Saturday, October 17, 2015

History of Marrakesh and Morocco

Easy travel from Rabat to Marrakesh; light rail tram from marina to train station; 5 1/2 hours train to Marrakesh.  We will be doing this on Tuesday, so I have been researching Marrakesh and Morocco.  Buried in the following text are a couple of tidbits which Bill and I found interesting.  I got so sidetracked in the history of Morocco that did not get around to researching items of interest to see in Marrakesh.  Oh well, there is always tomorrow.


Marrakesh was founded by the Almoravids between 1062 and 1072 A.D., depending on which source one reads.  The Almoravids were a Berber dynasty of Morocco who formed an empire in the 11th century that stretched over the western Maghreb (northern Africa) and the Al-Andalus (southern Spain area only; although the full Al-Andalus covered almost all of Spain, only the southern part was controlled by the Almoravids).  Marrakesh was the capital city of the Almoravid dynasty.  This dynasty originated among nomadic Berber tribes of the Sahara Desert who traveled the territory between the Draa, the Niger and the Senegal rivers.

The Almoravids were crucial in preventing the fall of Al-Andalus to the Iberian Christian kingdoms when they decisively defeated a coalition of the Castilian and Aragonese armies at the Battle of Sagrajas in 1086.  This enabled the Almoravids to control an empire that stretched about 2,000 miles from north to south.  However, this dynasty was relatively short-lived.  At the height of their power the area fell to the Almohads when the last king of the Almoravids was killed in Marrakesh in April 1147 by the Almohads.  The Almohads then replaced the Almoravids as the ruling dynasty both in Morocco and Al-Andalus (southern Spain).

The Almohad movement was started by Ibn Tumart among the Masmuda tribes of southern Morocco.  They established their first Berber state in Tinmel in the Atlas Mountains in 1120, and succeeded in overthrowing the ruling Almoravids when they conquered Marrakesh in 1147.  At that time Abd al-Mu'min al-Gumi declared himself Caliph of the territory and the Almohad Caliphate was firmly established.  By 1172 all of Al-Andalus (almost all of Spain--Iberia) was under Almohad rule.

The Almohad dominance of Iberia (Spain) continued until 1212-1214 when an alliance of Christian princes of Castile, Aragon, Navarre and Portugal defeated the Almohads.  Soon thereafter all of the Moorish dominions in Iberia fell to the Christians, with the great Moorish city of Cordova falling to the Christians in 1236; then Seville fell in 1248. 

The Almohads continued to rule in Africa, losing territory piecemeal through the revolt of tribes.  Their territory stretched along the northern coast of Africa covering what today is the northern part of Algeria.  The last possession of the Almohads was Marrakesh.  Interesting that this Caliphate began and ended in the same city.  The last Almohad ruler was murdered by a slave in Marrakesh in 1269.  And thus began the rule of the Marinid dynasty which lasted until the Wattadis came into power in 1472.  The Marinid dynasty extended east through what is now Tunisia.  They were strong supporters of the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada.  Remember those Nasrid palaces that we visited in Alhambra last month?

Like the Marinids, the new rulers of the Wattadis were of Zenata Berber descent.  The 2 families were related.  They eventually were ruling just the northern part of Morocco while the Saadi princes ruled all of southern Morocco by 1511.  By 1549 the entire region was controlled by the Saadi dynasty (not to be confused with the House of Saud in Saudi Arabia).  Then the Alaouite dynasty gained power in 1659.  I found this interesting since King Assad of Syria is Alawite; I am sure Alaouite and Alawite means the same sect of Islam.  Correction:  According to a local person in Marrakech, the words Alaouite and Alawite are in no way connected.  The word Alaouite derived from translations from several languages, between Arabic and French and English, and denoted Berbers from a certain area of Morocco. There are no Alawite Muslims in Morocco.  All Muslims in Morocco are Sunni.  Both the Saadi and Alaouite families claim descent from the Prophet Muhammad (Mohammad)(PBUH).  Under the Saadi dynasty Morocco repulsed Ottoman incursions and a Portuguese invasion in 1578.  However, managing the territories across the Sahara Desert proved too difficult.  After the death of Ahmad al-Mansur, the country was divided among his sons. 

In 1666, Morocco was reunited by the Alaouite dynasty, who have been the ruling house of Morocco ever since.  Morocco defeated aggression from Spain and the Ottoman Empire.  The Alaouites stabilized the nation and it remained quite wealthy.  They drove the English from Tangier in 1684 and the Spanish from Larache in 1689.

Morocco was the first nation to recognize the fledgling United States of America as an independent nation in 1777.  In the beginning of the American Revolution, American merchant ships in the Atlantic were subject to attack by the Barbary pirates.  On 20 December 1977, Morocco's Sultan Mohammed III declared that American merchant ships would be under the protection of the sultanate and could thus enjoy safe passage.  The Moroccan-American Treaty of Friendship, signed in 1786, stands as the U.S.'s oldest non-broken friendship treaty.  Never learned that in any history class in school.

In 1904 France and Spain carved out zones of influence in Morocco.  When the UK recognized France's sphere of influence here, it provoked a strong reaction from the German Empire, and a crisis loomed in 1905.  The crisis was resolved at the Algeciras Conference in 1906.  Then the 1912 Treaty of Fez made Morocco a protectorate of France and triggered the 1912 Fes riots. (The spelling of Fes is sometimes with a 'z' and sometimes with an 's' but means the same city in Morocco.)  By that same 1912 Treaty of Fez, Spain assumed the role of 'protecting power' over the northern and southern Saharan zones in Africa.  This resulted in tens of thousands of colonists entering Morocco.  Resulting special interest groups formed and continually pressured France to increase its control over Morocco.  One Governor-General, Marshall Hubert Lyautey, sincerely admired Moroccan culture and succeeded in imposing a joint Moroccan-French administration.  Several divisions of Moroccan soldiers served in the French Army both in WWI and WWII, and also in the Spanish Nationalist Army and in the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.  In 1943 the Independence Party was founded to press for Moroccan independence; and, with discreet USA support, that party subsequently provided most of the leadership for the nationalist movement.

France's exile of Sultan Mohammed V in 1953 5o Madagascar and his replacement by the unpopular Mohammed Ben Aarafa sparked active opposition to the French and Spanish protectorates, resulting in much violence where Moroccans attacked French and other European residents in the streets.  As a result, France allowed Sultan Mohammed V to return to Morocco in 1955 and negotiations that led to Moroccan independence began in 1956.

In March 1956 the French protectorate was ended and Morocco regained its independence from France and became known as the Kingdom of Morocco.  A month later Spain ceded most of its protectorate in northern Morocco to the new Kingdom but kept its 2 coast enclaves, Ceuta and Melilla, on the Mediterranean coast.  These 2 enclaves remain Spanish today.  Sultan Mohammed V became King of Morocco in 1957.  The current King of Morocco is King Mohammed VI.

There have been a few protests and calls for greater powers to be granted to the Moroccan parliament since the Arab Spring movement throughout the Middle East and parts of Africa in 2011, but the greater power continues to remain with the monarchy to date.

The Arabic name al-Mamlakah al-Maghribiyah meaning "The Western Kingdom" or Al-Maghrib  meaning "The West" are commonly used as alternate names for Morocco.  In fact, on our nautical paper chart for this region of the Atlantic Ocean, Morocco is identified as Al- Maghrib.  And this chart originated from the British Royal Navy.

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