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The flag of the Kingdom of Morocco. The five-pointed star is green, the color of Islam, and represents the five pillars of faith. It is also known as Solomon's seal.

Morocco is a state in the Maghreb region of Western Africa that, like many other states in the region, has Arabic as its official language. However, there are many different languages and dialects spoken within the borders of the country. The diversity and uniqueness of Morocco’s cultural sphere reflects influence of numerous civilizations including Arab, Berber, European and African.

Like its culture, Morocco’s geographic regions are extremely varied. To the north, there is the Mediterranean coast and the Atlantic coast to the west. Between these two coasts, lies the Strait of Gibraltar. Not far from the northern coast, extending through much of the central portion of the country are the Atlas Mountains. To the extreme south and in Western Sahara, which Morocco has annexed, the predominant geographical feature is the Sahara Desert. This unique geography of Morocco is responsible for shaping the culture and the history of the country. In particular, Morocco’s strategic position along the Strait of Gibraltar has given the country the power to control who enters and exits the Mediterranean Sea.

The earliest known peoples to inhabit the area of Morocco were during the Paleolithic Period. The Capsian culture arose during the Mesolithic period. At this point in history, around 2000 B.C.E., the region was less desert-like than it is today and was home to the more lush vegetation of a savannah. Additionally there were believed to be large wooded areas that would have provided game for hunters. Over the course of the next major period of human history, the Neolithic Period, these animals began to be domesticated. The decline of these early civilizations came about with the rise of climate change around 4000 B.C.E. This change led to the desertification that created the more arid landscape of the region that we know today.

Roman remains at the city of Volubilis in Morocco. (Photograph by Bernard Gagon)

During the twelfth century B.C.E., Morocco began to be visited by the first of what would become a long line of foreign rulers. Phoenicians first visited the area as traders during this time, who capitalized on the salt and ore markets of the region. By the sixth century B.C.E., the first Phoenician colony was established at Mogador. They also established many kingdoms throughout the rest of West and North Africa. Their rule eventually declined as Berber kingdoms arose around the second century B.C.E. However, their presence remained in the area.

Following the rise of the independent Berber kingdoms, Roman rule covered much of the region until the fifth century C.E. Following their decline, the area of present-day Morocco experienced a successive line of invaders, including the Visigoths, the Vandals, and the Byzantine Greeks until Arab invaders arrived in the seventh century C.E. It was the beginning of both the Arabs culture in the region, as well as the introduction of Islam. In the second century, Christianity had arrived in North Western Africa and was popular among the Berber farmers. Previously to that, Judaism was present. However, upon Islam’s arrival, most of the Berbers converted to the newer religion.

Eugene Delacroix, The Sultan of Morocco and his Entourage, 1845. European interest in the North African region is commonly reflected in art of the period.

Although much of the Berber population had joined the Muslim faith, their allegiance to the foreign Arab powers in Baghdad did not last long. By the 739, the Berber people led an uprising known as the Great Berber Revolt. With their independence secured, they continued to set up many small Kingdoms. The descendents of these earlier kingdoms would form a golden age in the eleventh century, when the cities of modern-day Morocco became centers for learning and trade. This golden age declined with the immigration of Arab tribes that led to more nomadic lifestyles within the country. In the sixteenth century, power transferred from the hands of the Berbers to Arab tribes. In 1659, the Alaouite Dynasty took control. The Alaouites claim descent from the Prophet Muhammad and have remained in power since the middle of the seventeenth century.

European interest in the region began in the fifteenth century with the Portuguese trying to gain control of the Atlantic coast. They were followed by a successful Spanish campaign to also control strategic portions of the area, valuable for trade. Their control lasted for nearly half a century and brought interest from other European nations. By 1912, Morocco became a protectorate of France, with portions of the north and the south under a Spanish protectorate. Under European influence, Morocco experienced a definitive system of castes, or classes, develop. European settlers were at the top of the system, while Arab Muslims and Jews were at the lower end. This sort of foreign dominance over the native peoples of the country eventually led to a nationalist movement, which wanted to free Morocco from its European dominance. At times, the resistance grew violent, as it did in the early 1950’s when several Europeans were murdered in the streets in protest. The party, known as the Istiqlal (Independence) Party, is still a powerful group within Moroccan politics today.

The city of Tangier, which was once an ancient Phoenician trading post.

On March 2, 1956, Morocco officially gained its independence from France. Shortly thereafter, areas under Spanish control were also transferred into the hands of the native Moroccans, with the exception of the two costal towns of Melilla and Ceuta. Shortly after Moroccan liberation, Hassan II became king in 1961. His rule lasted an astounding thirty-eight years, until his death in 1999. It was a time of prosperity in the country, primarily due to vast economic and social reforms. In 2006, Morocco celebrated fifty years of freedom from European colonization.

Today, the government of Morocco is considered a constitutional monarchy. There is also an elected parliament. Although the king is considered the head of state, power is shared with the prime minister, who is considered the head of government. Recently the government has taken ground-breaking strides to address several of the human rights issues within the country, such as education and healthcare reforms. Like many Arab countries, Morocco experienced protests in early 2011. However, unlike many of its neighbors, Moroccan uprisings were small and peaceful. In addition, King Mohammed VI called for further reforms in response to the protests, which seemed to quell the small amount of dissent.

Interior of the Marrakesh Museum, which depicts typical Moroccan architectural features. (Photograph by Donar Reiskoffer)

The economy of Morocco largely relies upon the export of phosphorus. The country is the world’s largest supplier of the mineral. Additionally, the country relies heavily upon tourism and agriculture. Currently, the country is concentrating on the development of the city of Tangier as a tourism hotspot and has made vast reforms to the agricultural sector of the country to improve upon its production.

The population of the country consists of many different ethnic and religious groups. This has led to a culture that is rich in diversity and tradition. Since the country gained independence, the culture of the country has flourished in areas such as music, literature, arts, and theater. Morocco’s diversity has led to each region of the country having its own unique subculture, according to the groups of peoples occupying each location. These differences reflect the impact of centuries of habitation by Arab, Berber, Christian, Jewish, Spanish, and French influences.

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