In 1972, UNESCO adopted the protection of the world cultural and natural heritage convention. It seeks to protect and preserve the cultural and natural heritage around the world deemed to be of outstanding value to humanity.
Of all Morocco’s magnificent sites, there are nine properties inscribed in UNESCO’s World Heritage. These range from archaeological ruins to medieval quarters (Medinas).
Archaeological Site of Volubilis
The Roman ruins of Volubilis (Latin for “morning glory”) go back to the 3rd century B.C. First founded by Mauritanian King Juba II, husband to the daughter of Cleopatra and Marc Anthony, the province became an important outpost of the Roman Empire and was graced with many fine buildings. The structure of the city is still visible from the ruins and extensive remains survive, located in a fertile agricultural area.
Historic City of Mekes
Founded in the 11th century by the Almoravids as a military settlement, Meknes became a capital under Sultan Moulay Ismaïl (1672–1727), the founder of the Alawite dynasty. This Imperial City features more than 40 kilometres of walls with some 20 gates, a royal palace, the vast Agdal basin, gardens, ancient storehouses and stud stables as well as large squares.
Ksar of Ait Benhaddou
The ksar, a group of earthen buildings surrounded by high walls, is a traditional pre-Saharan habitat. The Ksar of Ait Benhaddou is one of the most exotic and best preserved such structures in southern Morocco. It has been used for scenes in many films, notably Lawrence of Arabia, Jesus of Nazareth (for which much of the village was rebuilt) and most recently Gladiator, Alexander and Prince of Persia.
Medina of Essaouira (formerly Mogador)
Essaouira’s Medina, with its well preserved, late 18th century walled layout, is an exceptional example of contemporary European military architecture in North Africa. The ramparts were famously used in the opening scene of Orson Welles’ Othello for a panoramic shot where Iago is suspended in a cage above the rocks and sea.
Medina of Fez
Fez is the first place in Morocco to be listed as a World Heritage City in recognition of its unique architectural and cultural treasures. Founded in 789 AD, it is the world’s oldest, intact and continuously inhabited medieval city. This real time capsule offers a cultural exchange like no other, with intricately tiled palaces, rich history and centuries-old souks.
Medina of Marrakech
In spite of the influx of visitors, Marrakech Medina (old quarters) has retained much of its character. Dating back to the 10th century, the Medina has several impressive monuments dating from that period: the Koutoubia Mosque, the Kasbah, the battlements, monumental doors, gardens and more. Later architectural jewels include the El Badi Palace, the Ben Youssef Madrasa, the Saadian Tombs, several great residences and Place Jamaâ El Fna, a veritable open-air natural theatre.
Medina of Tetouan
The whitewashed Medina of Tetouan tells the story of the long relationship between Morocco and Spain. The town is built by Andalucian refugees after the Reconquista (the reconquest of Spain, completed in 1492). Although smaller than the medinas further south, Tetouan is unquestionably the most complete and best preserved.
Portuguese City of Mazagan (El Jadida)
The 16th century Portuguese settlement of Mazagan, now part of the city of El Jadida, is a sleepy but gorgeous Medina. It is an outstanding example of the interchange of influences between European and Moroccan cultures. Of special note are the ramparts and bastions of Renaissance military design and the cistern and Church of the Assumption built in Portuguese late Gothic style.
Rabat, Modern Capital and Historic City
Rabat, the capital of the Kingdom of Morocco, reflects the diversity of cultures that characterises Morocco. The inscribed city encompasses both the modern capital, established by the French protectorate in 1912, and the old Imperial City. It is a town where a visitor can enjoy the numerous sites of all periods of Moroccan history.