The earliest cave paintings in North Africa are well over 12,000 years old.
Berbers in North Africa were already well established when the Phoenicians made their first incursions in 1200 BC. They’re thought to be of Euro-Asiatic origins. Divided into clans and tribes, they have always jealously guarded their independence. It’s this fierce independence that has helped preserve one of Africa’s most fascinating and resilient cultures.
Morocco’s strategic location on the shoulder of Africa, and at the mouth of the Mediterranean, has profoundly informed its history and its relationship to other nations.
Many foreigners have come to this area, some to trade or settle, others as invaders sweeping the land and dominating it. In ancient times, Romans, Vandals, Visigoths, and Byzantine Greeks established outposts at strategic locations along the coast and in the interior of the country.
Starting in 685 C.E., Arab invaders began occupying Morocco, bringing with them a new language, culture, and most importantly, Islam. For the next thousand years, dynasties of Arab and Berber monarchs, like the Almohads, Almoravids, Merenids, Saadians, Aaouites and Idrissids established the country’s most important cities, and vied for control of the country.
Morocco’s location and rich natural resources led to competition among expansion-minded European powers looking to increase their sphere of influence, if not their empires. France focused on Morocco as early at the 1830’s, and over the course of the 19th century, European colonialism was to profoundly affect the life and culture of the entire region.
By the beginning of the 20th century, a series of agreements among European powers effectively split the country in to zones policed by both the French and the Spanish. By 1912, the Treaty of Fez brought Morocco completely under French control. Outraged calls for the ouster of the French began almost immediately among the populace. Harassed by nationalist Berber tribal leaders, in the early days of the protectorate, France’s direct influence was limited to major urban areas, and interrupted by the First World War. It would take the French colonial government almost thirty years to bring the country completely under its control.
The humbling of France in the Second World War, the Moroccans’ valiant fighting on behalf of Allied forces, and the anti-colonialism of the postwar superpowers profoundly altered the relationship between Morocco and France. It would take another twelve years after the close of the war for Morocco to see independence.
In a desperate measure to quell his calls for the end of French Rule, France exiled the beloved Sultan Mohammed V in 1953. Bowing to the popular will, and acknowledging the likelihood of outright war, France allowed Mohammed V to return in 1955; peace arrived fully a year later, on March 2, 1956. The only vestiges of European rule are the small enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, which remain under Spanish control.
The son of Mohammed V, Hassan II, finished his father’s efforts to transform Morocco into a constitutional monarchy, which it remains to this day. Through several false starts, and several coup attempts, Hassan II was able to create a representative government with a strong monarchy, with a minimum of bloodshed.