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In 2006 the African nation of Morocco celebrated its 50th anniversary of independence. Today it is a land with a rich culture, in thanks to its strategic location and very long history.
While the deserts of North Africa may not seem inviting, the land was likely far less arid and the earliest settlers likely arrived as early as 7000 BC. The local Berber people later established contact with the early Phoenicians and Greeks who traded in the Mediterranean Ocean.
The area was known as Mauretania during the Classical Age and was part of the Roman Empire, until its decline when various Germanic tribes including the Vandals and the Visigoths settled here. The Byzantines retook the region but maintained only loose control.
In the 7th century the Islamic forces from the east conquered the area, and this led to a power struggle between various groups that would last for several centuries. The powerful Alaouite Dynasty gained control of Morocco following a long series of Civil Wars. Under their leadership Morocco was the first nation to recognize the United States in 1777.
The region's location at the northern tip of Africa at the Straits of Gibraltar attracted various powers for centuries. At the beginning of the 20th century the region fell into the sphere of influence of the French, and this caused a crisis in 1905 that almost started a war between France and Germany. This would remain one of the many causes of the First World War. In 1912 the second crisis in the region resulted in most of the country of Morocco becoming a protectorate of France, with Spain assuming similar status with the other two Saharan zones.
In World War II American forces landed in Vichy French controlled Morocco, and this was the site of the first conflict between American and Axis forces during the war. Following the war Morocco finally regained its independence, with France officially relinquishing its protection in 1956.
Vibrant, diverse Morocco is known for its Atlantic and Mediterranean beaches, high mountains, Sahara Desert, imperial cities, and open-air souks.
Its history and culture reflect the influence of a long succession of invaders and settlers including the Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, French, Spanish, and Arabs—as well as the presence of the Berbers, Morocco’s indigenous people, who make up half of the nation’s population.
Moroccan society is a fascinating melting pot of different cultures: Berber, Arab, Jewish, Muslim, African and European. The late Hassan II, king of Morocco, compared the country to a tree with its roots spreading deep into the heart of Africa, its trunk solidly set in the Arabo-Islamic world, and its branches reaching beyond Spain, Portugal and France to the heart of Europe.
Morocco is changing rapidly as a result of modernization and democratization efforts; yet its diverse cultures are deeply anchored in age-old traditions that stress community life, baraka (sacred blessing), fate, family, and honor, all of which are values that Moroccans cherish and are always ready to share.
Historically, the Moroccan empire was a major player in world politics and the legendary cities of Fes, Marrakech and Essaouira, along with their monuments, are a standing witness of that historical role. Morocco is also a symphony of different forms of music and dance that make it one of the most "musical" countries in the world. The fine cuisine, the rich biodiversity, the hospitality, the vibrant civil society, the active elite, the diverse geography, the religious and ethnic tolerance, the Andalusian heritage, the varied economy and the longest Monarchy in the world-all of these make of it an intersting case that is worth studying closely.