The Magic of Morocco

I started taking small groups of photographers on photo tours to Morocco about fifteen years ago. The first trip was an eye, mind and heart opener!  From a photographic standpoint, Morocco offers more variety of subject matter than any of my other photo tour destinations. As my friend and Moroccan guide, Ismail, said to me, “Morocco is the land of contrasts.”

We start our trip in Casablanca at the Hassan II Mosque, shown above. The floor is polished marble and has wonderful reflective qualities. The enormity and serenity of the space inside the Mosque is awe-inspiring. I once said to our Mosque guide that I could feel the power of the prayers that the thousands of the worshipers have uttered there.

Leaving Casablanca we drive south to El Jadida, the old city.  Here we photograph an old cistern that was built by the Portuguese hundreds of years ago. The vaulted ceilings are perfectly reflected in the still water that covers most of the floor.

It seems that there is one fantastic location after another in Morocco. One of my favorites is the Majorelle Gardens in Marrakech. The French painter, Jacques Majorelle, created the gardens in the 1920’s. It was completed over the course of many years and has been open to the public since 1947. It is a striking, colorful site. The buildings are painted with “Majorelle blue”, an intense ultramarine, cobalt blue that the artist felt invoked Africa. In 1980 the site was purchased by the French designer, Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Bergé to save it from becoming a hotel complex. The 12-acre botanical garden also hosts the largest collection of succulents in the world.

Marrakech is also known for Jemaa el-Fnaa, the large square and marketplace in the medina quarter of the city. Here photographers can find an incredible amount to photograph from snake charmers, water carriers, musicians, fortune-tellers and much more. By four o’clock in the afternoon, the food courts are ready to cook and serve traditional Moroccan fare. Hundreds of hibachi stoves are fired up and create lots of smoke. I always enjoy photographing the activity in the square through the charcoal smoke.

Leaving Marrakech, we cross the high Atlas Mountains on our way to the Sahara desert.  In the Sahara, we stay in a lodge located 40 miles into the dunes. To cross the rugged desert terrain we use special four-wheel drive land cruisers. Given the remote location, the lodge was an incredible surprise. It is more like a four-star hotel, complete with swimming pool and gourmet cuisine, than a rustic desert dwelling. Here we have the opportunity to photograph the ever-changing sand dunes. We spend two nights in the lodge so there are a number of opportunities for sunsets and sunrises.  When the sun is at a very low angle, the shadows create wonderful shapes and patterns in the sand dunes. Before leaving on the third morning, we get a look at the dunes from atop a camel. The camel ride is truly unforgettable!

Another fascinating area in Morocco is the Valley of 1000 Kasbahs where traditional buildings made of mud and stone can be found. The word kasbah has several meanings, but it generally refers to the old, central part of a North African city. It also is used to mean citadel or castle and the area around it. These structures once housed hundreds of people who traveled by camel caravans across the desert. Mud and stone construction requires constant maintenance or the forces of nature will destroy the buildings. We get to photograph a number kasbahs, some of which have eroded and are little more than ruins. 

There seems to be no end to the wonderful photo locations we come across in Morocco. Below is a photograph I made in a market in Rabat. The vendor created an eye-catching display of his oranges. Morocco is not only a land of contrasts; it’s a photographers delight!