Official name: Kingdom of Morocco
Area: 446,550 square kilometers (172,414 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Mount Toubkal (4,165 meters/13,665 feet)
Lowest point on land: Sebkha Tah (55 meters/180 feet below sea level)
Hemispheres: Northern and Western
Time zone: Noon = noon GMT
Longest distances: 1,809 kilometers (1,124 miles) from northeast to southwest; 525 kilometers (326 miles) from southeast to northwest
Land boundaries: 2,081 kilometers (1,254 miles) total boundary length; Algeria 1,559 kilometers (969 miles); Spain (Ceuta) 6.3 kilometers (3.9 miles); Spain (Melilla) 9.6 kilometers (6.0 miles); Western Sahara 443 kilometers (275 miles)
Coastline: 1,140 miles (1,835 kilometers)
Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)
Morocco is located at the northwest corner of the African continent, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. It shares land borders with the two Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, Algeria, and the Western Sahara. The Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara also borders on Mauritania. With an area of about 446,550 square kilometers (172,414 square miles), the country is slightly larger than the state of California. Morocco is divided into thirty-seven provinces and two wilayas (special districts).
The Western Sahara is claimed and administered by the government of Morocco; surrounding countries challenge Morocco's claim, however. The Western Sahara covers an area of about 252,120 square kilometers (97,344 square miles).
Morocco has two climatic zones: coastal and interior. Temperature variations are relatively small along the Atlantic coast, while the interior is characterized by extreme variations. The north and central areas have a Mediterranean climate, moderate and subtropical, cooled by the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. These areas characteristically have warm, wet winters and hot, dry summers. The average temperature hovers around 20°C (68°F). In the northern part of the interior, the climate is predominantly semiarid. Winters can be quite cold, and summers can be very hot. In the mountain ranges temperatures can drop as low as -18°C (0°F). Mountain peaks in both the Atlas and Er Rif mountain ranges are snow-capped throughout most of the year.
The western slopes of the Atlas Mountains receive a great deal of rain, but at the expense of the interior, since the mountains block the central areas from the Atlantic or Mediterranean. The two rainy seasons are in April and May and in October and November. A maximum annual rainfall of 75 to 100 centimeters (30 to 40 inches) occurs in the northwest. Other parts of the country receive much less precipitation. Half of all of the arable land receives no more than 35 centimeters (14 inches) of rain per year.
Morocco has four distinct geographic regions. In the north, there is a fertile coastal plain along the Mediterranean. The Atlas Mountains, extending across the country from southwest to northeast and into Algeria, comprise another region. A third area is a wide arc of coastal plains lining the country's western seaboard, bounded by the Er Rif and Atlas mountain ranges. Finally, south of the Atlas Mountains are semiarid grasslands that merge with the Sahara Desert along the southeastern borders of the country.
Morocco provides habitats for dozens of bird species, from large raptors to woodpeckers, waterfowl, and songbirds.
The Mediterranean Sea is north of Morocco. It is an almost completely landlocked body of water that lies between southern Europe, north Africa and southwest Asia. Morocco's western coast faces the Atlantic Ocean.
The Strait of Gibraltar connects the Mediterranean Sea with the Atlantic Ocean and separates Morocco from Spain.
The Mediterranean coast between Tangier and Nador has a string of creeks, bays, sheltered beaches, and cliffs, all of which are ideal for recreational use. The Atlantic coast is often rocky, but it also has some long stretches of fine sand and calm bays, including the harbors at Rabat and Casablanca.
Lake Semara is in the Western Sahara. Lake Chiker, near Taza, is usually dry during the summer months. The Middle and High Atlas Mountains contain mountain lakes that reach impressive depths, including Tigalmamine (16 meters/53 feet); Sidi Ali (65 meters/213 feet); and Isti (95 meters/311 feet).
Morocco has the most extensive river system in North Africa. The principal rivers flowing south or westward into the Atlantic Ocean are the Rebia (555 kilometers/344 miles long), Sebou (Sebu; 500 kilometers/ 310 miles long), Bouregreg (250 kilometers/ 155 miles long), Tensift (270 kilometers/167 miles long), and Drâa (1,200 kilometers/744 miles long). The Drâa is Morocco's longest river, but it is seasonal. It marks part of the border with Algeria and is sometimes dry, since it runs through the desert.
