- Town in Sahara desert, Morocco1 of 9
- Hassan II Mosque, Morocco2 of 9
- Pristine beach, Morocco3 of 9
- Ruins of Carthage, Tunisia4 of 9
- Souk in Tunis, Tunisia5 of 9
- Great mosque in Sousse, Tunisia6 of 9
- Pyramids of Giza, Egypt7 of 9
- Papyrus, Egypt8 of 9
- Qatebay Castle, Egypt9 of 9
The name of Casablanca can ignite a variety of feelings and memories for many people. Made famous by the iconic film of the same name starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, Casablanca evokes clandestine activity, noble heroics and wartime yearning. It prompts people to utter those fateful words ‘play it again, Sam’ and ‘Of all the gin joints in all the world…’, but it’s a long time since 1942, when the film was made, and of course and Casablanca has moved into the 21st century like the rest of the world, although there are parts of it which still retain that sense of old world glamor that has so intrigued and enthralled film lovers for decades. Old and new, ancient and modern, the past, present and future collide in Casablanca, which is the economic center of Morocco and yet also manages to retain its ancient heritage and honor its fascinating past. This is a sprawling metropolis, one which is rapidly becoming an important African city of global significance rather than a tourist trap intent on drawing in the traveling masses, and yet it remains appealing, welcoming and a fascinating historic center in which to wander. It also a great place to get to know North Africa as it is one of the most Westward looking cities in the region, welcoming both of Western vacationers and cultural influences. The center of the city is really where the architectural gems can be found here, and you will be woefully remiss not to spend some time gazing in awe at the Hassan II Mosque, which is one of the two main mosques in Morocco which are open to non-Muslim visitors. The design and architecture of the vast building is second to none, with a tall minaret and stunning Islamic art. For more compelling ancient architecture head to the Old Medina and the Mahkama du Pacha building which is a vast Moorish building of fascinating design and architecture, with intricate wood carvings, ostentatious floor and wall tiling in the typical Moorish designs and patterns and ornate iron railings and fixtures. This is a veritable treasure trove of design for any culture vulture and a great stop on a tour of Casablanca for anyone wishing to get a greater sense of the city’s history. Tangier is possibly Morocco and North Africa’s most famous port city. A bubbling, buzzing and bustling mix of French, Spanish and North African influences this has long been the entryway to North Africa for many Europeans and Westerners. This much is in evidence at the Tangier American Legation Museum which is the only historical American landmark outside of the U.S. For something more authentically Moroccan you can do no better than a trip to the legendary Kasbah of Tangier. Explore the warren like ancient complex which includes the beautiful Sultan’s Garden and a fabulous museum which used to act as a sultan’s palace. From the apex of the complex you can expect to see sweeping vistas of the entire city and on a good day can even see Spain across the Strait of Gibraltar.
Like Casablanca, Tunis, Tunisia’s capital city combines the old and the new and has fashioned an identity for its self as contemporary cosmopolitan center for North Africa which is a mixture of forward-looking growth and innovation and yet still exudes the ancient history and North African influences which make it unique. As with Morocco’s Tangier, Tunis is also greatly influenced by its proximity to Mediterranean Europe and in particular by Italian and French cuisine. Traditional Tunisian cuisine still prevails, however and you would be remiss not to indulge in some typical Maghrebi dishes whilst staying in Tunis. From here you can also visit some of Tunisia’s finest historical sites of significance such as the Ruins of Carthage which can be reached by rail, offering an authentic view of the country. The Ruins include 10 spectacular sites of ancient and antique history from the Antonin Baths to the Ampitheater and Basilica of Saint-Cyprian providing comprehensive and extensive insight into the ancient civilization of North Africa. Also away from the center of Tunis, the picturesque village of Sidi Bou Said is well worth a visit for its view of the Mediterranean, charming rustic architecture of blue and white houses, and the fascinating Family House Museum which provides information on and insight into life in 18th century Tunisia, particularly as it impacted the family and family life. Back in central Tunis be sure not to miss out on either the Souq where you can haggle with sellers and pick up a few treasures and souvenirs to take back home, or the Al-Zaytuna Mosque, which was built in the 8th century by stone from Carthage and is a magnificent place of worship to gaze upon in awe and wonder despite not being open for entry by non-Muslims. Sousse is an ancient, beachside wonderland for weary travelers and vacationers in search of a bit sun and rest and relaxation. The ancient city plays host to its fair share of tourists every year and has become a mecca for those craving a bit of pampering after the wearying hustle and bustle of North Africa’s large and hectic cities. This is a place to relax in and enjoy at your leisure; wander the town at dusk, admiring the Great Mosque and the 7th century Tower of the Ribat, before settling down to a delicious meal of fresh seafood. A visit to the Medina is an absolute must having been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as providing ample opportunity for a little retail therapy and within the confines of the Kasbah lives a most excellent archaeological museum with a stunning display of ancient frescoes and mosaics.
Egypt has ‘history-buff’s dream’ written all over it; the name alone is enough to conjure up images of ancient pyramids, the ageless Nile, beautiful minarets and antique cities teeming with as much history as there are people. We may have learned about the Pharaohs and Cleopatra as children, but there is little comparison to seeing these ancient relics, bustling city centers, or the slow, sluggish route of the Nile towards the sea in person. Founded by Alexander the Great, Alexandria is one of the busiest ports in North Africa and is a buzzing city with plenty to offer in the way of historical attractions and sites. The labyrinthine, subterranean catacombs where the city’s ancient rulers were once buried provide insight into the country’s ancient attitudes towards death and royalty. Tread the underground hall ways which likely date back to the 2nd century A.D. and witness for yourself the eerie atmosphere and ancient mystery of the place. You can also see Roman ruins in the city, those of Kom El Dikka which were only discovered in the 1960s and display streets, a theater and villa where you can even see the original mosaic flooring. But there’s more to Alexandria than ancient history for this a city very much rooted in the here and now. A large metropolis by any standards, Alexandria is also increasingly cosmopolitan with a forward-looking attitude and hip heart. There are grand squares lined with trendy coffee shops where you can buy delicious pastries, and stunning belle époque architecture to gawp at when wandering the busy streets. Elsewhere in Egypt take the time to take a dip off the coast of Sharm El Sheikh where the diving opportunities are so good fans of the area just keep coming back for more. The Old Town of Sharm El Sheikh is also well worth a visit for anyone who wants to get under the skin of this ancient and charming city. For the more adventurous and active, a trek to the peak of legendary Mount Sinai is like nothing else on earth; offering not only stunning vistas and truly incredible landscape, but believed also to be the spot where Moses received the Ten Commandments, whatever your religion or beliefs this is a place steeped in spirituality, history and great, ancient significance. From the warm beaches of Ain Sukhna it is imperative for anyone wishing to get the full view of Egypt to take the trip to the cosmopolitan and fascinating capital of Cairo where you can experience the delights of the Egyptian Museum, the Coptic Museum, the Al-Azhar Mosque and the Citadel of Mohammed Ali Pasha as well as to the Pyramids of Giza which are sure to awe, inspire, and amaze in equal measure.
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