Visit Morocco: Mausoleum of Mohammed V

Two kings and a prince were laid to rest in the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, and although Rabat, Morocco’s capitol city, has so much to offer, this remains one of my favorite places to visit. Just knowing what this dynasty means to Morocco creates a unique atmosphere; you can feel the presence of royalty and historical significance when you step inside.

It took nine years and over 400 men to complete this extravagant monument in honor of one of Morocco’s most important leaders. Every inch of the structure, from the perimeter gate to the brass installations, is carved with intricate precision. It is a true testament to Morocco’s distinguished style.

On either side of the entry are signature Moroccan fountains. Vibrantly colored mosaics behind porcelain pools of water display the attention to detail that Moroccan architecture does so well.

When King Hassan II commissioned the mausoleum’s construction for his father, Mohammed V, in 1962, he positioned it inside Yacoub Al Mansour Square, where Abu Yusuf Yaqub al-Mansur’s unfinished mosque and minaret (later named Hassan Tower) sat, incomplete, for nearly 800 years.

hassan Tower and the unfinished masjid

Construction on Hassan Tower began in 1191 and halted abruptly in 1199 when al-Mansur died. At only 144 feet, the tower never reached al-Mansur’s goal, but it remains an important monument in Moroccan history.

Minaret’s serve a purpose. They are connected to mosques and used for the adhan (call for prayer). Like the tower, the mosque was never completed. Today, 348 columns still stand where the mosque would have been, directly across from the mausoleum.

If you are familiar with the minaret of Kaoutoubia Mosque in Marrakesh (photos here in Visit Morocco: Marrakesh), you’ll recognize the design of Hassan Tower. Although, it never came to fruition, it would have been significantly taller and wider than the minaret of Kaoutoubia.

The tomb of kings

Sultan Mohammed V was king of Morocco from 1927 to 1953 and again from 1957 to 1961. He played a vital role in gaining Morocco’s independence in 1956, removing them from French colonial rule.

The French appointed Mohammed in 1927, assuming he would be a compliant puppet leader. He proved to be difficult when he actively pushed Moroccan nationalist sentiments and policy during his leadership; they exiled him in 1953. He returned in 1957 to rule over a free, autonomous Morocco.

When Mohammed’s son, Hassan II, began construction on his father’s mausoleum, he wanted to create an elaborate space that allowed for Moroccan’s to visit his tomb; it was always meant to be more than a grave.

The tomb itself is square. Beautiful Moroccan doors and arches allow entrance from every side, and young men dressed in uniforms reminicient of The Queen’s Guard at Buckingham Palace stand alert at every entrance.

You enter onto a 360° balcony overlooking the tombs of Mohammed V, his son King Hassan II, and Prince Abdullah, Hassan’s son. Mohammed is placed in the middle, directly under the stunning, domed ceiling. Their coffins are surprisingly understated.

A masjid for kings

Beside the King’s final resting place is a mosque. Just days before our visit, we saw news footage of the current king praying inside with his court. Rabat is the home of kings, and Morocco’s current king proudly displays a chart tracing his lineage from the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), Islam’s beloved prophet, in the square.

Entrance to the mosque next to the mausoleum (feat. my husband)

I never stepped foot inside the mosque. I watched as tourists and Moroccans alike lined up to take photos in front of the giant brass doors with traditional arches and carvings to match the mausoleums. If there is one thing I learned for sure, it’s that Moroccans know how to lay the dead to rest in style.

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Visit Morocco: Essaouira

This post is somewhat different from previous posts in this series. Essaouira is a special place, and I’d like to share it through the lense of my cousin’s camera. Thank you, Afaf, for sharing your photos and experiences on this trip with me, and thank you for allowing me to share them with others.

Photo credit: Afaf Miri

West of Marrakesh, on the Atlantic Coast, is a port city called Essaouira. The medina (old city) is guarded by ramparts built in the 18th century. They call it the Skala de la Kasbah. The brass cannons that once provided protection now attract tourists for stunning ocean views and beautiful photo opportunities.

Essaouira is a Moroccan gem. Unlike Marrakech or Casablanca, Essaouira is less about the hustle and bustle and more about the feel of the ocean breeze and the preservation of architectural history. It’s special for many reasons, but, like most of the cities in Morocco, the shopping is top quality.

