Rabat, the country’s capital and one of the four royal cities, is located at the mouth of the Bou Regreg river and, together with Salé, has around 1.5 million inhabitants. Compared to other big cities like Casablanca, Marrakech and Fes, Rabat looks wonderfully tranquil, green, tidy and clean. Here you can stroll through the pretty old town completely unmolested by traders or smugglers or admire the magnificent colonial buildings in the new town. The Kasbah des Oudaïas is particularly worth a visit: Andalusian flair reigns in the blue and white alleys of the fortress district, and there is always a beautiful view of the estuary. With the Hassan Tower and the mausoleum of Kings Hassan II and Mohamed V, Rabat also has important works of art of Moorish architecture to offer. If you want to avoid stress, especially at the beginning of the trip, you should start your sightseeing tour in Rabat/Salé.
The historic sights and old quarters (Medina, Kasbah des Oudaïas, Chellah) are contrasted with modern Rabat with the Ville Nouvelle (New Town), which has received a facelift in the last ten years. In the Hassan district, a promenade along the river (Corniche) and the Bou Regreg Marina with a marina, cafés, restaurants and jet ski rentals were created. In addition, a Grand Théâtre and the « La tour Mohamed VI./BMCE Bank of Africa », the highest tower in Africa in futuristic architecture with a planned height of 250 meters, are under construction on the river. For several years, a modern The Musée Mohamed VI d’Art Moderne et Contemporain (MMVI), which opened in 2014, is considered the king’s prestige object All in all, Rabat is a (architecturally and culturally) wonderful mix of a modern metropolis and a traditional one oriental city.
Prehistoric finds in the Salé area indicate early settlement. The Phoenicians and Carthaginians used the Bou Regreg estuary as an anchorage, and the area of present-day Chellah was an important Roman trading post. In the 8th century the warlike Barghwata Berbers near Rabat. They wrote a new code of religion, based on the Koran but leaning more towards Berber traditions. Zenata Berbers and Spanish Umayyads, who fought fiercely against this religious schism, probably founded a ribat – a monastic castle – on the Oudaia rock in the 10th century. This Ribat (hence the name Rabat) was a support point for campaigns against the Barghwata. On the opposite bank of the Bou Regreg, the capital of the kingdom of the Beni Ifren, who also fought against the Barghwata, arose in Salé.
The monastery was forgotten for a time and only regained importance when the Almohads under Abd al-Mu’-min defeated the Barghwata. They used the favorable location of the estuary as a camp for conquests in Spain. Sale was destroyed. On the Oudaïa rock, the former monastery was expanded into a fortress and provided with a palace and a mosque.
The grandson of Abd al-Mu’min, Abu Yussuf Yakub al Mansur (1184-1199), then founded the city of Ribat al Fath (Victory Monastery), chose it as the capital of the empire, and built a great city wall and a mosque that however, remained unfinished. Remains of the mosque and the incomplete minaret – the Hassan tower – can still be seen today. After the death of Sultan Abu Yussuf Yakub, the city lost its importance, the seat of government was moved to Marrakech, but Salé developed into the most important Atlantic port of the time. At the beginning of the 17th century, the two neighboring towns were places of refuge for Andalusian refugees; both cities experienced a second boom.
The refugees founded the independent Bou Regreg Republic with the Kasbah Oudaia as its centre. This republic achieved fame as a pirate base and as a hub for the slave trade. The attacks of the pirates were mainly directed against European ships. There were many battles with French and English ships. Armistice agreements have been signed and broken again. Even after the incorporation into the Alawite kingdom in the middle of the 17th century, the raids continued and the pirate business now ran on the account of the Alawite ruler. After the death of Sultan Moulay Ismail. There were fierce battles for the succession to the throne.
Old Salé and New Salé were at war and stuff like that contribute to its downfall. The earthquake of 1755 again caused a lot of damage to the city. In 1765 there were French attacks, France concluded a treaty with Neu-Salé (Rabat) and appointed a consul.
Since all recent pirate attacks were atoned for by European retaliatory actions, under Moulay Abd er-Rahman piracy slowly came to an end. In 1829 the last ship was brought up. Under the Alids and their Sultan Sidi Muhamad ibn Abdallah, the city was a Makhzen city (royal city) again at the end of the 18th century, but attempts to build a new city in the remains of the Almohad wall ring failed . In 1781, five years after the foundation stone was laid, the city was once again a heap of rubble.
