Morocco may be in North Africa, but there is no region in Africa or most of Europe as geographically diverse. Morocco is, in fact, a peninsula of sorts, protected by two oceans—the Mediterranean in the North and the Atlantic in the West—and by the Atlas Mountains from the East and the Sahara from the South. Within this relatively sheltered island, a landscape of mountains, plains, hammada desert and oases prevail.
Morocco covers approximately 710,850 sq. km (including the disputed Sahara). The Mediterranean coast is 530 km long, while the Atlantic runs 2,800 km. In mileage, Morocco’s entire coastline extends over 2,200 miles.
Almost one sixth of Morocco’s landmass is over 2,000 m in altitude, making Morocco one of most mountainous lands in Africa. Mount Toubkal, which rises to 4,165 m/ 13,665 ft, is not only the highest mountain in Morocco and the entire Mediterranean basin (if Mt. Blanc in the Alps is not counted), but it is also the higher than any mountain in all of Western and Central Europe.
There are several mountain ranges in Morocco. The rocky ranges of the Rif, running alongside the Mediterranean and extending to the vicinity of Fez, seem like a continuation of Europe. One only has to look at the Strait of Gibraltar from a plane to see that the chain was broken at some remote geological period. Moving southwards into Morocco, the Rif gives way to the Middle Atlas, a range of high plateaus inhabited by Berber tribes. This leads into the High Atlas, a range that stretches for 700 km and contains 400 peaks over 3,000 m. The High Atlas retreats into the dry Anti-Atlas, giving way to the more familiar landscape of the flat and rocky Moroccan Sahara (the hammada) and sand dunes, the whole punctuated by strikingly picturesque oases.
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Culturally, Morocco is one of the most fascinating countries in the world. Only nine miles away from Europe and situated at the northernmost western tip of Africa, it is the gateway to several major civilizations: African, Islamic, Arab, and European. Many of these cultures coexisted and mingled throughout history, creating in the process a dazzling multicultural legacy that continues to fascinate scholars and educated travelers. With cities like Fez, Marrakech, Casablanca and Tangier, Morocco evokes images of freedom and beauty, exoticism and creativity. One of the most progressive countries in the Arab and Muslim worlds, Morocco is the perfect place to study the dialogue of Islam with the West.