In contrast with many other developing countries, urban life is traditional in Morocco. The main cities (Fes, Rabat, Marrakesh, Meknes) were built before the thirteenth century and have historically been, in a natural region or at the bounds of tribal areas, centres for trade, law, religion and learning, in agreement with the Muslim tradition. The secular interaction of these cities with their surrounding countryside remained balanced until the beginning of the twentieth century, through the domination of urban influence.
The modern type of urbanisation, aggregating a composite population, is also present. A first ‘nucleus ’ including the harbour of Casablanca, Morocco's biggest town, and Rabat, the capital, absorbed most demographic increments until independence. From the 1960s onwards, however, these centres alone could no longer accommodate the rising velocity of population growth, and new urbanism spread to surrounding places, namely the harbours of Mahommedia, Sale and Kenitra. Thus, in contrast with tradition, modern urbanisation moved from inner provinces to the Atlantic shore, along with the translation of leading economic activity towards international trade.
In this process, the old cities (Fes, Marrakesh, Meknes), though also growing and maintaining their traditional functions, could not offer attractive prospects of employment. According to a Moroccan economist (Bentahar, 1987) they would become a relay between the small towns, the first levels of urban life, and the Atlantic conurbation, and instead of evolving toward increased urban patterns, would on the contrary be invested with a new ‘ruralisation’.