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the history of Morocco

The history of Morocco, from its origins

The history of Morocco, from its origins

Although the state of Morocco, as we know it today, is relatively recent, the trajectory of the peoples that have inhabited this territory is long and complex. For this reason, on this page dedicated to the history of Morocco we must also look back and review the political entities, dynasties and civilizations that have helped shape the current country. And best of all, each one of them, in one way or another, has left a mark that you can discover with your own eyes during your trip to Morocco.

the history of Morocco

Timeline of Moroccan history

For a better understanding, we have decided to divide the history of Morocco into three major periods, whose margins are delimited by the two most transcendental events for the country: the arrival of Islam and independence. In that way, this is the basic and chronological outline of the history of Morocco.

• Morocco, before Islam: prehistory-682

• first berbers

• Country of the Mauri. Phoenicians and Carthaginians

• Province of the Roman Empire. zenata

•  Morocco, after the arrival of Islam 682-19th century

• The Idrisids

• The almoravids

• The Almohads

• The benimerines

• The Wattasids and the Saadians

•  The alaouites

• struggle and achievement of independence and modernity

• The Protectorates of Morocco

• Process of independence and consolidation of the modern state

• Morocco today

The history of Morocco, before Islam

Morocco currently occupies what can be considered the western end of the Maghreb. And the first known inhabitants of this territory were the Berbers, a term that they themselves do not like to use, since it probably derives from the name ‘barbarian’, imposed by the Romans or by the Arabs. Instead, they call themselves imazighen, which means “men of the earth” or “free men.” They were nomadic herders from the south, who ended up settling more or less permanently in the 3rd millennium BC.

Something that has always characterized the Berbers or Imazighen is their independence and attachment to their own traditions. And that has meant that their culture and language have survived to this day, as can still be seen when traveling around the country. In addition, at some moments in the Ancient Age, they came to control a good part of North Africa, from the western coast to Egypt.

Relations with Phoenicians and Carthaginians

This pride and courage was not an impediment to establish relations with the different civilizations with which they came into contact. In particular, the Phoenicians, who came from the eastern end of the Mediterranean, and their successors, the Carthaginians. These peoples always had a more commercial than conquering vocation and, thanks to the exchanges they established with them, the previous nomadic population became progressively more sedentary.

The most important Phoenician colony at that time, from the 7th century BC, was Lixus, very close to present-day Larache, on the Atlantic coast. The Berbers, settled in the valleys and in the mountains, delivered skins, cattle and dairy products, in exchange for manufactures and seeds provided by the Phoenicians. In addition, the Berber population learned metallurgical and agricultural techniques, as well as Punic writing.

Since the 4th century BC, the Romans referred to this territory and its people as the ‘country of the Mauri’ or Mauretania: it was an indigenous kingdom that was in the orbit of the Carthaginians and linked to the kingdom of Numidia (north of the current Algeria and Libya), coming to establish commercial relations with Jewish communities. But the fall of Carthage (146 BC) changed the situation, leaving the new hegemonic power in North Africa at the expense of the Romans.

Berbers before the rise and fall of the Roman Empire

The Roman Empire, from the middle of the 1st century AD, established the Mauritania Tingitana province here, with a high degree of Romanization, which included what is now northern Morocco, arable land, north of the Atlas. The main cities were Tingis (Tangier), Lixus, Salé (next to present-day Rabat) and Volubilis (next to present-day Meknes), where Christianity (in the form of sects and schismatic variants) had a certain welcome since the 3rd century. South of the Atlas, on the other hand, were the Berber tribes.

After the fall of the Roman Empire (5th and 6th centuries), this territory was temporarily occupied by vandals and, later, coveted by the Byzantine Empire, although it really only exercised effective control over Tangier and Ceuta. On the other hand, those who did achieve more or less effective control of the territory were the nomadic Berber tribes, who formed a kind of political group often known as the Zenata.

the history of Morocco

The history of Morocco, since the establishment of Islam

At the end of the 6th century and the beginning of the 7th century, the history of Morocco takes a turn: in the year 682, the Arab general Uqba bin Nafi and his troops invade these lands and, after a defense led by the warrior queen Kahina, consolidate the conquest in 708 to the margins of the Sahara desert. Moroccan Berbers convert to Islam en masse and, in fact, are essential for the conquest of the Iberian Peninsula: for example, General Tarik, Berber and Governor of Tangier, was its great architect.

