Touring Morocco in the World Showcase
Famed novelist Edith Wharton once said, ““To visit Morocco is still like turning the pages of some illuminated Persian manuscript all embroidered with bright shapes and subtle lines.” Waxing similarly poetic, Melissa Manlove wrote in her “Letter from Morocco,” that, “… I wish I could tell you the wonder of the souks and marketplaces; the brilliant overflowing of spices, olives, fabrics…the piles of mint and thyme scenting the air . . .” Sadly, I’ve never had the privilege of travelling to Morocco. It remains a dream of mine, but until then I will have to content myself with trips to the Morocco pavilion in Epcot’s World Showcase.
Tucked between the France and Japan pavilions, I’ve long felt that Morocco was the jewel of the World Showcase. It is the spot that I’m always most excited to visit in the park. From the glorious architecture to the hustle and bustle of the marketplace, or the delicious food found at restaurants like Tangerine Cafe, Spice Road Table, and Restaurant Marrakesh, it’s a wonder that I feel I’m never done exploring. Each visit reveals a small new detail.
The pavilion is unique in Epcot, in that it is the only location where the government of the country being represented actually aided in its design. King Hassan II, who ruled the country from 1961-1999, sent artisans and craftsmen to help with design. Prior to construction, a scale model of the pavilion was sent to the king, who had architects examine it for authenticity. When the area opened in 1984, Hassan’s daughter, Princess Lalla Meriem, attended the ceremony.
The pavilion includes multiple allusions to real locations within Morocco. The most notable is the large minaret which towers over the area. It is a reproduction of the Koutoubia minaret which can be seen in the Jemaa el-Fna square in Marrakesh. The minaret is part of Koutoubia Mosque which was first founded in 1147, though the portion that Guests see in Epcot is a replica of architecture finalized in 1195.
Like a true Moroccan city, the pavilion is divided into an “old city,” or medina, and “new city,” or Ville Nouvelle. Guests encounter the Ville Nouvelle first and make their way to the medina as they walk to the back of the pavilion.
Another prominent feature is a replica of the Bab Bou Jeloud, a beautiful gate covered in blue tile. The real Bab Bou Jeloud stands as the entrance to the ancient City of Fez. Newer than other Moroccan structures represented in Epcot, the Bab Bou Jeloud was constructed in 1913.
Though shopping exists in every pavilion at Epcot, there are no others like the “souk” found in Morocco (with the possible exception of Mexico’s Plaza de los Amigos). There are multiple shops to visit, including the Brass Bazaar, and the adjoining Outdoor Bazaar, Casablanca Carpets, and Souk-Al-Magreb. While perusing the market’s various wares, Guests can also get a henna tattoo.
The Fez House is my favorite spot in the pavilion and one of my favorites in all of Walt Disney World. Designed to resemble a traditional Moroccan home, it features a mixture of ornate wood and tile architecture as well as a small fountain against the back wall. In keeping with Islamic beliefs, you’ll find no images represented in the artwork. Instead, there are complex geometric designs which simultaneously evoke both a sense of wonder and order. The Fez House seems to be frequently overlooked by Guests, on many visits I’ve found it completely empty. It serves as a perfect oasis from the hustle and bustle found throughout much of the park.
As you reach the back of the pavilion, you come across another minaret. Though perhaps not as well known to Guests as the Koutoubia minaret, it is no less impressive. The structure is designed to resemble the minaret at the Chella Necropolis in Morocco’s capital city of Rabat. The minaret dates to the 13th century. It was built by Abu Yusuf Yaqub, and completed in 1284.
Taken in full, the pavilion is a wonder of design. Each portion evokes the ambiance of Morocco, taking Guests as close as they can possibly get to the country without actually visiting it.