Why the Name: Morocco?

Flag of Morocco

If you are like me, there are many countries whose name you have pondered upon. One of them is Morocco! I have wondered about the name Morocco and its origin: was it a Portuguese or Spanish adaptation? did the French version ‘Maroc‘ derive from a Berber word or Almoravid name? Or was it a European name given to an African land? How did the initial inhabitants call their land?

Map of Africa and Morocco

Well, the word ‘Morocco‘ derives from the Berber Ameṛṛuk, the shortened version of « Amurakuc », the original name « Marrakesh», itself arising from the Berber « amur n ukuc » meaning «land of God» or «sacred land». The full Arabic name al-Mamlakah al-Maghribiyyah translates to “Kingdom of the West” or the “Kingdom where the sun sets.” For historical references, medieval Arab historians and geographers sometimes referred to Morocco as al-Maghrib al-Aqṣá (meaning “The Farthest West“) to distinguish it from neighboring historical regions called al-Maghrib al-Awsaṭ (meaning “The Middle West“) and al-Maghrib al-Adná (meaning “The Nearest West“). Marrakesh was Morocco’s capital under the Almoravid dynasty and Almohad Caliphate. In Turkish, Morocco is known as Fas, a name derived from its ancient capital of Fes. However, this was not the case in other parts of the Islamic world: until the middle of the 20th century, the common name of Morocco in Egyptian and Middle Eastern Arabic literature was Marrakesh; name still used in some languages such as PersianUrdu and Punjabi. The English name Morocco is an anglicisation of the Spanish and Portuguese Marruecos and Marrocos respectively; which all derived from Marrakesh.


Morocco’s capital, Rabat (Source: visitMorocco.com)

Morocco was known as the Kingdom of Marrakesh under the three dynasties that made Marrakesh their capital. Then, it was known as the Kingdom of Fes, after the dynasties which had Fez as their capital. In the 19th century, European cartographers still mentioned a “Kingdom of Morocco“, indicating the ancient capital “Morocco” (for Marrakesh). Under the Alaouite dynasty, the country moved from the appellation to the Empire of Sharif in the 19th century, to that of Kingdom of Morocco.

King Mohammed VI of Morocco

Morocco is a monarchy, and is governed today by the King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, who holds executive and legislative powers, especially over the military, foreign policy and religious affairs.

Morocco has a coast by the Atlantic Ocean that reaches past the Strait of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean Sea. It is bordered by Spain to the north (a water border through the Strait and land borders with three small Spanish-controlled exclavesCeutaMelilla, and Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera), Algeria to the east, and the annexed Western Sahara to the south. Since Morocco controls most of Western Sahara, its de facto southern boundary is with Mauritania.


The capital of Morocco is Rabat; and its largest city is its main port, Casablanca. Other major Moroccan cities are FesMarrakeshMeknesSalé and Tangier. Morocco has become a major player in African economic affairs, and is the 5th African economy by GDP (PPP). Tourism accounts for a big part of its economy. Morocco is an ethnically diverse country with a rich culture and civilisation; and this diversity can be seen in its architecture, and cuisine as well.

Next time you visit Morocco, do not forget to enjoy its rich culture, cuisine, beautiful scenery, and remember that its name stands for the Land of God or the Sacred land, and enjoy its sacred treasures.

Why the name: Marrakesh?


What comes to mind when I say Marrakesh?  Well, for starters, when I hear the name Marrakesh, my mind is immediately submerged by thoughts of Arabian nights, Mediterranean scents, spices and flavors, camels, oasis, couscous, men in gabar, beautiful mosques, beautiful women, sandy dunes, etc…  So how far am I from the truth and what is the origin of the name Marrakesh?

Located near the foothills of the snow-capped Atlas mountains in Morocco, Marrakesh was the most important of the four former imperial cities in Moroccan history.  Spelled Merrakec in Berber or Marrakech in French, the name has its origin from the Amazigh (Berber) words mur (n) akush which means “Land of God.”  Another interpretation will call it the land of journey.’  From Neolithic times, the city had been inhabited by the Amazighs people, and was founded in 1062 by Abu Bakr ibn Umar, sovereign and cousin of Yusuf ibn Tashfin.  Led by the Almoravids, and later the Almohads, many mosques including the world-renowned Koutoubia mosque were built during the 12th century with Andalusian influence.  Several palaces were built whose main characteristics were the carved domes, and lobed arches.  The Andalusian influence merged with Saharan elements as well as West African, and all that was synthetized to give a very original architecture specially adapted for the weather of Marrakesh.  The city became the capital of the Almoravid emirate which went from the shoreline of the Senegal river to the center of Spain, and from the atlantic littoral up to Algiers.  The red walls of the city, built by Ali ibn Yusuf in 1122-1123, were built  from red sandstone gave Marrakesh’s nickname as the ‘Red City‘ or the ‘Ochre city‘, as well as the ‘pearl of the south‘ or the ‘door to the south.’

A souk in Marrakesh
A souk in Marrakesh

Marrakesh grew rapidly and established itself as a cultural, religious, and trading centre for the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa; Jemaa el-Fnaa or Djemaa el-Fnaa is one of the most famous squares in all of Africa and is the center of the city activity and trade, and has been declared UNESCO World Heritage site since 1985.  After a period of decline, the city was surpassed by Fez, in the early 16th century, Marrakesh again became the capital of the kingdom and reestablished its former glory especially during the reigns of the wealthy Saadian sultans Mohammed El Mahdi,  Abu Abdallah al-Qaim and Ahmad al-Mansur who embellished the city with sumptuous palaces such as the El Badi Palace (1578), and restored many ruined monuments.  Under the Saadian reign, Marrakesh regained its position as a central point linking the Maghreb, the Mediterranean basin, and Sub-Saharan Africa via its caravan routes.

Today, Marrakesh is one of the busiest cities in Africa; it is a big tourist destination, and a major economic center.  It has the largest traditional Berber market (souk) in Morocco, with over 18 souks selling anything from traditional Berber carpets to modern consumer electronics.  It is also home to the Cadi Ayyad University, which is one of the major universities of Morocco.