That did not prevent, at first, the situation from being unstable and even anarchic. Groups inspired by Kharijismo promoted a kind of identity feelings of their own under the umbrella of Islam. A situation that continued until the acclaimed arrival of Sheikh Idris (Idris 1), a descendant of Ali and son-in-law of Muhammad, who was fleeing Baghdad after participating in an uprising against the Abbasid caliph.

The Idrisids: 789-1055

Idris I was welcomed at first in Volubilis and, from there, he founded nearby Fes, which became the capital of his kingdom, the kingdom of Fes of the Idrisid dynasty. In a short time, from Idris II onwards, the city became a cultural and religious focus, hosting numerous Shiites fleeing the independent (and Sunni) emirate of Umayyad Cordoba, as well as the Tunisian city of Kairouan.

However, the heyday of the Idrisid dynasty was short- lived and, from the middle of the 9th century, it ended up breaking up into different principalities until the middle of the 11th century. In addition, these territories were peppered with conflicts between the Umayyads (Sunnis) of the Caliphate of Córdoba and the Fatimids (Shiites) of Egypt, with actions of harassment of the latter by Hilalians (Bedouin tribal groups).

The Almoravids: 1060-1144

The Almoravids were Berbers from Sanhaya tribes (originating from the southwest of the Sahara) who carried out a first attempt at unification in the history of Morocco. It was a confederation of tribes of warrior- monks (their name derives from the marabouts, a species of hermit-soldiers), who built numerous fortified convents (ribat) and defended a very orthodox vision of Islam. In 1070 they founded Marrakech, turning it into the capital of an Empire that extended to the borders of Ghana to the south and came to the aid of the taifa kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula, repelling the advance that until then had been led by the Castilian king Alfonso VI.

Among its great leaders were men like Abu Bakr Ibn Umar or Yusuf Ibn Tasfin, but behind them, the power and influence of their successors diminished, accused of abandoning the puritanism of Koranic law. To this were added constant intrigues for succession issues.

The Almohads: 1147-1269

In this climate of discontent with the Almoravids, an even more unitary, rigorous and puritanical reaction to Islam arose, led by Masmuda Berber tribes from the High Atlas and historical rivals of the Sanhaya. Its spiritual founder was the theologian Ibn Tumart, who was followed by others such as Abd el-Mumen. The Tinmel mosque, one of the few that can be visited in Morocco, is a good example of that period of incipient Almohad power, key in the history of Morocco.

In 1147 Marrakech and the rest of Moroccan territory were conquered, and a few years later they already dominated a vast territory that included Al-Andalus, Algeria, Tunisia and northern Libya. In the following decades they were able to develop a centralizing policy that drew on the refined Andalusian culture, since many officials came from those territories. And there was no lack of commercial exchanges with important European ports (Pisa, Marseille, Genoa) demonstrating its economic strength.

But it is in the field of culture that the Almohads stood out the most, with important figures such as Averroes and monuments of great importance, such as the Koutoubia mosque in Marrakech, the Hasan Tower in Rabat or the Giralda in Seville. Its main mole, on the other hand, was the great rigidity demanded of Christians and Jews, who saw their rights reduced and forced into exile in some cases.

The conjunction of internal causes (tribal fights between Berbers and Arabs) and external causes (defeats in Al- Andalus, such as that of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212) led to the decline of the Almohad empire. In the Maghreb, the empire ended up being divided into what, roughly speaking, ended up being the countries of Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, led by local dynasties. Thus begins another period in the history of Morocco, with the reigning dynasty of the Marinids, of Berber origin, with its capital in Fes.

The Benimerines (or Merinids): 1269-1472

The Benimerine dynasty lasted its reign for two centuries and one of its great achievements was the consolidation of a monarchical tradition in the country, which controlled agriculture and commerce, although with a relationship that was not always fluid with the nomadic shepherds.

Outwardly, he tried to re-establish territories in Al- Andalus and in North Africa, although without success. And in fact, he had to put his efforts into defending his own territories, especially against the Portuguese push in the fifteenth century (conquest of Ceuta in 1414). This, coupled with new internal divisions between Berber and Bedouin tribal clans, ended up weakening the Marinids, giving way to the Wattasids.

The Wattasids (1472-1554) and the Saadians (15545-1659)

In a context of Christian expansion, with the Portuguese threatening and conquering cities on the Atlantic coast (Arcila, Larache, El Jadida, etc.) and the Spanish on the Mediterranean coast (Melilla), the Wattásida dynasty knew how to unite popular fervor, mainly through marabouts or highly revered religious leaders.