The souks of essaouira

For a tourist that loves to shop, Essaouira does not disappoint. You’ll find colorful carpets, handmade jewelry and clothing, handwoven baskets and bags, tapestries, and stunning artwork.

The pace is slower in Essaouira, and you’ll find that the vendors are kind and little more patient than those of Marrakech. The streets are less crowded, and the shops are slightly bigger.

There’s a tranquility about the marketplace in Essaouira that adds to all that makes it special.

Experience dining

Mega Loft by OthmanChic
Photo Cred: Afaf Miri

Like everything in this beautiful city, the restaurants are full of color and artistic expression. Mega Loft is a cafe with a modern aesthetic. The art installations create a memorable dining experience.

The Mega Loft brand did not originate in Morocco. However, they are known to merge the cafe experience elegantly with the local culture. Mega Loft Essaouira does just that.

Mega Loft by OthmanChic
Photo Cred: Afaf Miri

The wall of vibrantly decorated baskets you see displayed on the wall are all made and designed in traditional Berber style.

At night, they have live music. The atmosphere is laidback with a hippie feel. It’s comfortable and has something for everyone.

Blessings of the ocean: The fishing ports

You should expect nothing short of an impressive seafront from a port city, and you can always expect nothing less that dynamic colors and style from Morocco. That’s exactly how I would describe the boat docks in Essaouira.

In a port city, you can expect a feast of seafood; the markets of Essaouira have everything you could ask for and more. Local restaurants and dives serve fresh catch. This is a city for foodies as much as it is for shoppers and history buffs.

Join Me for Part 6: rabat…

Mausoleum of Mohammed V

Rabat is the home of the King and the capitol city of Morocco. It’s metropolitan and full of history. Subscribe to read the next installment of this series…

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Visit Morocco: Casablanca

My last trip to Morocco was the first time I stayed in Casablanca. It was a short, but memorable stay. My husband’s aunt has a beautiful home in Casa, and we were fortunate enough to sleep there. Just beside us in the city was a small, neighborhood masjid (mosque), and we woke to the beautiful sound of the adhan (call for prayer played over the loud speaker of the mosque’s minaret).

This is a special post

For this installment in the “Visit Morocco” series, I’m doing something special. Nearly all imagery in this post will come from my favorite social media page… @inmorocco on Instagram. The creators have curated an incredible display of Morocco’s breathtaking culture on their page from some amazing photographers and videographers, and this post will testify to that. Enjoy…

Masjid hassan II

I had one of the most incredible experiences of my life on a perfect autumn night in Casablanca. I prayed inside the incredible Masjid Hassan II, the seventh largest mosque in the world. Words cannot do it justice; photos cannot mimic the experience, but I’ll do my best to describe it to you.

Photo credit: found on @inmorocco Instagram page

Hassan II Mosque was built as tribute to the former King of Morocco. It isn’t the largest mosque in the world, but it does have the tallest minaret. At a 700 feet, it towers over everything in the rest of the city and is equipped with a light that shines toward Mecca.

In person, it’s breathtaking. It’s so tall and so big that it almost doesn’t appear to be real. The stillness makes it look almost like a painting or a picture.

Another special and meaningful feature of this mosque is its foundation. Masjid Hassan II was built directly on the Atlantic Ocean with intention. The architect referenced a verse in the Quran:

“And it is He who created the heavens and the earth in six days and His Throne had been upon water.”

Sura Hud, Verse 7
Photo Credit: @inmorocco on Instagram

The sound of the waves from the courtyard just adds awe to the experience. It’s so impressive to see in person, and the doors are open for all. You do not have to be a muslim to step inside and take photos. Tours are even given in multiple languages. Everyone is asked to cover their knees and elbows, but non-muslim women do not have to cover their hair.

stunning detail inside and outside

Photo credit: @curly.beard found on @inmorocco Instagram page

Over the course of seven years, 10,000 craftsman built this structure from the ground up. From the arches of the courtyard surrounding the mosque to the intricate details of the ceilings inside, every column, every wall, every arch is so detailed that your eye hardly knows where to focus.

