Full name: The Kingdom of Morocco
King: King Mohammed VI
Population: 31.6 million (UN, 2005) It was only 8 million back in 1956.
Largest city: Casablanca
Area: 710,850 sq km (274,461 sq miles)
Major languages: Arabic (official), Berber, French, Spanish
Major religion: Islam
Life expectancy: 67 years (men), 72 years (women) (UN)
Monetary unit: Dirham = 100 centimes
Main exports: Minerals, seafood products, citrus fruit
GNI per capita: US $1,730 (World Bank, 2006)
Internet domain: .ma
International dialling code: +212
Race: Arab, Berber
Morocco is just a step away from Europe, across the narrow straits of Gibraltar, but it is a world away in culture and experience, brimming over with contrasts, color and mystery. This is due partly to its geographical position, sited at the crossroads where the East meets the West, Africa shakes hands with Europe, and the Mediterranean merges with the Atlantic.
Sitting at the top northwest corner of Africa and sharing two oceans, the country's main appeal for visitors has always been its Mediterranean climate, the quality of its crafts and its exotic nature. However in more recent years travelers are discovering other hidden delights and adventures, particularly in the northern and central parts of Morocco in the Rif and High Atlas Mountains, where it is even possible to enjoy a skiing holiday. Then, down south, some are drawn to explore the sands of the Western Sahara, on camelback, horseback or 4X4.
Whether you visit Morocco for the sunshine, or to trek through the mountains or the hot desert sands, it is a sure bet you will also be enchanted by the timeless Medieval medinas of the cities, particularly in Fez and Marrakech, where the souks and squares plunge visitors into a fascinating foreign world. Snake charmers weave their magic; the stench of the tanners' yards pervades the air; and the call of the muezzins wafts from the ancient minarets. The overall memory will be one of sweetened mint tea, brightly colored slippered feet and big smiles.
Although most of its suburban enclaves are ultra-modern, Morocco has more than its share of ancient monuments and magnificent buildings, reflecting a turbulent history shaped by its strategic location. Since the days of the Phoenicians, Morocco has attracted foreign interest, from the Romans, Vandals, Visigoths and ancient Greeks until the coming of the Arabs in the 7th century, who brought Islam and the Alaouite Dynasty. European powers have had their day, too, trying to control this northern tip of Africa. France and Spain battled for control, until nationalism triumphed and the Kingdom of Morocco gained independence in 1956 (except for the two small enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in the north which are still controlled by Spain). This rich past, coupled with a timeless present, makes Morocco a magical mystery tour of surprises and enchantment for thousands of visitors every year.