In November 2022, UNESCO’s World Heritage Convention will be celebrating 50 years! What better way to celebrate than to discover the 9 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Morocco!
UNESCO’s (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) goal is to encourage member nations to identify, celebrate and preserve their cultural identify so it may be shared with the world.
Mint Tea Tours shares the list of the 9 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Morocco – we have listed in the same order that the sites were inscribed on the register.
1. Medina of Fez – 1981
It’s no surprise to Mint Tea Tours that the medina of Fes was the very first of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Morocco to be added, and once you visit the medina, you’ll understand why.
The city of Fes was founded in 789 under the Idrissid Dynasty and later became the capital of Morocco under the reign of Idriss II. While Fes is obviously no longer the capital, it does hold the record for the longest-running imperial city of Morocco. The successive dynasties in Morocco, such as the Almoravides and especially the Almohads, also left their imprint on Fes.
The medina of Fes can be described as a “living museum”, where life goes on very much the same way it has for centuries. As you walk through the seemingly infinite number of narrow alleyways, you can see how traditional neighborhoods were formed, and how the many types of artisans each have their own section devoted to their craft. Fes has always been known as the spiritual capital of Morocco, as the several Islamic schools (madrassa or medersa), shrines, countless mosques and Sufi brotherhoods can attest.
If you visit the medina of Fes, you will not be shocked to learn that it claims the title of the largest pedestrian-only area in the world! Make sure to wear some good walking shoes and plan to spend a full day discovering the historical, cultural and religious sites of the medina of Fes!
Best way to tour the Medina of Fez: Private Full-Day Tour of Fes with Official Expert Guide
2. Medina of Marrakech – 1985
While Marrakech has become famous for its nightlife and as a playground for international celebrities, the medina of Marrakech remains a great testament to the power of the Almohad Dynasty.
Marrakech was first established in the 11th century under the Almoravides Dynasty but became the capital of Morocco in the 12th century under the Almohads. It held such a strategic location at the crossroads of the Sahara Desert and the Atlas Mountains.
There are no shortage of interesting historical sites to visit in the medina of Marrakech, such as the newly restored Ben Youssef Madrassa, the beautiful Bahia Palace where you can imagine the opulent life lead there by successive viziers, and the Koutoubia Mosque, which was the inspiration for other minarets across Morocco and in Spain.
Best Private City Tour of Marrakech: Private Guided Full-Day Tour of Marrakech with English-speaking guide
3. Ksar of Ait Ben Haddou – 1987
The ksar of Ait Ben Haddou lies on what is commonly known as the Road of 1,000 Kasbahs, which runs between Marrakech and the vast Sahara Desert.
A “ksar” is the term used in North Africa for “fortified village”, and in the case of the Ksar of Ait Ben Haddou in the south of Morocco, this is a prime example of Berber architecture. Ait Ben Haddou’s buildings, many of them attached to one another, are grouped behind a rampart. It was constructed using adobe, clay, rammed earth and wood. While these natural materials are very practical for this region, they also require a lot of maintenance. As part of its status on the registered UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Morocco, a local committee is responsible for monitoring the on-going authentic preservation of the ksar of Ait Ben Haddou
The impressive fortified village of Ait Ben Haddou is still inhabited today, and because of its unique architecture and charm, Ait Ben Haddou has been used as a set in many films and some TV shows.
Top-rated Sahara Desert Tour to visit Ait Ben Haddou: 4-Day Sahara Desert Tour from Fes to Marrakech
4. Historic City of Meknes – 1987
Meknes is located in the Saiss Plain, between the Middle Atlas and Rif Mountains. Meknes got its name from a powerful Berber tribe, the Miknassa, who were active in this region around the 8th century.
Meknes did benefit from the succession of Moroccan dynasties, but it wasn’t until the rule of Alaouite sultan, Moulay Ismail Ibn Sharif, that Meknes blossomed. Moulay Ismail had formerly governed Meknes with political rivals in Fes and Marrakech, he made Meknes the new capital of Morocco. It is said that Moulay Ismail wanted to make Meknes into the Versailles of Morocco, and he did so with some controversial and reputed cruel methods.
While the medina of Meknes is much smaller than that of Fes, it boasts some of the same charm and historical value, such as the Bou Inania Madrasa (similarly named as that in Fes). Outside of the medina, there are some very interesting cultural sites in Meknes such as the granaries, stables, and Agdal reservoir, as well as the newly restored Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail.
Explore all of Morocco’s historical and modern capitals: 8-Day Imperial Cities of Morocco Tour
5. Medina of Tetouan – 1997
Tetouan might be one of the least-known of the 9 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Morocco. It is a city in the north of Morocco, set between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jbel Dersa peak.
