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The World Heritage Cities of UNESCO in Morocco


Morocco is home to more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than any other country on the African continent. With a total of nine designated sites, Morocco claims two more than the wonder-strewn land of ancient Egypt with a further 13 sites up for consideration on the UNESCO Tentative List. Thanks to its relatively compact size and the convenient locations of these sites, it's possible to visit all nine on one trip.

The section "World Heritage Cities of UNESCO" we started with the article Medina of Fez the 1st Morocco’s World Heritage City of UNESCO. In this article we tru to present the amaizing cities with their amaizing cultural legacy conserved during the centuries to became a witness nowadays of the rich history of Moroccan culture.


Medina of Marrakesh - 1985



The medina of Marrakech was inscribed on the World Heritage list in 1985 due to its impressive collection of monuments. This includes the discernible Koutoubia Mosque, the splendid Ali ben Youssef Medersa and the opulent Bahia Palace. Within the ramparts are also numerous souks, hammams (public bath) and funduqs (courtyard complex). And at the centre of all this is Djemaa El-Fna, the city's pulsating main square and a veritable open-air theatre with snake charmers, henna artists and food vendors all vying for your attention.

Founded in 1070-1072 by the Almoravids (1056-1147), capital of the Almohads (1147-1269), Marrakesh was, for a long time, a major political, economic and cultural centre of the western Muslim world, reigning in North Africa and Andalusia. Vast monuments dating back to that period: Koutoubia Mosque, with the matchless minaret of 77 metres, an essential monument of Muslim architecture, is one of the important landmarks of the urban landscape and the symbol of the City, the Kasbah, ramparts, monumental gates and gardens. Later, the town welcomed other marvels, such as the Badiâ Palace, the Ben Youssef merdersa, les Saâdians tombs, Bahia Palace and large residences. Jamaâ El Fna Square, inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, is a true open-air theatre that always amazes visitors. Due to its still protected, original and well conserved conception, its construction materials and decoration in constant use, and its natural environment (notably the Gardens of Aguedal, Ménara and the Palm Grove (Palmeraie) the plantation of which is attributed to the Almoravids), the Medina of Marrakesh possesses all its initial components both cultural and natural that illustrate its Outstanding Universal Value.


Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou - 1987



The ksar, a group of earthen buildings surrounded by high walls, is a traditional pre-Saharan habitat. The houses crowd together within the defensive walls, which are reinforced by corner towers. Ait-Ben-Haddou, in Ouarzazate province, is a striking example of the architecture of southern Morocco.

Located in the foothills on the southern slopes of the High Atlas in the Province of Ouarzazate, the site of Ait-Ben-Haddou is the most famous ksar in the Ounila Valley. The Ksar of Aït-Ben-Haddou is a striking example of southern Moroccan architecture. The ksar is a mainly collective grouping of dwellings. Inside the defensive walls which are reinforced by angle towers and pierced with a baffle gate, houses crowd together - some modest, others resembling small urban castles with their high angle towers and upper sections decorated with motifs in clay brick - but there are also buildings and community areas. It is an extraordinary ensemble of buildings offering a complete panorama of pre-Saharan earthen construction techniques. The oldest constructions do not appear to be earlier than the 17th century, although their structure and technique were propagated from a very early period in the valleys of southern Morocco. The site was also one of the many trading posts on the commercial route linking ancient Sudan to Marrakesh by the Dra Valley and the Tizi-n'Telouet Pass. Architecturally, the living quarters form a compact grouping, closed and suspended. The community areas of the ksar include a mosque, a public square, grain threshing areas outside the ramparts, a fortification and a loft at the top of the village, an caravanserai, two cemeteries (Muslim and Jewish) and the Sanctuary of the Saint Sidi Ali or Amer. The Ksar of Ait- Ben-Haddou is a perfect synthesis of earthen architecture of the pre-Saharan regions of Morocco.

It's believed a town has existed on the site of Ait Benhaddou since 757 BC and parts of what you see today are a near-perfect example of Ait Benhaddou as a more modest 11th century caravanserai. Many of the families that once lived here moved to more modern accommodation across the river decades ago and it's the resulting emptiness that gives Ait Benhaddou its sense of mystery and wonder.