The Ziz and Rheris both flow south out of the Atlas Mountains into the heart of the Sahara. The Moulouya (Muluya) flows 560 kilometers (347 miles) northeast from the Atlas to the Mediterranean, making it the longest river in the country that consistently reaches the sea.
Morocco lies within the border of the Sahara Desert. The Sahara Desert, which covers an area of 9,065,000 square kilometers (3,500,000 square miles) is the largest desert in the world. It covers the entire region of North Africa, from the Atlantic coast in the west to the Red Sea in the east. It borders the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlas Mountains in the north and extends into a southern region known as the Sahel and the Sudan. Scientists believe that during the Ice Age (about fifty thousand to one hundred thousand years ago), the Sahara was covered with shallow lakes that provided water for large areas of lush vegetation.
The Western Sahara, as part of the greater Sahara Desert, has a terrain that is composed mostly of sand, gravel, or small stones. It is relatively flat except for a region of rocky highlands in the east.
With the exception of the Er Rif, all of Morocco north of the Atlas Mountains is a fertile plain. This area is also known as the Taza Depression. There are also some semiarid grasslands in the south beyond the Atlas Mountains. These eventually give way to the Sahara Desert. Semiarid plains can also be found in northern Western Sahara.
The Atlas Mountains are the largest and most important mountain range in North Africa, extending from Morocco to Tunisia for about 2,400 kilometers (1,488 miles) in a series of creased mountain chains. Morocco's portion of the Atlas Mountains includes the Middle Atlas, High Atlas, and Anti-Atlas.
The High Atlas (also called Western Atlas or Great Atlas) is the highest of the three, stretching for more than 644 kilometers (400 miles), with ten peaks of over 3,965 meters (13,000 feet). Mount Toubkal, south of Marrakech, reaches to 4,165 meters (13,665 feet)—the highest point in the country. The Middle Atlas stretches for 251 kilometers (156 miles) east of the High Atlas, extending into Algeria. Mount Bounaceur is the highest point in the Middle Atlas, at 3,326 meters (10,909 feet). West and south of the High Atlas is the Anti-Atlas range. Although not as tall as the High Atlas, the terrain in the Anti-Atlas is very rugged. It is about 403 kilometers (250 miles) long. South of the Atlas is the Sirwa, a volcanic outcropping and a ridge of black lava that connects the High Atlas and Anti-Atlas. The Sirwa reaches a maximum height of 2,822 meters (9,254 feet).
The Er Rif Mountains near the northern coast are not part of the Atlas ranges. They are made up of steep cliffs. The highest peak in the Er Rif is Tidghine (2,465 meters/8,085 feet), south of Ketama.
Toghobeit Cave is located in the Er Rif cliffs. At 722 meters (3,918 feet) deep it is one of the most fantastic open caverns in the world.
The Ziz River cuts through the Atlas Mountains to form the Ziz Gorge. At the southern end of the gorge, there are artificial lakes created by the Hassan Addakhil Dam. At the northern end is the Tunnel de Légionnaire, which creates a passageway from the Ziz Mountains to the Ziz Valley.
The Todra Gorge is also in the Atlas Mountains, near the town of Tinerhir. The gorge has steep rock faces that rise as much as 300 meters (984 feet) and has become a popular site for rock climbers.
Kasbah, or Casbah, is a term often heard in association with Morocco. Rather than being a specific place or region, it is a term that usually refers to the oldest section of a city. Often, this is the marketplace of the city. Sometimes the term refers to an ancient castle or palace.
There are no plateau regions in Morocco.
Morocco relies very heavily on its system of river dams and reservoirs for drinking water, irrigation, and electricity. Some of the main dams in the country are the Bin El Ouidane, Moulay Youssef, and Moulay Hassan I. The Al Wahda Dam, at 90 meters (295 feet) high, is the second-largest dam in Africa.
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Italia, Bob. Morocco. Minneapolis, MN: Abdo Publications, 2000.
Solyst, Annette. Morocco. New York: Friedman/Fairfax, 2000.
Jacobshagen, H. Volker, ed. The Atlas System of Morocco: Studies on Its Geodynamic Evolution . New York: Springer-Verlag, 1988.
Wilkins, Frances. Morocco . Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2001.
Association for Freedom & Regulation of the Western Sahara (ARSO): Western Sahara Geography . http://www.arso.org/05-2.htm (accessed April 4, 2003).
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