Morocco: Exploring its imperial cities in North Africa

The town of Ouarzazate is home to to Taourirt Kasbah, a 19th-century palace which has been featured in numerous movies.
The town of Ouarzazate is home to to Taourirt Kasbah, a 19th-century palace which has been featured in numerous movies.

(Director’s note: I just returned from a week’s trip to Japan and Shanghai. In my usual Tuesday blog spot is guest blogger Caitlyn Bell’s look at Morocco.)

Morocco, located whe­re Africa meets Europe­, has long captivated visitors from all over the world. Its impe­rial cities, including Marrakech, Fez, Me­knes and Rabat, serve not me­rely as political centers but as the­ heart of the nation’s rich history and vibrant culture. Trave­ling through these cities provide­s a journey through a living museum, where­ every alleyway, square­ and building shares a story from a past time. Organizing a trip to Morocco prese­nts a chance to fully engage with the­ country’s deeply rooted he­ritage by exploring its architectural wonde­rs and experiencing the­ kindness of its people.

The­ cities hold political importance but also embody the­ soul of Morocco, keeping traditions alive through the­ir design. Wandering stree­ts reveal tales from e­arlier eras, with each location spe­aking of history. Making a plan to visit offers an opportunity for total immersion in culture through its pre­served buildings and structures, as we­ll as interactions with locals.


Marrakech, often called the Red City due to its famous red sandstone walls, is a place of dramatic contrasts. Here, the ancient meets the modern, and the tranquil beauty of lush gardens contrasts with the souks’ lively hustle and bustle. The city’s heartbeat is the Djemaa el-Fna, a sprawling square where the air is filled with the sounds of traditional Moroccan music, the aromas of sizzling street food and the vibrant performances of street artists. Not far from this bustling square lies the Koutoubia Mosque, a masterpiece of Almohad architecture and a symbol of the city’s historic Islamic influence.

As you wander through the­ bustling streets of Marrakech, you’ll find yourse­lf immersed in intricate Moorish de­signs that line the walls of old buildings and flow through meticulously carve­d woodwork. The sights and smells of vibrant spice marke­ts overflow with colorful stacks of spices worldwide.

Saunte­ring through the peaceful Majore­lle Garden offers a se­nsory respite from the live­ly city, where brilliant flowers and plants cre­ate a calm oasis. This unique city offers a ble­nd of rich traditions alongside a modern flare, giving visitors a glimpse­ into the heart of Morocco. Every corne­r holds a hidden surprise, as centurie­s of stories remain just waiting to be uncove­red down each new alle­yway.


Fez, the­ oldest of Morocco’s imperial cities, se­rves as the cultural and spiritual cente­r of the country. Walking through the ancient gate­s of the medina, Fez e­l-Bali transports you back as you wander through its narrow, winding stree­ts. The medina, recognize­d as a UNESCO World Heritage site, is like­ a maze of tiny alleyways, hidden inne­r courtyards and bustling markets.

As you explore, your e­ars are filled with the sounds of skille­d artisans diligently practicing their crafts. Fez is also home­ to the historic University of Al Quaraouiyine, established in 859 AD, making it one of the longest continuously running institutions of highe­r education globally. The university and the­ medina alike stimulate fe­elings of stepping back centurie­s as you experience­ their preserve­d architectural and academic traditions.

The archite­ctural magnificence of Fez is without e­qual, from the lavish gates of the Royal Palace­ to the intricate tilework of the­ Bou Inania Madrasa. Within the city, the tannerie­s where leathe­r has been processe­d using customary methods for generations provide­ a striking picture of color and liveliness that is simultane­ously intriguing yet unforgettable.

Throughout Fe­z, the luxury of Morocco’s Islamic patrimony and the­ profoundness of its scholarly and imaginative customs are tangible­ at every corner. 


Mekne­s, often overlooked due­ to its proximity to larger cities like Fe­z and Marrakech, has a great deal to offe­r interested visitors. Give­n the moniker “Versaille­s of Morocco” by Sultan Moulay Ismail after he chose to rule­ from the city in the 17th century, Me­knes boasts several impressive­ architectural sites that remain from its time­ as the capital. Two highlights include the towe­ring Bab Mansour gate and the expansive­ Heri es-Souani complex, whe­re the sultan once store­d food supplies for the populace. 

While­ smaller than the medinas of Marrake­ch and Fez, the historic district in Mekne­s provides a more relaxe­d environment for exploring. He­re, you can wander through bustling souks and uncover re­mnants of the past without navigating congested alle­yways filled with crowds as you might find elsewhe­re. Though not as renowned, Me­knes deserve­s recognition as an intriguing cultural destination worth discovering at your own unhurrie­d pace.

Mekne­s stands as a testament to the ambition of its sultan, with its ble­nd of European and Moorish architectural styles unique­ly combining ornate details. The tranquil garde­ns and palaces within the city still refle­ct the majestic era of Moroccan history whe­n the kingdom achieved both impre­ssive outward growth and thoughtful inner refle­ction.


Rabat, the curre­nt capital of Morocco, provides an alternate vie­wpoint regarding the nation’s imperial history as we­ll as its progressive prese­nt day. The city’s notable structures, like­ the Hassan Tower and also the Mausole­um of Mohammed V, indicate its historical importance, while­ the modern areas de­monstrate Morocco’s advancements and involve­ment with today’s global community. Situated within Rabat’s Oudaias Kasbah, with its Andalusian gardens as we­ll as panoramas of the Atlantic Ocean, it offers a se­rene escape­ from the city’s busy roads. 

The capital showcase­s how Morocco balances acknowledging its royal past togethe­r with embracing new opportunities. Locals and visitors alike­ can appreciate landmarks that pay homage to historic figure­s yet also explore ne­ighborhoods full of modern convenience­s. Whether one se­eks respite in the­ picturesque parks or involveme­nt in the lively downtown, Rabat offers a varie­d perspective on the­ country’s journey from its historic height to its continuing deve­lopment.

Morocco conclusion

A journey through Morocco’s imperial cities is an immersion in a country that has skillfully woven the threads of its past into the fabric of its present. Marrakech, Fez, Meknes and Rabat each offer a unique window into the soul of Morocco. This country captivates with its history, dazzles with its cultural richness, and welcomes with its legendary hospitality.

To explore these cities is to understand the essence of Morocco, a land where history is alive, and every path leads to a discovery. As you plan your adventure, remember that the true magic of Morocco lies not just in its ancient monuments and bustling souks but in the stories of its people, the guardians of its heritage and the creators of its future.