Historic City of Meknes - 1996



The Historic City of Meknes has exerted a considerable influence on the development of the civil and military architecture (the kasbah) and works of art. Founded in 1061 A.D. by the Almoravids as a military stronghold, its name originates from the great Berber tribe Meknassa who dominated eastern Morocco as far back as the Tafilalet in the 8th century. Geographically, it is remarkably located in the Saïss Plain between the Middle Atlas and the pre-rifan massif of Zerhoun. It contains the vestiges of the Medina that bears witness to ancient socio-economic fabric and the imperial city created by the Sultan Moulay Ismail (1672-1727). It is the presence today of this historic city containing the rare remains and important monuments located within a rapidly changing urban environment that gives this urban heritage its universal value. The two ensembles are surrounded by a series of ramparts that separate them from one another. In addition to its architectural interest of being built in the Hispano-Moorish style, Meknes is of particular interest as it represents the first great work of the Alaouite dynasty, reflecting the grandeur of its creator. It also provides a remarkable approach of urban design, integrating elements of both Islamic and European architecture and town planning.

The lesser visited of Morocco's four imperial cities, Meknes is an impressive example of the fusion of Spanish and Moorish influence in Moroccan architecture and urban design. Originally founded by a Berber tribe, the city flourished as capital in the 17th century under Sultan Moulay Ismaïl who built the 25km-long walls that encircle the city. The sultan now rests in a lavish mausoleum complete with brightly colored courtyards and ornately decorated interiors that are open to non-Muslim visitors.


Medina of Tétouan (formerly known as Titawin) - 1997


Tétouan was of particular importance in the Islamic period, from the 8th century onwards, since it served as the main point of contact between Morocco and Andalusia. After the Reconquest, the town was rebuilt by Andalusian refugees who had been expelled by the Spanish. This is well illustrated by its art and architecture, which reveal clear Andalusian influence. Although one of the smallest of the Moroccan medinas, Tétouan is unquestionably the most complete and it has been largely untouched by subsequent outside influences.

Although one of Morocco's smallest, the Tetouan medina is beautifully complete with an air of authenticity that makes it particularly appealing. The wide streets are largely free of the congestion and commotion found in the medinas of Fes and Marrakech yet there's the same sense of the exotic with local artisans busy at their work and stalls piled high with locally-grown produce. And like these other cities, Tetouan is best enjoyed on foot and in no rush.


Archaeological Site of Volubilis - 1997


First up is Volubilis, a UNESCO World Heritage Site home to Morocco’s best-preserved Roman ruins. This town was of the most remote outposts of the Roman Empire—the Romans ruled here for about 200 years, until 285 CE when the empire grew too large to control. Wander this massive archeological site and explore the remains of merchant homes, temples, and colorful mosaics that have remained in good condition over the centuries.

The Mauritanian capital, founded in the 3rd century B.C., became an important outpost of the Roman Empire and was graced with many fine buildings. Extensive remains of these survive in the archaeological site, located in a fertile agricultural area. Volubilis was later briefly to become the capital of Idris I, founder of the Idrisid dynasty, who is buried at nearby Moulay Idris.


Medina of Essaouira (formerly Mogador) - 2001


Essaouira is an exceptional example of a late-18th-century fortified town, built according to the principles of contemporary European military architecture in a North African context. Since its foundation, it has been a major international trading seaport, linking Morocco and its Saharan hinterland with Europe and the rest of the world.

The Medina of Essaouira World Heritage site is a historic fortified town on Morocco’s Atlantic coast. The site, as it exists today, dates back to 1765 when a new city was built on the site of an old fort. It combines European and African architectural forms with a European street plan and a French-style fortress. Within its walls, the city included a Kasbah, Medina, and Mellah – the administrative, market, and Jewish quarters – each of which included residences. The UNESCO site also includes the Mogador islands, which have been in use since antiquity, but are now a protected bird sanctuary.

The Medina of Essaouira, formerly named Mogador (name originating from the Phoenician word Migdol meaning a « small fortress »), is an outstanding example of a fortified town of the mid-eighteenth century, surrounded by a wall influenced by the Vauban model. Constructed according to the principles of contemporary European military architecture, in a North African context, in perfect harmony with the precepts of Arabo-Muslim architecture and town-planning, it has played a major role over the centuries as an international trading seaport, linking Morocco and sub-Saharan Africa with Europe and the rest of the world. The town is also an example of a multicultural centre as proven by the coexistence, since its foundation, of diverse ethnic groups, such as the Amazighs, Arabs, Africans, and Europeans as well as multiconfessional (Muslim, Christian and Jewish). Indissociable from the Medina, the Mogador archipelago comprises a large number of cultural and natural sites of Outstanding Universal Value. Its relatively late foundation in comparison to other medinas of North Africa was the work of the Alaouite Sultan Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdallah (1757-1790) who wished to make this small Atlantic town a royal port and chief Moroccan commercial centre open to the outside world. Known for a long time as the Port of Timbuktu, Essaouira became one of the major Atlantic commercial centres between Africa and Europe at the end of the 18th century and during the 19th century.