Through the Phoenicians, Romans and later the Berber Merenid Dynasty, the medina of Tetouan took its shape. However, Tetouan really grew after the Reconquista (Iberian Crusades) when Muslims and Jews were expelled from Spain and settled here. This influence continued when Tetouan later became the capital of the Spanish Protectorate of Spain, and in fact, you will still see many street signs in the medina written in Spanish, and Spanish is most often the second language of locals, rather than French in many other parts of Morocco.
Tetouan’s medina is stunning with white-washed walls, which earns its name as Morocco’s “White Dove”. While small, the medina of Tetouan maintains much of its authenticity and original charm
Travel the Best Destinations of Northern Morocco: 7-Day Northern Discovery Private Moroccan Tour
6. Archaeological Site of Volubilis – 1997
Volubilis can be found near the Saiss Plain, at the foot of Mount Zerhoun.
The area around the archeological site of Volubilis boasts a long rich history, believing to be inhabited as far back as 5,000 years under the New Stone Age. It was then the capital of the Mauretania Kingdom, which swept North Africa from present-day Algeria and west to the Atlantic Coast, and as far south as the Atlas Mountains. It was later conquered by Carthaginians and then became a Roman outpost, growing as early as the 1st century AD.
Later, Arabs made their way and at this time, the area became known as Oualili, thought to be from the Amazigh word for oleander, a local native plant. And finally, Volubilis became the capital, albeit briefly, under the founder of the Idrissid Dynasty, Moulay Idriss 1.
It is under Roman rule that Volubilis prospered, and the archeological site of Volubilis represents some outstanding examples of Roman city planning, architecture, and mosaics.
A private guided visit of Volubilis makes these Roman ruins come alive: Private Day Trip from Fes to Volubilis
7. Medina of Essaouira – 2001
Essaouira is located on the Atlantic Coast of Morocco, and until the 1960s, it was known as Mogador. There are a couple explanations as to the origin of the name, possibly referring to a Muslim saint who was buried here in the Middle Ages, or possibly from the Phoenician word “small fortress”.
Essaouira’s growth is owed to its strategic location as a port on sailing routes between Northern Africa, Europe, and sub-Saharan Africa. Much like Volubilis, Essaouira was inhabited by the Carthaginians and was an important supplier for the raw material for purple dye for Roman senators. Later, the Portuguese took control of this area and fought against many foreign powers in their attempts to overthrow them, until Essaouira was ultimately taken back by Morocco under Alaouite rule. As a means to promote commerce and compete against rival port of Agadir, the Sultan invited Moroccan Jews to relocate here from other cities.
To this day, the medina of Essaouira has a strong European influence in its architecture and civil engineering. The ramparts are well-maintained and make for a beautiful view toward the ocean. The port is still in use today and is known for its iconic blue fishing boats.
Uncover Essaouira’s Moroccan Jewish Heritage: 12-Day Moroccan Jewish Heritage Private Tour
8. Portuguese City of El Jadida – 2004
El Jadida is an important port on Morocco’s Atlantic Coast, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) south of Casablanca.
As its description as one of 9 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Morocco states, El Jadida is best known for as a fortified city built in the early 16th under Portuguese rule. As the Moroccan Saadian Dynasty fought to regain control of territories and expel foreign powers, Portugal further reinforced the city walls to maintain control of El Jadida until the latter half of the 18th century.
Formerly known as “Mazagan”, this name is sometimes attributed as its original name from the Berbers, and sometimes attributed to a similar name given by the Portuguese. However, once Morocco reclaimed Mazagan as its own and was able to rebuild after the Portuguese destroyed parts of it before abandoning the port the name was changed to “El Jadida” (“The New One”).
The ramparts are beautifully preserved, and the Portuguese influence is apparent in the façade of buildings, the lack of any real medina, the famous underground cistern and the church.
Discover El Jadida’s rich Portuguese history: Best Highlights of Morocco 15-Day Relaxing Private Tour
9. Rabat, Modern Capital and Historic City – 2012
Rabat is located on the Atlantic Coast and has been Morocco’s political capital since Morocco won independence from the French in 1965.
Like some of the other UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Morocco, the area around Rabat was developed first by the Phoenicians, then the Kingdom of Mauretania, and then the Romans – this is witnessed by the historical site of Chellah. However, it was under Almohad rule that Rabat took shape, with the Kasbah of the Udayas and the Hassan Tour. Later under the Merenid Dynasty, Chellah was expanded to be used as a necropolis for the elite among the royal rulers.
With its proximity to Europe and the resettlement of expelled Muslims from Spain, Rabat became a haven for pirates. Finally, the French took control of Morocco under the Treaty of Fez and moved the capital of Morocco from Fes to Rabat in 1912, where it has remained since. The French influence is clear in the “New Town” of Rabat, with wide avenues and European-looking facades of government buildings.
Tour Rabat’s historical and modern sites: 10-day Private Tour of Morocco starting from Casablanca