Morocco (Arabic Al Mamlakah al Maghribiyah), kingdom in North Africa,
bounded on the north by the Mediterranean Sea, on the east and southeast
by Algeria, on the south by Western Sahara, and on the west by the Atlantic
Ocean. The southeastern boundary, in the Sahara, is not precisely defined.
Within Morocco are the Spanish exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, on the Mediterranean
coast. Several small islands off the northern coast of Morocco are also
possessions of Spain. From 1912 to 1956 Morocco itself was divided into
French and Spanish protectorates. The area of Morocco is 453,730 sq km
(175,186 sq mi). Since 1979 Morocco has also occupied the adjacent region
known as Western Sahara (formerly Spanish Sahara).
II. Land and Resources
Morocco has the broadest plains and the highest mountains in North Africa.
The country has four main natural regions: an area of highlands, called
Er Rif, paralleling the Mediterranean coast; the Atlas Mountains, extending
across the country in a southwestern to northeastern direction between
the Atlantic Ocean and Er Rif, from which the mountains are separated by
the Taza Depression; a region of broad coastal plains along the Atlantic
Ocean, framed in the arc formed by Er Rif and the Atlas Mountains; and
the plains and valleys south of the Atlas Mountains, which merge with the
Sahara along the southeastern borders of the country. Most Moroccans inhabit
the Atlantic coastal plain. The highest mountain is Jebel Toubkal (4,165
m/13,665 ft), in the Grand Atlas range. Elevations in Er Rif attain heights
of 2,450 m (8,040 ft). Morocco has many rivers, which, although unimportant
for navigation, are used for irrigation and for generating electric power.
The chief rivers are the Moulouya, which drains into the Mediterranean
Sea, and the Sebou, which flows into the Atlantic Ocean.
Along the Mediterranean, Morocco has a subtropical climate, tempered
by oceanic influences that give the coastal cities moderate temperatures.
At Essaouira (Mogador), for example, temperatures average 16.4° C (61.5°
F) in January and 22.5° C (72.5° F) in August. Toward the interior,
winters are colder and summers warmer. Thus, in Fès the mean temperature
is 10° C (50° F) in January and 26.9° C (80.5° F) in August.
At high altitudes temperatures of less than -17.8° C (0° F) are
not uncommon, and mountain peaks are covered with snow during most of the
year. Rain falls mainly during the winter months. Precipitation is heaviest
in the northwest and lightest in the east and south. The average annual
precipitation is about 955 mm (about 37.5 in) in Tangier, 430 mm (17 in)
in Casablanca, 280 mm (11 in) in Essaouira, and less than 102 mm (4 in)
in the Sahara.
B. Natural Resources
Morocco's resources are primarily agricultural, but mineral resources
are also significant. Among the latter the most important is phosphate
rock; other minerals include coal, iron, lead, manganese, petroleum, silver,
tin, and zinc.
C. Plants and Animals
The mountainous regions of Morocco contain extensive areas of forest, including large stands of cork oak, evergreen oak, juniper, cedar, fir, and pine. Except for areas under cultivation, the plains are usually covered with scrub brush and alfa grass. On the plain of Sous, near the southern border, is a large forest of argan, thorny trees found principally in Morocco.
Moroccan wildlife represents a mingling of European and African species.
Of the animals characteristic of Europe, the fox, rabbit, otter, and squirrel
abound; of predominantly African types, the gazelle, wild boar, panther,
baboon, wild goat, and horned viper are common.
The soils along the coast of Morocco are halomorphic and humus-carbonate; inland areas have podzolic and steppe soils. The southern part of the country is mainly desert.