Morocco before Ibn Battuta

The first territory Ibn Battuta crossed on his journey was, obviously, his homeland. So that’s where our journey has to begin as well.

Actually, we should probably start in an even more basic place than that, with a little etymology. Sorry. The thing is that my use of the name “Morocco,” which helps my English-speaking brain situate Ibn Battuta’s homeland geographically, is kind of problematic. Historically, for Arabic speakers, this region–at the far western edge of North Africa–is the Maghrib or, as you’ll sometimes see in modern usage, “Maghreb.” The word simply means “western place” so its usage here should be fairly self-explanatory. The modern nation is usually called al-Maghrib in Arabic, though its full name is al-Mamlakah al-Maghribiyyah, “the Western Kingdom.” The name “Morocco” derives from the city of Marrakesh, whose name may be Tamazight (Berber) in origin but we can’t be sure. In European usage for centuries Morocco was known as the “Kingdom of Marrakesh” since Marrakesh was often its capital and most important city. Morocco is still called “Marrakesh” today in Persian and several Persian-influenced languages (Pashto, Urdu, Uzbek, Sindhi, Azerbaijani, etc.)

Turks, by the way, call the country Fas, after the city of Fez. Same idea as Morocco/Marrakesh but different city. It’s a land of contrasts.