Contiki Culture Hubs: Moroccan Culture Edition
Welcome to Contiki’s Culture Hub for all things magical in Moroccan culture. This is the place you’ll find answers to questions you didn’t even know to ask!
Officially the Kingdom of Morocco, Morocco sits on the western most edge of Africa, bordered by the Atlantic sea to the west and the Atlas Mountain range to the east. It’s home to the world’s largest desert, the Sahara, and it’s a country of diverse landscapes, including beaches, mountains, and deserts.
But enough about the geography (though it is stunning and worth all the pics), what else is there to uncover here in Morocco? Well, there’s all the regional dishes, the friendly and welcoming culture, and the unique architecture just to start! Our expert Trip Managers and travellers have come together to compile a perfect blend of quirky, interesting, and educational Moroccan culture facts!
Morocco, Home of…
- Arabs and Berbers: Contrary to popular belief, not all of Morocco’s population is Arab. In fact, only 67% of the population is Arab, with 31% of the population being Berber. The Berber population have their own distinct culture and language, and most of the community is based in the Atlas Mountains (sick name by the way).
- Souks: Sprinkled around the entire country are vibrant marketplace districts known as Souks. Run by bargaining locals, one can literally wander through these markets for days and uncover something truly fascinating every step of the way. Filled with food, drink, jewellery, silver, gold, leather, rugs, clothing, art, souvenirs, etc. Souks are real life treasure-troves.
- Islam: Islam is the predominant religion of Morocco, and a large majority of Moroccans are Sunni Muslims. The Moroccan flag features a green star in the centre of it. The colour green is considered the colour of Islam, and the five points of the star represent each pillar of Islam: Shahada (profession of faith), salat (prayer), zakat (almsgiving), sawm (fasting), and hajj (pilgrimage).
With Open Arms
Hospitality is a very deep part of Morrocan culture, and it’s not at all uncommon for people to invite strangers into their homes for a meal or a cup of tea. In fact, tea holds a very significant place in Moroccan social life, and it’s widely regarded as the drink of friendship.
Tea is drunk amongst guests, friends, colleagues, customers, and even during celebrations and events like weddings, birthdays, etc. If America runs on Dunkin’, Morocco runs on Tea.
If this sounds just as delightful to you as it does to us, join our Moroccan Contiki to experience a traditional tea ceremony with a Berber family.
Moroccan cuisine is world-renowned for being full of colour and flavour and its ability to satisfy both meat eaters and veggies in several bowls of deliciousness.
Tagines and couscous are the fan favourites and the most well-known. But, did you know that tagine is actually the name of the pot with a conical lid used to cook these dishes first, and the name of the dish second? It can also be called marqa in other North African regions. And, did you know (we’re big know it alls here) that couscous is a type of pasta, not a grain? It’s made of a very fine wheat dough and rolled by hand – by hand! Those tiny pearls.
Fancy a big bowl of tagine but unsure what to wash it down with? Try Mint Tea, Morocco’s drink of choice. But, you must serve it properly: raise your arm high into the air and pour the drink into a small glass. The height allows for a good level of froth to form, also known as the crown.
Image source:Annie Spratt / Unsplash
- Dress conservatively, especially in rural areas or when visiting mosques. Remember, you are in someone else’s country and respect goes both ways.
- Haggle. Yes, yes, yes! When shopping in markets and souks haggling for a better price is expected and part of the fun! But don’t be disrespectful, and be fair.
- Remove your shoes when entering someone’s home or a mosque.
- Take photos of shops or people without their permission, especially women. Make sure to always ask, and if you do get permission, make sure to give them a tip of around 5 dirham.
- Eat or offer food with your left hand. This is considered unclean and impolite, so make sure to only use your right hand when at the table.
Deserts and Desserts
There are 3 main deserts in Morocco, two of which form part of the Sahara. There’s the Erg Chebbi desert, erg being an Arabic word meaning “dune field”, the Zagora desert, and the Erg Chigaga desert.
The Zagora desert is quite flat in comparison to the other two and isn’t a part of the Sahara – it ends just before the latter begins. Erg Chebbi is considered a beautiful desert with ridged golden dunes, and Erg Chigaga, being harder to access, is considered the more wild of the two Ergs. Sunsets in the Moroccan deserts are a sight to behold, and the rolling dunes are perfect for swaying camel rides with your pals.
