The Morris water maze (MWM) was described 20 years ago as a device to investigate spatial learning and memory in laboratory rats. In the meanwhile, it has become one of the most frequently used laboratory tools in behavioral neuroscience. Many methodological variations of the MWM task have been and are being used by research groups in many different applications. However, researchers have become increasingly aware that MWM performance is influenced by factors such as apparatus or training procedure as well as by the characteristics of the experimental animals (sex, species/strain, age, nutritional state, exposure to stress or infection). Lesions in distinct brain regions like hippocampus, striatum, basal forebrain, cerebellum and cerebral cortex were shown to impair MWM performance, but disconnecting rather than destroying brain regions relevant for spatial learning may impair MWM performance as well. Spatial learning in general and MWM performance in particular appear to depend upon the coordinated action of different brain regions and neurotransmitter systems constituting a functionally integrated neural network. Finally, the MWM task has often been used in the validation of rodent models for neurocognitive disorders and the evaluation of possible neurocognitive treatments. Through its many applications, MWM testing gained a position at the very core of contemporary neuroscience research.