Morocco has nine locations inscribed on Unesco’s World Heritage list.
World Heritage Sites have been deemed by UNESCO to be of outstanding cultural or natural importance. Most of the cultural heritage sites are historical in nature and provide evidence of the way early cultures lived their day-to-day live. For example, a few of Morocco’s World Heritage Sites are made up of medinas – the old walled North African cities with a maze of narrow streets.
If you’re planning a trip to Morocco, you might be wondering which of these World Heritage Sites you should include in your itinerary.
To help you make some decisions, lets quickly run through each of the nine designated World Heritage Sites in Morocco.
Medina of Fez (1981)
Medina of Fez is one of the largest and oldest is in Morocco. The medina was founded here in the 9th century and grew in the 12th and 13th centuries to about the size it is today.
As well as the labyrinth of shops and houses, there are also quite a few beautiful and historic buildings within Fez medina. At many of the madrasas, fondouks, mosques and palaces, you can see the detailed design on their walls and with their structures. One of the madrasas, the al-Qarawiyyin, is said to be the oldest university in the world.
Medina of Marrakesh (1985)
The other large medina in Morocco on the World Heritage List is in Marrakech. Although it was founded after Fez, it developed into its current form at about the same time and there are a lot of similarities between the two old cities. The Ben Youssef Madrasa, Bahia Palace, and El Badii Palace are all important historic compounds that you’ll find within the medina and it’s easy to spend a day sightseeing. The city also feels a bit more suited to tourists – a bit smoother around the edges with more boutique accommodation and restaurants.
Medina of Tétouan (formerly known as Titawin) (1997)
After the energetic Marrakech, it’s a relief to visit the city of Tetouan at the north of Morocco. This is one of the smallest remaining old cities in the country but is significant because of its proximity to Europe.You can almost see Spain across the water from Tetouan. The medina is surrounded by an ancient wall and you can only get in through its grand gates.
Medina of Essaouira (formerly Mogador) (2001)
While most of the Moroccan medinas can feel a bit overwhelming, the one in Essaouira has a much more relaxed atmosphere. Just outside the main walls is the old port, right next to a beach. But the medina at Essaouira probably also feels less chaotic because of its urban design. It was designed in the 18th century by a French architect who applied some European styles. Although the medina is historically interesting, the beach makes the city a lovely destination for a break in general.
Historic City of Meknes (1996)
If Marrakech or Fez are the kind of cities where you wander aimlessly for days, then Meknes is a place were you go to see the sights. It is not far from Fez but has a completely different atmosphere.Meknes is the site where the ruthless and ambitious leader, Moulay Ismail, built his capital in the 17th century. The Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail is appropriately grand and the enormous granaries and stables on the edge of town show how wealthy Meknes once was. What really shocked me, though, was going inside the underground prison. Up to 100,000 slaves were chained to the walls at night after working all day building the leader’s legacy
Portuguese City of Mazagan (El Jadida) (2004)
On the coast of Morocco, past south of Casablanca, is a small town called El Jadida. In the town, on an outcrop by the sea, is the old fortress of Mazagan.It is very small compared to the other walled cities listed as World Heritage Sites and it only takes 30 minutes or so to walk through. But it has a captivating story and is really different from the medinas mentioned earlier.
Mazagan was built by the Portuguese in the early 16th century as an outpost in the trading route down the west coast of Africa. The high walls like cliffs on a coastline with great views across the sea were never penetrated by enemies during the centuries it was in use. But when the Portuguese handed it over to Morocco as part of a peace treaty, they left mines that exploded and damaged the fortress.
Rabat, Modern Capital and Historic City: a Shared Heritage (2012)
Most of the World Heritage Sites in Morocco are quite old but Rabat stands in stark contrast to that. The country’s capital city is a modern and efficient place where wide boulevards run between expansive government properties.
Rabat is on the World Heritage List because of the blend of modern imperial palaces built in the early 1900s by the French and the ancient citadels and Islamic structures from 800 years earlier. The old fortress of Chellah on the edge of town, the Hassan Mosque and the Oudaya kasbah are some highlights of the city.
Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou (1987)
Over the Atlas Mountains, in the middle of the desert, is a site unlike any of the other ones in Morocco. It is called the Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou and when you arrive, it feels like you have been transported far back in time.It was used as a filming location from Game of Thrones and you can easily imagine it being a part of that world. It takes a bit of effort to get to the site but is worth it and there is lots of accommodation in the nearby city of Ouarzazate.
Archaeological Site of Volubilis (1997)
This last Moroccan World Heritage Site is also the oldest. Centuries before any of the other sites had been built, Volubulis was a large and prosperous settlement.
It was built by the Romans two thousands years ago as an outpost in North Africa. It tells an important story about how this land was used two millennia ago but it also blends into the rest of the history of Morocco.
You’ll find a number of Morocco’s most popular World Heritage sites featured on our Morocco tour itineraries. You can experience Morocco off the beaten tracks with Iktichaf Travel tours. Alternatively, if you are interested in visiting all nine of Morocco’s UNESCO sites then get in touch with our expert team who will be happy to put together your perfect itinerary.