Photo credit: @eyeschipha found on @inmorocco Instagram page

The red walls you see here provide privacy for the women as they pray. When there, you’ll notice that the men and women pray in separate parts of the mosque. This is a strategy to keep minds and hearts pure as they pray. You may also notice that the women’s area is smaller. This is simply because women are not required to pray in the mosque. They are just as welcome to pray there, but it is not required of them like it is of the men.

Ornately designed fountains are placed along the walls of the exterior. These are there to give people the opportunity to wash their face, hands, and feet before entering the building. It’s customary to clean before entering a holy structure like this in Islam.

Visiting this mosque is an unforgettable experience for anyone, not just muslims. Its a place of peace and stillness in a city full of energy. I dedicated so much of this post to it simply because it’s a must-see for anyone planning a trip to Morocco.

The streets of the white city

Photo credit: @sleepybird found on @inmorocco Instagram page

Just as Marrakech is called the Red City and Chefchaouen is called the Blue City, Casablanca has a color as well. The White City is named for its white buildings, quite obviously. It’s a wealthy city, full of life and the perfect mixture of modern and timeless.

To a tourist like me, Casa felt like a melting pot of different places. In some areas, it felt very much like Morocco, with small shops on crowded streets, full of movement and energy. Some neighborhoods reminded me of my time in Lisbon, with the modern trains and railways juxtaposed against a backdrop of old buildings of European influence, remnants of Morocco’s colonial past.

Photo credit: @manssouri_amine found on @inmorocco Instagram page

Something you see everywhere in Morocco, including cities, is palm trees. Casa is full of beautiful neighborhoods with streets lined with the markings of a beachfront city.

You might be surprised to know that Moroccans do not romanticize Casablanca in the way that foreigners do. My brother-in-law is from Casa; my husband has several family members that live there currently, and when asked what they think of Casa, the typical response is… “crowded.”

It’s certainly true. Casa is a city of movement, much like NYC. It’s a business center full of opportunity. For me, that’s part of what made it so exciting.

Stop and smell the tea (with a view)

Lastly, we cannot talk about any city in Morocco without talking about the food, atay (tea), and the abundance of stunning views. There are several beautiful hotels along the coast, and the grand presence of the mosque is positioned perfectly to provide stunning views. It truly is the Eiffel Tower of Morocco.

In all, Casablanca is a place for sensory excitement. It has all the sounds a bustling city with the food and architectural of a modern Moroccan metropolis. You can indulge in sweets and mint tea before heading to a traditional souk (marketplace) for unique items and souvenirs, or you can have lunch in an upscale bistro before hitting the mall for some luxury shopping.

There truly is something for everyone in Morocco.

Join me for part 5: essaouira…

Join me in the next installment of “Visit Morocco.” This time I’m going to show you the beautiful port city of Essaouira and all its colorful, artistic sights…

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Visit Morocco: Marrakech

We stepped off of the train in Marrakech, carried our luggage through the station and out the front doors where a kind man named Abul Qadir, who knew every stretch of road in the city, greeted us with a smile and said “mrehba” (welcome). My husband’s brother had asked him to chauffeur us around during our stay.

In his minivan, which I think came off the assembly line the same year I was born, we flew through the narrow streets of the medina (the old part of the city). The realization that a 1985 minivan was speeding down brick roads built nearly 1000 years ago didn’t really hit me at the time. We were just trying to get to our riad (traditional Moroccan house).

Marrakech is special. They call it the Red City because it is just that. The medina is built out of red clay and looks something like the streets of Agrabah. We go back every time we’re in Morocco, and I think you’ll see why…

Jemaa el-Fnaa and the Medina

If you’ve considered traveling to Marrakech, Jemaa el-Fnaa is probably the reason. In essence, it is a marketplace, but in reality, it’s so much more.

Snake charmers, live percussionists, friendly monkeys in red vests (think Abu from Aladdin), handmade leather bags, traditional kaftans and shoes, ornate lamps, and so much more. You can catch a horse and buggy ride around the square and stop to buy jewelry made by local women.

There’s food and fresh juice and candy and spices….anything you could imagine. The sights and smells of the square are magical.

