Morocco nestles on the northwestern tip of Africa, separated from the rest of the continent by the towering Atlas Mountains and by the Sahara itself. Its climate, geography, and history are all more closely related to the Mediterranean than to the rest of Africa, and for this reason visitors are often struck by the odd sensation of having not quite reached Africa in Morocco.
In the north, its fine beaches, lush highland valleys, and evocative old cities reinforce this impression. Yet, as one moves south and east, into and over the starkly beautiful ranges of the Atlas, Morocco's Mediterranean character melts away like a mirage. The Sahara stretches out to the horizon, at which forbidding Kasbahs stare.
Morocco's history began with the Berbers, the aboriginal people who have inhabited the country since the end of the 2nd millennium BC. Rome extended its rule over the area after defeating Carthage in 146 BC, and testimony to its presence still exists in the fine Roman ruins at Volubilis. As Rome fell into decline Morocco was invaded first by the Vandals and then, in the 7th century, by the Arabs. Although external Arab rule lasted little more than a century, the arrival of Islam proved to be a permanent addition to Moroccan culture. In the ensuing centuries a series of ruling dynasties came to power, including the Idrissids, the Almoravids, and the Almohads, but none seemed capable of long maintaining the critical support of the Berber leaders.
By the 15th century Spain and Portugal began to intrude into Morocco, after having expelled the Moors from their own lands. Although Morocco successfully repulsed these invasions, the tide of European imperialism eventually proved too great. By the middle of the 19th century Morocco's strategic importance had become evident to all of the European powers, and they engaged in a protracted struggle for possession of the country. Finally, in 1911, France was formally acknowledged as protector of the greater part of the country, with Spain receiving a number of isolated locales. French rule came to an end in 1953, although its cultural influence on Morocco remains strongly in evidence.
Today the country is ruled by King Mohammed VI who appears to be leading Morocco toward both long-term stability and a greater degree of economic prosperity.