The history of the region comprising present-day Morocco has been shaped by the interaction of the original Berber population and the various peoples who successively invaded the country. The first of the invaders well known to history were the Phoenicians, who in the 12th century bc established trading posts on the Mediterranean coast of the region. They founded a settlement known as Rusaddir, now modern Melilla. The Phoenician colonies in North Africa were later taken over and extended by the Carthaginians (see Carthage). The Carthaginians founded towns on the Atlantic coast at Tangier, Larache, and as far south as Essaouira. Carthaginian inscriptions have been found at Volubilis, the Roman capital of western North Africa, near Meknès.
The conquest of Carthage by Rome, in the 2nd century bc, led to Roman dominance of the Mediterranean coast of Africa. About ad 42 the northern portion of what is now Morocco was incorporated into the Roman Empire as the province of Mauretania Tingitana. Tingis was the name of the town that became Tangier. In the Germanic invasions that attended the decline of the Roman Empire, the Vandals in 429 occupied Mauretania Tingitana. The Byzantine general Belisarius defeated the Vandals in 533 and established. Byzantine rule was ended by the Arabs, who invaded Morocco in 682 in the course of their drive to expand the power of Islam. Except for the Jews, the inhabitants of Morocco, both Christian and pagan, soon accepted the religion of their conquerors.
Berber troops were used extensively by the Arabs in their conquest of Spain, which began in 711. The first Arab rulers of the whole of Morocco, the Idrisid dynasty, held power from 789 to 926. The dynasty was named after Idris I, a refugee from the east who was the great-great-grandson of Fatima, daughter of the prophet Muhammad.
In 793 Idris died—poisoned, it is said, by an emissary of the Abassid caliph Harun ar-Rashid, from whose usurpation he had fled. Idris I was succeeded by his son, Idris II, who made Fès his capital. This city was to become a center of Islamic and Arab culture throughout the centuries, thanks largely to the settlement there in the 9th century of two large contingents of refugees—one from Kairouan (present-day Al Qayrawān)in Tunisia, the other from Córdoba, cities that were the centers of Muslim civilization in Africa and Spain respectively. The Idrisid dynasty thus gave Morocco a capital, a tradition, and its patron saints in the two founders, Idris I and II.
The Idrisid was succeeded by other dynasties, both Arab and Berber. Not until the 11th century can we speak of an independent kingdom of Morocco within its 20th-century frontiers. The unification of the country was the work of Berbers from south of the Tlas, nomads from the country now known as Mauritania. The Berbers were reforming Muslims; their first great leader, Yusuf ibn Tashfin, was an austere Muslim, living on camel flesh and milk and wearing only woolen garments. His followers were known as Almoravids, from the Arabic al-murabit, meaning “hermits.” Yusuf ibn Tashfin extended his rule over all North Africa as far as Algiers (in what is now Algeria), and also into Muslim Spain. The Almoravids ruled from 1062 to 1147.
In the 12th century, after a civil war lasting more than 20 years, the Almoravids were succeeded by another great Berber dynasty, the Almohads. Their name comes from the Arabic al-muwahhid, meaning “those who proclaim the unity of God,” and they ruled from 1147 to 1258. They also extended Moroccan rule and came to control not only Muslim Spain but all North Africa, including Tunisia, from which they expelled the Normans. In 1195 they won a great victory over the Christians in Spain at Alarcos.
The Almohad Empire began to disintegrate after the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212, in which the Spanish defeated the Moroccans. By midcentury its power was gone. A third Berber dynasty, the Merinids, followed, but it failed to keep a foothold in Spain or to maintain Moroccan rule in North Africa beyond the frontiers of Morocco. A period of disorder and almost incessant civil war followed the collapse of the Merinids in 1358. Rulers of various dynasties reigned briefly and ineffectually over parts of the country. The Portuguese and Spanish captured a number of Moroccan ports.
The period of these three Berber dynasties—the Almoravids, the Almohads, and the Merinids—was a great age for Moroccan architecture. The finest monuments in Morocco are the mosques, minarets, and gateways built by the Almohads in the Atlas, at Marrakech, and in Rabat, and the madrasas (colleges) of Fès built by the Merinids. These magnificent constructions were the work of Muslim architects from Andalusia in southern Spain, for the Moroccan rulers rapidly adopted the culture of their new subjects and brought craftsmen and artists to Morocco from Spain. Two of Morocco’s great minaret towers—the Koutoubiya in Marrakech and the Hassan Tower in Rabat—were built by a Muslim architect from Spain. The absorption of Spanish Muslims had in fact begun even before the time of the Almoravids, when disturbances in Muslim Spain first led Muslims to seek refuge on the southern shores of the Mediterranean. The process continued until the beginning of the 17th century, with the expulsion of Moriscos (Christian converts from Islam) from Spain. "Morocco" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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