The market square is on the edge of the medina, where the streets are narrow and made of brick. That’s where you find most of the shops. They’re lined up, one after another, along the windy streets, branching out for miles like tributaries, all leading to the square.

You’ve likely seen the photos from influencers on social media: a beautiful woman in a flowing dress and a large hat stands in the middle of a small shop, surrounded by glowing Moroccan lamps. That’s Marrakech.

Fun fact: The vendors hate it. Many of them have posted signs prohibiting cameras in their shops. It makes for a fantastic photo op, though.

If You Don’t Stay in a Riad, You Don’t Experience Marrakech

In Marrakech, where you stay should be just as important as your sightseeing plans. There are hotels, but absolutely nothing beats the riad experience. Each time that I’ve booked a stay in Marrakech, I’ve stayed in the medina, but there are benefits to staying in the seclusion outside the city as well.

Blue Majorelle Gardens in Marrakech

Airbnb has everything you need. Whether your group is big or small, there is not only a riad for you but a chance to chose from options.

What makes riads so special is the architectural design. They all have an open patio in the center of the space, typically with an open roof and a water feature. The bedrooms are on the second floor, where a 360° terrace overlooks the patio. Natural light fills the entire space, and weather is not a concern because Marrakech is beautiful year round.

Don’t worry, every room has air conditioning, and everything is made of traditional tile and clay to keep cool in the warmer months. Here a couple of my favorite riads in the old medina (click the links to see the posts on Airbnb):

Riad Moor

In 2018, my husband and I stayed in Riad Moor with a group of nine people. It’s perfectly located in the traditional streets of the medina and just a short walk to the Jemaa el-Fnaa square. Every bedroom, and there were five, had an en-suite bathroom. One bedroom was even located on the beautiful rooftop.

Stepping out the front door put you directly on the streets of medina. We walked around the corner to get snacks at the shops and bakeries. We had pizza and sandwiches at a small restaurant around the corner. It was a perfect stay.

Giuliano’s Riad

I laid my head in Giuliano’s riad the first time I went to Marrakech in 2017. This time we were in a small group of three, and this was the perfect place to stay. We were there in June, and the dark clay room was the perfect temperature.

At night, by the light of the lanterns, we sat on the patio, listened to the water moving through the fountain, had kefta made in a tajine and listened to the sounds of the streets outside. Located in the medina, it has all the benefits of being in the heart of Marrakech.

The Atlas Mountains

Credit Paul Macallan

Roughly 30-45 minutes outside of the city, you can visit the Atlas Mountains. You can ride camels along paths in the lower hills (not my thing…I’m afraid of heights). Clear streams flow through low valleys where you can stop to eat at tables set up in the water. That’s where we spent one afternoon in 2017.

The stream passed over our feet as we ate beef and potatoes cooked in a tajine over fire. Truthfully, it was the best meal I had there. Later we sipped coffee under a bedouin-style tent next to the water and even napped there for a moment.

Cooking with a Tajine
Photo by Mayeur Pascal on Unsplash

That’s Marrakech…beauty everywhere you look and a warmth coming from the people that you won’t experience anywhere else. Everyday was just a one brand new adventure after another. It’s another spot that should be on every bucket list…

Join Me for Part 4: Casablanca…

Masjid Hassan II

Yes, it’s that Casablanca…like the movie. One of the greatest experiences in my life was the night I stepped into the Masjid Hassan II, the largest mosque in Africa. Subscribe to follow along with this series and learn more about Morocco…

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Visit Morocco: Kénitra

When I say that Morocco is where my heart is, I’m referring specifically to Kénitra. It’s part of a region consisting of three cities called Rabat-Salé-Kénitra. An easy 30-minute train ride will take you between the three, and a first class ticket is only 24 USD.

Photo by Kristan Jennings

Mehdya Beach

When you take the road from the city to Mehdya Beach, there’s a place along the road, just atop a hill where you can see miles of shoreline. It appears in the blink of an eye, and if you catch it just around sunset, it feels like the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen. Sunsets are special in North Africa, and the beach is the best place to be.

The shorelines in Kénitra border the Atlantic Ocean, and the seasons are similar to those of the southern states here in the U.S. Summer is hot, and winter has a chill but is never unpleasant. The beach is open year-round, and that’s where you’ll find the best dining options.

