Uncovering the Mystique of Morocco

8 treasures this North African country has given the world

By Google Arts & Culture

Throughout the centuries, Moroccan identity has been shaped by the influence of many, from the oldest indigenous tribe to the craftsmen who live there today. To uncover any mystique around the country, we take a closer look at eight gifts that Moroccan culture and its rich history have given the world.

Taliouine saffron

The tight-knit Berber community in Taliouine has a world-renowned ingredient: saffron. The saffron cultivated in this southwestern town is so popular that even the Moroccan king visits Taliouine once a year to inaugurate the saffron festival known as Anmugar Amadal N Zafran.

Taliouine Saffron, Slow Food, 2014, From the collection of: Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity - Ark of Taste
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Although people have been using saffron medicinally since biblical times, modern science is only just beginning to understand this aromatic spice’s unique properties. According to recent medical studies, saffron tea has been shown to help with conditions such as heart problems, depression, and asthma.

Taliouine Saffron, Slow Food, 2014, From the collection of: Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity - Ark of Taste
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Artisanal leather

Moroccan tanners, especially in the city of Fez, have been making leather goods since the Middle Ages. Indeed, Fez has the oldest and largest concentration of leather tanners on the planet. The pride and dedication Moroccan tanners take sun-drying cow hides has earned the respect of the global fashion industry.

Zapatero moro, Miquel Viladrich Vila, 1933/1933, From the collection of: Museu d'Art Jaume Morera
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One of Morocco’s unique leather goods is a type of slipper typically worn by men called a babouche. Although note that most of these slippers don’t have any arch support, so flat-footed people might need to look elsewhere for optimal feet comfort.

A Moroccan artisan at work, 2012-04, From the collection of: ABURY Foundation
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Handcrafted ceramics

Like Morocco’s leather production, Morocco’s pottery is well-respected and a time-honored tradition that has been passed down from craftsman to craftsman. It also doesn’t hurt that the area around Fez has some of the finest clay in North Africa.

White water-pot with inbuilt strainer, 1800/1899, From the collection of: British Museum
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One easy way to spot a Fez-made ceramic is to check out the colors. Artisans in Fez usually favor blue and white designs. Today, about 80% of handmade Moroccan ceramics come from Fez and a few surrounding cities.

Pottery plate, 1950/1999, From the collection of: British Museum
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Moroccan tea culture

Did you know that Moroccans are huge tea fans? It is not uncommon for them to have as many as ten glasses of mint tea in a single day. The elaborate Moroccan tea ceremony is generally reserved for after lunch and can last a few hours. Most often, guests are served their tea meticulously prepared with sprigs of fresh mint and sugar, perhaps with a side of fresh bread and olive oil.

Dmitri Kessel, 1949-06, From the collection of: LIFE Photo Collection
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Religious jewels

Before the modern state of Israel was founded in 1948, Morocco had the largest community of Jewish people in all of North Africa. Jewish people have resided in Morocco for at least 2,000 years, working and producing intricate craftsmanship in jewelry making.

Hanukkah lamp adorned with Temple Menorah, Unknown, Late 19th century - Early 20th century, From the collection of: The Israel Museum, Jerusalem
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Thankfully, many of the ornate religious objects used by Moroccan Jewish people have been preserved and can be found in locations across the world, such as the Jewish Museum in London and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Today, many major cities in Morocco still have strong Jewish communities and synagogues.

Synagogue memorial lamp, Marrakech, 19th century, Unknown, 19th century, From the collection of: The Jewish Museum, London
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The ancient ways of Morocco's Berbers

The Berbers are the oldest indigenous tribe in North Africa and were said to have established a kingdom in Morocco under the rule of Bocchus I around 110 BCE. Despite the many conquests of Morocco over the years, the Berbers have been able to adapt and there are approximately 20 million Berbers living in the country today.

Berber Nomads, AMNH, From the collection of: American Museum of Natural History
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Although anthropologists refer to all indigenous peoples of Northern Africa as ‘Berbers’, there’s a huge diversity of languages, wedding rituals, and other cultural practices, even within nations. For example, there are at least three different Berber languages spoken in modern day Morocco alone.

Berber Bride, Josep Tapiró, Around 1896, From the collection of: Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya - MNAC, Barcelona
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Moroccan Modernism

Ever since the 1960s, Moroccan artist Mohammed Melehi has been obsessed with waves. All of Melehi’s major paintings use the motif of waves with different color schemes and opposing shapes in an attempt to meld Moroccan art with European Modernism.

Noir Mauve, Mohammed Melehi, From the collection of: Barjeel Art Foundation
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There are many theories as to why Melehi is so fascinated with these hypnotic shapes. Some have theorized that he is drawing inspiration from the beaches of his hometown Asilah, while others believe the curves represent the artistry of Arabic calligraphers.

Sahara, Mohamed Melehi, 1966/1966, From the collection of: Casa Museo Alberto Moravia
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Abstract textiles

Moroccan textiles are unique in their elegant embroidered designs. Moroccan women who make these textiles often use abstract geometrical designs to give the viewer a sense of otherworldly harmony.

The designs on hand-made Moroccan textiles are especially unique in that they often reflect the individual artist who made them. For instance, Moroccans more influenced by Arabic art might put in more floral arrangements, while Jewish Moroccans might favor the Star of David.

Geometrical patterns, From the collection of: ABURY Foundation
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