Independent for just more than 50 years, Morocco has, over time, been tread on by many different feet. From the New Stone Age to the 21st century, Morocco's mountains, coast, plains, and desert have hosted settlers and nomads, invaders and conquerors. Today this is visible in the country's religion (indoctrinated by marauding Muslims in the 7th c.), artisans and musicians (an oral and visual mix of Berber, Andalusian, Jewish, and Arabic), and, of course, its cuisine. Acceding to the throne upon his father's death in 1999, 44-year-old King Mohammed VI is repositioning Morocco as one of the major gateways between East and West -- a position it has held intermittently over the centuries. A young country in more ways than one -- more than half the population is under 40 -- Morocco is one of the world's current hot spots for investment. This is particularly visible within the tourism sector, where a target of 10 million annual tourist arrivals by 2010 was encouraged by the king himself. Although this figure has since proven somewhat overly ambitious, the number of new resorts and hotels in construction appears to be continuing on regardless, as does the urban migration of Moroccans -- mainly young males -- looking for work. This all-embracing focus on modernization has the potential to both uplift and alienate Moroccans. King Mohammed VI consistently walks a tightrope between his dual roles as the country's spiritual leader -- his dynasty, the Alaouites, claim to be direct descendants of the Prophet Mohammed -- and ruler of a nation that labors under an illiteracy rate of just more than 50%, with a fifth of its inhabitants still living below the poverty line. A journey in Morocco can often leave the Western traveler struggling with its apparent contradictions. The country is relatively compact, yet its landscapes seem vast; it enthusiastically embraces European culture and standards, particularly from former colonial master France, yet is fiercely proud of its independence; and its people are restless for change, yet remain devoted to tradition. Morocco's riches -- both cultural and natural -- are evenly spread throughout the country, and are relatively easy to access from one another so that any traveler -- be they the intrepid independent type, group-travel oriented, family minded, luxury conscious, or even business focused -- can sample all that this country, at a cultural intersection, has to offer.
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