My official Moroccan wedding was in November 2017, one year after we were married in Columbus, Ohio. The night before the wedding, everyone went to the beach just before the sun went down. There was the slightest breeze in the air, and even in November, it was warm enough to step in the water.

The beach was empty save a man with three camels. For 10 USD/each, we rode camels down the shoreline and took some memorable photos before heading to a nearby restaurant for dinner.

Taxi Beach

Thirty minutes outside of the city you’ll find arguably one of the best beaches in Morocco, Taxi Beach.

Taxi Beach, Kénitra Morocco
Photo by Kristan Jennings

With miles of accessible shoreline and the widest beach berm I’ve ever seen, Taxi Beach is never too crowded. We didn’t have to travel far from the entrance to find an open area large enough to set up an umbrella, chairs, and snacks.

My husband and his friend kicked a soccer ball around the shoreline while I read a book under the umbrella, tea in hand (there’s always someone making it by fire and selling it on the beach).

His nephew built a sandcastle a few feet away. A vender selling large, Moroccan style donuts (much like French beignet) walked by several times. I ate two.

Speaking of eating…let’s talk about the seafood.

What Should You Eat?

Kénitra is best known for one thing: the seafood. The fish markets are plentiful year-round, and Mehdya Beach is home to the best restaurant in or around the city…Merzouga is a seafood haven with a stunning view of the Ocean.

The second floor at Merzouga is open air, designed to make the view and the fresh ocean breeze part of your experience. The food was phenomenal.

Our group ordered fresh fish platters with fries and Morocco’s famous bread. There were salads and a boat of sushi. Yes, I said boat. Twenty-four pieces of sushi made from fish caught on a dock not far down the road from where we sat. It was about one fourth what you might pay for the same in the U.S.

If, like me, you live for dessert, Kénitra has an amazing selection of bakeries. Cookies, cakes, pastries…whatever you like, you’ll find. Since you don’t have the luxury of my sisters-in-law baking mouthwatering treats for you, you’ll have to settle for one of many patisseries in the city.

I strongly recommended Patisserie Dadiben. I ate their chocolate creme donuts every night of Ramadan. Be sure to say “Salaam” to my sister-in-law, Miriam, when you drop by. Tell her Kristan sent you. 🙂

Just Along the River Front…

Just a couple of blocks from my husband’s neighborhood is the Sebou River. Along the bank is a beautiful sidewalk, typically not very busy but still lively. You’ll find cafe after cafe offering delicious food, coffee, tea, and juice on patios overlooking the river.

The cafes in Kénitra are extravagant in design. They are often named like clubs…Club Maamora, River Club…etc. A new one was in construction the last time I was there.

My favorite thing to do in Kenitra is take a walk along the river and sit in a cafe around sunset. The atmosphere is casual, peaceful, and relaxing. Something about the breeze from the water, the cozy surroundings, and the presence of people you love that makes everything in life come to center.

Where Should You Shop?

Morocco is known for the souk (market). If you follow along, I’ll take you through Jemaa el-Fna, the famous center for shopping in Marrakech. If you don’t know the name, you’d recognize the photos.

Kénitra, like every Moroccan city, has its own markets, which are essentially winding streets of small individual vendors selling everything from jewelry to traditional kaftans to olives and spices.

Vendor in Kénitra souk on John Kennedy Rue (street)
Photo by Kristan Jennings

Those stunning kaftans you find online or in America that say “Made in Morocco” are around every corner. Handmaid goods are a staple, and if you’ve never smelled Moroccan bread baked fresh, you haven’t lived.

Join Me for Part 3: Marrakech

Photo by Selina Bubendorfer on Unsplash

Jemaa el-Fna, luxurious and affordable riads in the old medina, olive orchards, and much, much more…

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Visit Morocco: Chefchaouen

So much of what we see about the Arab world in movies and media does a great disservice to the beauty of its land and its people. Furthermore, North Africa is a part of diverse Arab cultures that are so rich, both in the beauty of its geography and the character of its people; yet, it’s so often overshadowed by the more well-known Arab countries of the Middle East.