That same religious fervor fueled the Saadian dynasty, which emerged at the beginning of the 16th century in the south, on the banks of the Draa River, and ended up imposing itself as the hegemonic power, with its capital in Marrakech. It can be considered the first non- Berber (Arab) dynasty in the history of Morocco, and the source of its sultan’s legitimacy was in direct descent from Muhammad, with the title of sherif. In addition, they were great promoters of the local industry with real monopolies.

At the end of the 16th century, the Saadians achieved notable international prestige, their greatest exponent being Ahmed Al-Mansur and his El-Badi Palace in Marrakech, where, incidentally, the tombs of these rulers are also located. They battled with Turkish privateers who instigated the Atlantic coasts, came to temporarily occupy territories south of the Sahara, defeated the Portuguese and established important diplomatic relations with the Dutch and the English, with whom they shared a common enemy: the Spain of the Habsburgs, of where numerous expelled or emigrated Moors arrived in that century and in the next. But its end does not differ much from other dynasties: internal struggles that weaken the monarch and its structure, giving way to another dynasty in the history of Morocco., which ended up being hegemonic: the Alawites.

The Alawites: from 1659 to today

The arrival of the Alawites had great significance in the history of Morocco: this dynasty, also Arab and with direct descent from Muhammad through Ali ibn Abi Tálib and Fatima, is the current ruling dynasty. Emerged in 1631 in Tafilalet, they managed to access the throne and unify the country in the mid-17th century.

They quickly experienced great success and power, exemplified in the figure of Sultan Moulay Ismail, who ordered the construction of a new capital in Meknes, centralized the structure of the State, established international trade and developed important diplomatic relations with foreign powers, especially the France of Luis XIV.

The eighteenth century was a period of ups and downs: although a certain peace and prosperity prevailed in some reigns, the tendency was towards isolation and international weakness, something that was accentuated in the following century. The country was at the crossroads between the European powers (increasingly dominant at the dawn of colonialism) and the Ottoman Empire at its territorial height, whose borders reached as far as the eastern margins of the country. The decadence and weakness of the sultans were evident in different conflicts with France and Spain, in the latter case in defense of the cities of Ceuta and Melilla.

the history of Morocco

centuries: struggle and achievement of independence and modernity

Despite the defeats and decline of the 19th century, the Moroccan sultanate was able to maintain its independence. But the situation changed in 1911: the European powers, in the midst of the colonial wave, agreed on the division of Moroccan territory: a French Protectorate in the interior and on the Atlantic coast (with capitals in Fes and Rabat), a Spanish Protectorate on the Mediterranean fringe and in the far south (with its capital in Tetouan), as well as an international guardianship for the city of Tangier. In the mountains and highlands, the local tribes continued to exercise obedience to their chiefs, as was evident in the Rif war, while the figure of the sultan remained a purely symbolic figure.

Beyond the popular feeling of rejection of domination, the French and Spanish Protectorates were key to the history of Morocco, as they helped shape the current cities. For example, modernist-style neighborhoods were built around the medinas and significant investments were made in infrastructure (railways), in addition to promoting Casablanca as a major port city on the Atlantic.

Beyond the popular feeling of rejection of domination, the French and Spanish Protectorates were key to the history of Morocco, as they helped shape the current cities. For example, modernist-style neighborhoods were built around the medinas and significant investments were made in infrastructure (railways), in addition to promoting Casablanca as a major port city on the Atlantic.

In any case, the desire for independence ended up being unstoppable, and in the 50s it became more than evident. In this way, in 1956 Morocco achieved its long- awaited independence, like other African territories within the framework of decolonization. France and Spain leave the country and Morocco joins the UN, leaving Mohammed V as king or sultan, the acclaimed monarch who led the process.

In the Spanish case, its presence remained until 1975 in the south, what is now known as Western Sahara: after its abandonment, the so-called Green March with 350,000 Moroccan volunteers marched to this territory to integrate it into the Kingdom of Morocco, unleashing a conflict with the Polisario Front, with a ceasefire in 1991. Currently, the situation is pending resolution, as the Polisario Front demands self-determination for the Saharawi people and the Kingdom of Morocco offers an autonomy status, without any bilateral agreement. no consensus within the UN.

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