The landscape and climate of Morocco are as varied as its people. While its coastlines stretch from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, the mountain ranges of the Rif, the Middle and High Atlas peak at 4000 feet. In the south, the sand dunes and lush oases of the Sahara provide a gateway to the African continent. The country enjoys mild winters and hot summers, especially in the south.
A BRIEF HISTORY
Evidenced by its unique combination of Arab, Berber, Sub-Saharan African and European influences, Morocco boasts a rich history and a great cultural diversity. Populated as early as the Paleolithic Era (over 100,000 years ago), this area of northwestern Africa was first colonized by the Phoenicians in the 6th century B.C., then became part of the Carthaginian Empire in 110 B.C. before being assimilated into the Roman Empire.
In 670 A.D., the first Islamic conquest swept through North Africa, and the Umayyid Muslims brought with them a new language (Arabic) and a new religion (Islam). Over the next few centuries, Morocco, now a Muslim nation, witnessed a succession of Berber and Arab dynasties, until the arrival of the European powers at the end of the 19th century.
From 1912 to 1956, Morocco was a French Protectorate, before regaining its independence in March 1956 under the rule of King Mohammed V. In 1961, he was succeeded by his son, King Hassan II.
Today, Morocco is one of the most Westernized Arab countries. Although still very attached to its traditional roots, the country has undergone profound social change in the last 50 years. Since succeeding his father in 1999, King Mohammed VI has established royal commissions tasked with looking into economic development, education and employment.
While Arabic and Berber are the two official languages, French is widely used not only in governmental institutions, but also in business, commerce and diplomacy. In large cities, French is spoken as a second language. It is less common in rural and mountain areas, except among the older generations.