anything else found in the region.
Situated idyllically near the Alantic coast, the beach of Essaouira is a popular place for enthusiastic windsurfers and squawking seagulls. The coastal city has had a surge in popularity, drawing ‘Game Of Thrones’ fans from all over the globe as it is the setting for the city of Astapor in the television series. The Arabic and Muslim architecture of the site illustrates the styles found in 18th century Morocco, whilst European influences abound too, creating a unique spectacle reflecting the area’s past as a cosmopolitan port area.
Tétouan forms the main connection between Morocco and Andalusia in Spain. A large part of the city was constructed by the refugees from Andalusia in the 8th century, and the traces of Andalusian culture can still easily be found all around the city. The medina here is small but very well preserved. Along the five kilometer wall of the medina there are seven gates through which visitors can enter the historical city. Inside the medina there are three parts: the Andalusian, Jewish and Berber sections. Mohammed V Avenue is the main road here, a winding walkway filled with restaurants and shops, and is a path which will lead you to charming residential areas, different squares, mosques and the Grand Palace.
Rabat lies on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, andwas built by Andalusian refugees. Before the French invasion in 1912 there was no new town in existence in this area; Rabat was comprised entirely of the medina. Entering the fortified site through Souika Street visitors will realize that this is less crowded than other medinas, which allows for a more laid-back and relaxed experience. This is the top spot for menthe tea leaves, leather products, carpet and woodwork, as the types of these goods sold here are of the highest quality.
Casablanca, or Casa, is the largest city of Morocco. The medina of Casablanca shows a different side to Morocco. The 18th century medina lies in the north of the city, and when entering the site through the Marrakech gate by the clock tower, the French and Portuguese influences here are immediately visible. The structure of Cinema Rialto is a fabulous example of the European art-deco architecture of the city, featuring an intricately decorated exterior, high windows and gilded balconies. Visitors can also find a wealth of stunning Arabic-style buildings in the medina, including Hassan II mosque, the second largest mosque in the world, and a sacred place which sees many people gathering and praying every day.
All the blue houses and narrow streets here may trick visitors into thinking they’ve arrived on a Greek island, when in fact, this is the idyllic setting of Chefchaouen, a town set on Rif Mountain in Northwest Morocco. The different shades of blue found all over the mountain settlement were painted in the 15th century, and it was believed that the color could ward off evil spirits. Enjoy the delicious aromas of fresh bread being baked in the streets of the medina here, a settlement which is home to the charming Uta el-Hammam square, the Great Mosque, and a small, charming waterfall where locals do their laundry, play games and chatter animatedly.
Tangier has been the inspiration for many works of art past and present, and is an ancient, vivacious and daunting city whose energy has made it a popular subject for artists of different disciplines. The main square, known as Petit Socco, is a popular spot for artists to hang out and is the central point of the medina. Tangier is also a place which tells an interesting historical story; Morocco was the first country to recognize the USA as a country in 1777, and in the American Legation Museum in the southeast of Tangier’s medina, visitors can learn more about the relationship between the United States and Morocco.
Situated in northern Morocco, Taza boasts some of the largest medina walls from the Middle Ages. Taza also offers visitors an unbeatable view of the Middle Atlas Mountains which can be viewed from the Tour Es-Sarragine tower in the west of the medina. Mosque-lovers will be spoiled for choice here, with the Market Mosque, the Andalusian Mosque and the Great Mosque some of the best picks for vibrancy and religious significance.