During October 2016 in Columbus, OH, I met the man that would become my husband. He’s a soft-spoken, Arab American with a kind heart and a charming love for his home country, and in 2017, he introduced me to the magic of Morocco. I fell in love. Morocco has an allure that cannot be denied.

Photo by Hassan Kanani (husband)

This post will be the first in a series I’m calling “Visit Morocco.” Each post will explore a new city, all of which I have personally visited.

I’m starting with Chefchaouen for one simple reason: not enough people know about it! You’ll find it on the internet, but this special city needs to be on every travelers bucket list. Images of its majestic medina, nestled in a valley of the Rif Mountains, show cobblestone streets and traditional housing painted from top to bottom with vibrant blue paint. As you can image, this is the root of it’s name, The Blue Pearl or The Blue City.

You might be wondering, why blue? The reasons vary by opinion, but honestly, why not blue? It’s stunning. According to some, it’s because the blue keeps the mosquitos away.

Others say it’s just a great way to attract tourists, but regardless, it works. The blue is as breathtaking as it appears in theses simple photos taken with an iphone.

Chaouen, as my husband and all Moroccans call it, is also a hot spot for shopping. The streets are lined with small shops owned by the citizens and full of handmade treasures…

Photo by Hassan Kanani

Woven blankets, clay pottery, aromatic spices in giant burlap bags, and fine leather goods are just a few of great finds you can take home. The region is also known for excellent olive oil and honey. The guy to our left here was sleeping on the job, but give him a break…it was Ramadan in June. 🙂

If you’re looking for something a little more kitsch to take home as a souvenir, there is no shortage of blue door magnets and keychains. I even have a blue door key hanger in my kitchen that’s functioning as a colorful oven mitten holder.

Where Should You Stay?

Finding a place to lay your head in The Blue Pearl is easy. There is no shortage of vibrantly decorated hotels. Every stay has a traditional, uniquely Moroccan aesthetic. We chose a suite with a view. Hotel Al-Khalifa was beautiful, quiet, and placed perfectly on the hill, overlooking the valley. With rooftop access, you can have a sweet glass of Moroccan tea with a breathtaking view.

If you prefer to be in the heart of the medina, there are some amazing places to stay down in the valley as well. Here is a list of the top three locations that we considered:

Hotel Parador is a 4-star hotel in the old medina of Chaouen. The location is perfection, and the beautiful pool is a great selling point. Their website also offers “Things to Do” that include the best of the sites.

Dar Yakout is a riad with a terrace for breakfast with a view. Honestly, when it comes to Chaouen, a good view is everything. The interior and exterior is everything you expect from Morocco, and it’s perfect for a lone traveler or a group.

Interested in something a little more luxurious? Dar Ba Sidi & Spa is a literal haven. Located just outside of the old medina, this 5-star hotel has everything you could possibly want: pool, privacy, grand rooms with traditional decor, excellent food, spa treatments, and exclusivity.

Search results from offer an excellent selection of hotels, riads, and apartments available in and around Chaouen.

Cascades d’Akchour

Lastly, but certainly not least, you have to venture out of the medina and into the beautiful surrounding nature. The Rif Mountains are home to hiking trails that almost anyone can do with plenty of breathtaking scenery, but what you really want to to see are the upper and lower Akchour waterfalls.

Credit: @inmorocco on instagram

You can enjoy a nice meal with Moroccan tea at the base of the waterfall (a signature dining experience you’ll find in low-flow water in other parts of Morocco’s touristic areas).

Hiking to the upper waterfall will likely take you between 4-6 hours. It isn’t an exceptionally difficult hike, and you can book a guide (recommended) to lead the way. Beware, the guides are good at this….you gotta keep up. 🙂 Don’t worry; they will accommodate you with a smile and make sure you enjoy every moment of the hike.

Join Me for Part 2: Kénitra

Part two of this series, Visit Morocco, covers the beautiful city of Kénitra. Unless you’re very familiar with Morocco, you’ve likely never heard of it. Kénitra, just roughly 30 minutes north of Rabat (Morocco’s capital city), is a coastal city with beautiful beaches. It’s known for an abundance of fish (some of the best fish markets in the country) and a beautiful forest.

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