Portuguese City of Mazagan (El Jadida) - 2004


The Portuguese fortification of Mazagan, now part of the city of El Jadida, 90-km southwest of Casablanca, was built as a fortified colony on the Atlantic coast in the early 16th century. It was taken over by the Moroccans in 1769. The fortification with its bastions and ramparts is an early example of Renaissance military design. The surviving Portuguese buildings include the cistern and the Church of the Assumption, built in the Manueline style of late Gothic architecture. The Portuguese City of Mazagan - one of the early settlements of the Portuguese explorers in West Africa on the route to India - is an outstanding example of the interchange of influences between European and Moroccan cultures, well reflected in architecture, technology, and town planning.

The Portuguese City of Mazagan (El Jadida), one of the first settlements created in Africa by Portuguese explorers on the route to India, bears outstanding witness to the exchange of influences between European and Moroccan cultures from the 16th to the 18th centuries, which are evident in the architecture, technology and town planning. Mazagan was built as a fortified colony on the Atlantic coast at the beginning of the 16th century. Located 90 km south of Casablanca, it dominates a natural bay of great beauty. The brothers Francisco and Diogo de Arruda built the first citadel in 1514. In 1541- 1548, in accordance with the plans of the Italian architect Benedetto da Ravenna, Joao Ribeiro and Juan Castillo enlarged the citadel transforming it into a star-shaped fortification.

The Mazagan fortress with its ditch and inclined ramparts is one of the first testimonies in the Lusitanian period of the application by Portuguese technology of new architectural concepts of Renaissance adapted to the advent of the firearm. Complete and unique witness in Morocco to the advent of this new style, Mazagan is better preserved than other Portuguese fortifications in Morocco; most of the other Portuguese trading posts in the world having suffered many changes.

Following the departure of the Portuguese in 1769 and the resulting abandon of the city, the fortress was rehabilitated in the middle of the 19th century and named El Jadida (The New), and became a commercial centre and a multicultural society, embracing Muslims, Jews and Christians.

The shape and the layout of the fortress have been well preserved and represent an outstanding example of this category of construction. The historic fabric inside the fortress reflects the different changes and influences over the centuries. The existent monuments of the Portuguese period are: the ramparts and their bastions, the cistern, an outstanding example of this type of structure, and the Catholic Church of the Assumption, of late Gothic style, the Manoeline style at the beginning of the 16th century.


Rabat, Modern Capital and Historic City -2012


Located on the Atlantic coast in the north-west of Morocco, the site is the product of a fertile exchange between the Arabo-Muslim past and Western modernism. The inscribed city encompasses the new town conceived and built under the French Protectorate from 1912 to the 1930s, including royal and administrative areas, residential and commercial developments and the Jardins d’Essais botanical and pleasure gardens. It also encompasses older parts of the city dating back to the 12thcentury. The new town is one of the largest and most ambitious modern urban projects built in Africa in the 20th century and probably the most complete. The older parts include Hassan Mosque (begun in 1184) and the Almohad ramparts and gates, the only surviving parts of the project for a great capital city of the Almohad caliphate as well as remains from the Moorish, or Andalusian, principality of the 17thcentury.

Rabat bears witness to a capital city conceived at the time of the Protectorate, at the beginning of the 20th century. The project successfully adapts modernist town planning and architectural values within the context of the Maghreb, whilst incorporating them into the framework of the ancient city with its many historic and heritage components. The result embodies the emergence of a distinctive architectural and decorative style which is characteristic of contemporary Morocco.

The well-conserved modern city has been rationally designed, and contains quarters and buildings with clearly defined functions and significant visual and architectural qualities. The modern city is characterised by the coherence of its public spaces and by the putting into practice of public health ideas (services, role of vegetation, etc.). The habitat is illustrated by quarters with clearly asserted identities: the Medina and the Kasbah, the residential quarters and the middle-class housing of the modern city, and finally the neo-traditional quarter of Habous de Diour Jamaâ. The city includes a full range of monumental, architectural and decorative elements from the various earlier dynasties. The modern city of Rabat tangibly expresses a pioneering approach to town-planning, which has been careful to preserve historic monuments and traditional housing. The reappropriation of the past and its influence on 20th century town planners and architects has resulted in a distinctive and refined urban, architectural and decorative synthesis. The property as a whole makes visible a heritage shared by several major cultures of human history: ancient, Islamic, Hispano-Maghrebian and European.


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