Located in northwestern Africa, Morocco is home to around 36 million people. It’s famous for its tagines, tiles and argan oil, but there’s more to the country than the Sahara and souks. Curious? Here are seven interesting facts about Morocco we bet you haven’t heard before.
Interesting Facts About Morocco
1. It’s home to the tallest peak in Africa
Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains are North Africa’s highest mountain range. The highest peak, Jebel Toubkal, soars 4,165 metres (13,665 feet) high. It’s also the highest peak in the Arab world. Berbers call them ‘Idraren Draren’, which translates as Mountains of Mountains.
Everyone knows Morrocco is covered in desert, but few people know you can ski there too. In fact, it’s home to the highest ski resort in Africa. Oukaimeden stands at 2,600m (8,530ft) high, boasting chairlift climbing to 3,258m (10,688ft).
2. It’s home to the oldest university in the world
Bologna gets all the credit, but the world’s oldest university is actually in Morocco, not Italy. Founded in 859 AD, the University of Karueein is the oldest existing, and continually operating educational institution in the world. Sources suggest that the Sumerians set up scribal schools, É-Dub-ba, as early as 3500BC.
3. Morocco has the world’s second-largest film set
Once a former garrison town, Ouarzazate boasts the world’s second-largest film set – Atlas Studios. It’s been dubbed “Ouallywood” and “Hollywood in the Desert”. Blockbuster movies shot here include Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator, The Mummy and most recently Game of Thrones. But it hasn’t been used for quite some time; parts of the set have collapsed, the pillars are skews and lots of tiles are missing. It’s relatively easy to reach the Atlas Studio though, and you might just have the place to yourself, like this gent!
4. It’s home to one of Africa’s largest wind turbines
Thanks to its extensive coastline, Morocco boasts substantial wind power production potential. Until 2021, Tarfaya Wind Farm was the largest wind farm on the continent. It’s still the largest onshore facility on the continent though, representing a $560-million investment. It comprises 131 wind turbines, stretching over 100 km² across the Saharan Desert, and producing 301 MW energy. To put that into context, it can generate enough electricity to power a city the size of Marrakech every day. It sells its power to the National Electricity Office.
It’s garnered praise from around the world, but it’s also sparked controversy in Morocco. The Shawawi people – those who live in the west of the Sahara desert – say it is deepening the occupation of their land.
5. Citrus is a big deal – literally
Clementines, tangerines and mandarins grow in abundance in Morocco. They’re two-a-penny at the local markets, but lots are exported too. Between 2020 and 2021, 665 thousand metric tons were exported from Morocco, out of a total production volume of 2.3 million metric tons. Tangerines and mandarins are the most popular exports, with most headed to the European Union.
Morocco is also the world’s largest exporter of sardines, accounting for $201 million (a quarter) of the entire world’s exports.
6. Spanish feel at home here
Ceuta and Melilla – two tiny Spanish enclaves – sit on the northern shores of Morocco Mediterranean coast. They form the European Union’s only land borders with Africa and are the only European territories on the African continent. Both cities trace their Spanish heritage back to the 15th century, with a long history of military and trade centres linking the two continents.
Since 1995, the cities have enjoyed a limited degree of self-government as Autonomous Communities, but Madrid recognizes both as integral parts of Spain. They’ve long been a source of controversy and contention in Morocco. Morocco calls them the occupied “Sebtah and Melilah”. Unemployment is at 20% and human rights groups have raised concerns around the deportation of illegal immigrants to Spain.
7. Land of the Berbers
Morocco’s indigenous people – the Berbers – are descendants of North Africa’s pre-Arab inhabitants. The de-Berberization of North Africa started with the Punic settlement, then accelerated under Roman, Vandal, Byzantine and Arab rule. In the seventh century, the Arabization of Morocco drove the conversion of Berbers to Sunni Islam, but the Berbers still retain some of their prehistoric observances of saintly cults.
The name Berber actually comes from “Barbary”, stemming from the Greek barbarian. While the term is still used throughout Morocco, the correct term is Amazigh, which means the “free people.” Many live a nomadic existence in the desert or high up in the Atlas Mountains.