Now what can you eat in the desert? Moroccan desserts of course! Sweet treats of all kinds. Common flavours include almond, pistachio, dates, sesame seeds, and honey; so expect lots of stickiness and crunch – texture for days!
You’ll be familiar with baklava already, that flaky layered parcel of pistachio and honey, but locals also love maamoul, a date filled cookie, almond crescent cookies, and almond briouat, tea time biscuits made of almond paste, cinnamon, and orange flower water. Moroccan pastries are dreamy, fragrant, and will whisk you up into a cloud of bliss.
Harnessing the Sun
Morocco is one of the leading countries in solar energy, in fact the Noor-Ouarzazate Solar Complex is the largest solar farm on the planet, and the country lays claim to one of the world’s largest clean energy programmes.
Sustainability is a very important value in Islam and the fight against climate change is real and felt all throughout Morocco. Morocco’s Koutoubia and As-Sounna Mosques are entirely solar powered and considered the most environmentally-friendly Mosques in the Muslim world.
Country of Blues…?
One of the most Instagrammable towns in Morocco (you’ve 100% seen this place on your feed), Chefchaouen is a town that is almost entirely painted in a shade of periwinkle blue. It’s nestled in the Rif Mountains and is known as one of the most colourful cities in the world. But why the blue?
There are a few reasons and theories on why Chefchaouen is blue. The town was settled by Jewish communities in 1492 after the Spanish Reconquista and according to Jewish belief, the colour blue is representative of the big open sky, therefore this light shade of blue is used in a lot of architecture and fabrics. Blue is also a colour that naturally absorbs heat and repels mosquitos. When in Morocco, any solution to cool down a home, especially one as stunning as this, is a valid one. You’ll get to explore Chefchaouen with Contiki and get your new besties to take the best pics.
Another stunning blue location in Morocco is the Majorelle Garden. A botanical garden dedicated to showcasing relevant art; the walls, fountains, and features of the park are painted an electric shade of blue, coined Majorelle Blue, by French artist Jacques Majorelle. The colour was taken from Moroccan architecture which already featured it quite heavily, especially in tiles, and traditional Berber burnous, a type of woollen cloak worn by men.
The villa was Jacques and his wife’s residence and since their passing it was bought and restored by creatives at Yves Saint Laurent. It’s now a peaceful garden and museum open to the public in Marrakech.
As with many Islamic countries, the celebration of Ramadan is a big part of Moroccan culture. This religious festival involves a month in which participants fast from sunrise to sunset. It’s one of the five pillars, or duties, of Islam, and is therefore mandatory for all healthy adult Muslims. Ramadan ends with a three day “Festival of Breaking Fast” called Eid al-Fitr, and the fast is ended after the call to the Maghrib prayer, done at sunset. A common saying during this time is Eid Mubarak, meaning “a blessed Eid.”
In Morocco, a typical day during Ramadan starts with the town crier blowing a horn to wake families up for the pre-dawn meal. During this holy month many Mosques hold extra prayers for people to read the Quran, and in the evening an air raid siren alerts the people that they may start eating and drinking.
Did you know that Islam uses a Lunar-based calendar? So, Ramadan starts during the 9th month and ends on the 10th, but because there’s an approximate 11 day shift earlier each year when compared to the Gregorian calendar, Muslims will experience Ramadan at different seasonal times during the course of their life.
Ramadan isn’t just a fasting tradition, it is also a time when family and friends get together to spend time with each other. Often parents will gift their children toys or participate in activities with them such as face painting to celebrate together. Some people also exchange money or small gifts with each other as well. Ramadan is also a time of selflessness and providing charity to those in need.
You’re probably just itching to travel to Morocco now, witness all the beauty with your own eyes and taste the baklava with your own tongue. Before you go, here are some handy Arabic phrases to help you out.
- Salaam alaikum: Peace be upon you (a common greeting)
- Shukran: Thank you
- La, shukran: No, thank you
- Kayf halik?: How are you?
- Labas, shukran: I’m fine, thank you
Like what you’ve learned about Moroccan culture? Well, it’s only a hop skip and a click away.