Nestled in the northwest corner of Africa and surrounded by the vast Atlas Mountains and the sands of the Sahara, Morocco’s relative isolation and cultural blend of Berber, Arabic and European influences, have made it a truly unique land. With Voyages to Antiquity you will track this country’s fascinating history stretching from the Roman city of Volubilis and the enchanting medieval medinas and souks of Fez and Marrakesh, through to the bustling modern cities of Rabat and Casablanca.
The walled city of Fez is at the heart of Moroccan cultural life and is famous for being the home to the world’s oldest university, the Qarawiyyin university. Fez, the medieval capital of Morocco, was founded by Idris I in 789 and was a great city of high Islamic civilisation. Fez has the best-preserved old city in the Arab world, the sprawling, labyrinthine medina of Fes el-Bali, and the impressive souks have been declared by UNESCO to be a World Heritage Site. The tour of Fez explores both the old and new medinas including visits to one of the 14thcentury religious schools (medrasas), either Bou Inania or Attarine. Other highlights include the imposing gate of Bab Boujloud, the splendid fountain at Place Nejjarine, the ancient ramparts, and the beautiful front entrance of the Royal Palace.
From Casablanca we drive to Rabat, the capital city of Morocco. The colonial architecture is stunning, the palm-lined boulevards are well kept and the atmosphere is relaxed and cosmopolitan. This is a civilised and very pleasant place to visit. The quiet medina has an authentic feel to it, some good shops and fascinating architecture. Rabat has a long and rich history, and plenty of monuments to show for it from the Phoenician, Roman, Almohad and Merenid times. The visit will include the old medina; the picturesque Kasbah of the Oudayas and the Oudaya Gate, built during the Almohad dynasty; the well-preserved Hassan Tower and the Chellah which were built by the Merinids in the 12th and 13th centuries; the Mohamed V Mausoleum, the burial place of the present King’s father; the front of the Royal Palace; and the government district.
With its grand square bustling with snake charmers and market traders and its almost psychedelic souks, Marrakesh is a showcase for exoticism. Surrounded by the sights, sounds and aromas of the medina you can truly appreciate the allure of this North African city. Our guided tour of the old medina of Marrakesh begins with a walk through one of the most interesting quarters of Marrakesh. Here we'll stroll along labyrinthine alleyways, catching glimpses of mosques, hammams, traditional public bakeries, fondouks (old lodging houses used by the caravans) and fountains carved in wood and decorated with kuffic inscriptions.
You’ll walk through the colourful souks which are organised according to goods sold and where craftsmen can be seen practicing their traditional trades. After this it is on to the aristocratic Bahia Palace where we see a lush Moorish-style garden in the courtyard of a large palace with beautifully painted residential rooms.
Then, after walking through a maze of shaded, narrow streets you will emerge into the famous Djemma el-Fna Square, where throughout the ages local people and African caravans have gathered for entertainment, celebrations, gossip and business. Here we stop at the foot of the famous Koutoubia Minaret, one of the masterpiece works of Islamic architecture.
Highlight of our tour is a visit to the Marjorelle Garden, a 12-acre botanical garden in the heart of Marrakesh which was designed in the 1920s and 30s, and was once owned by Yves Saint-Laurent whose ashes were scattered here. Within the gardens, be sure visit the Museum, housing North African textiles from Saint-Laurent’s personal collection, as well as ceramics, jewellery, and paintings by the founder, Jacques Marjorelle.
Sometimes known as the “Little Marrakesh”, Taroudant is an old trading centre located in Morocco’s Souss Valley. Surrounded by citrus groves, protected by magnificent red-mud walls and with the snowcapped peaks of the High Atlas beckoning beyond, Taroudant’s situation is truly enchanting. Despite its medieval souks and squares, this is not simply a tourist destination, as Taroudant is a working market town where Berbers trade the produce of the rich and fertile Oued Souss plain. On your drive there from the port of Agadir, keep an eye out for the tree-climbing goats that call this part of the world home. Upon arrival, step inside this 11th-century citadel and prepare to be hurled back in time.
Resting peacefully within its ramparts, Taroudant has avoided time’s march, retaining its traditional look and feel. Four miles of chunky walls encircle the city, pierced by five impressive gateways. Within them lie Taroudant’s most famous attractions, the daily Berber market and the Arab souk.
Situated only a short distance across the Strait of Gibraltar from the shores of Europe, Tangier is a gateway to a vastly different culure. This tour is perfect if you really want to discover more of Tangier, and explore the bustling Medina, with its tiny streets lined with shops filled with trinkets and treats.
First head for a photostop at Cape Spartel Lighthouse – more than a century old it shines a warning beacon to ships sailing between the Atlantic and Mediterranean. Arriving back in Tangier, visit the Medina (old town) whose walls mark the line of the Roman defences. The grand Mosque rises on the foundations of a temple to Neptune, and the Petit Socco covers the area of what used to be the Forum. The bustling Kasbah is situated on the highest part of the Medina in an area that has been the preserve of palaces and castles for thousands of years.
Your guide will walk you through the Medina and the Kasbah, allowing you the opportunity to view the fruit and vegetable market and Mendoubia Park where you can explore at leisure, if you wish.