The French under General Lyautey chose Rabat as their administrative capital and general residence in 1912. Sultan Moulay Yussuf also moved to Rabat and had his palace built on the site already chosen by Sidi Muhamad ibn Abdallah. During the French protectorate period, the city was generously expanded and offered the image of a tranquil, modern city with villa districts and administrative buildings. Only in the second half of the 19th century did Rabat become more important due to lively trade with Europe. However, the city in no way wants or can compete with Casablanca as an economic centre.
The river Bou Regreg and a city wall from the Almohad dynasty (12th century) border the medina in the north, which has been partially renovated in recent years. The new town (Ville Nouvelle) and the royal palace follow in the south. Rue Soukia, Av. Mohamed V., the Bd. Laaloul running parallel to the Rue Soukia and the Rue des Consuls running from it back to the Rue Soukia squarely encircle the medina. The small, tranquil old town only got its current appearance through the Andalusia refugees in the 17th century. It is well preserved, can but only a few buildings of historical importance. The souks are nowhere near as oriental as in Fès, Marrakesh or Tétouan, but they are very well-kept and worth a visit.
A walk begins at the Bab al-Had (corner of Av. Mohamed V./Av. Hassan II.) – the gate leads through the city wall built by the Andalusians from the south into the old town. The central market hall (Marché Municipal) and a car park are also located here.
Along the Rue Soukia it goes from the Marché Municipal to the souks with all kinds of everyday goods. The Great Mosque, built in the 14th century and completely renovated at the end of the 19th century, sits enthroned at the point where rue Souika meets rue Suq es-Sebbat. Along the alley, traders mainly offer textiles and shoes (babouches) for sale. A little later you cross the covered « main shopping street » of the Medina, the Rue des Consuls. Large shops with handicrafts (including Salé embroidery, copper and leather work) and souvenirs are lined up here. In vegetables and other foods can be found in the side streets. The Rue des Consuls takes its name from the time of Moulay Ismails, who let his foreign guests stay here. Rue des Consuls is also home to the Carpet Market, the sales center for Rabat and Atlas carpets, which are brought into the city on Tuesdays and Thursdays by the Berbers from the surrounding areas.
At the end of rue Soq es-Sebbat you will find the Bab El Rahba gate, which gives access to the banks of the Bou Regreg. On the right (west) is the Mellah (Jewish Quarter), where only a few Jews live today. If you turn north from Rue Souika into Rue Sidi Fatah at the beginning of the Medina tour, you will pass various Islamic sanctuaries, e.g. the Zaouia de Sidi Moussa, the Moulay Mekki mosque with its octagonal minaret, the Qubba of the Marabut Sidi Fatah and the Moulay al-Rashid Mosque. Non-Muslims are not allowed in the sacred buildings.
Kashalt of Oudaïas
Northeast of the medina is the picturesque, walled kasbah district above the Bou Regreg estuary. Via the Rue des Consuls in the medina, you reach the Place des Oudaïas, just in front of the imposing Oudaïa Gate (Bab Oudaïa or Bab al Kebir) with relief decorations. It forms the main entrance to the Kasbah and is one of the most important structures of the Almohad period. Inside the city gate there are several rooms that were formerly used for meetings.
A stroll through the Andalusian blue and white streets of the Kasbah district is definitely worth it. Along Rue Jamaa, the main street through the neighborhood from Bab Oudaïa to the northeast, you come to the Jamaa el-Atiq Mosque (founded in the 12th century). Further towards the sea you walk to a viewing terrace with a view of the sea and over to Salé.
If you turn right from Rue Jamaa into Rue Bassou behind the entrance gate to the Kasbah, you will reach Café Maure in a great location with a view of the Bou Regreg estuary. Here you can enjoy a tea with sweet pastries in peace. The wonderful, small Andalusian garden (Jardin Andalou, open daily from 8 a.m. to sunset) borders directly on the café in the inner courtyard of a palace built by Sultan Mulay Ismail (17th century). Here is also the Musée des Oudaïas. a folk art museum with an extensive collection of jewelry (tel. 0537 73 15 37, daily except Tuesdays 9.30 a.m. – 4.30 p.m., admission: 70 DH). You leave the Kasbah quarter through a small portal and arrive at the wide Avenue Al Marsa, which leads along the river to the promenade (Corniche).
Hassan Tower and Mohamed V Mausoleum
The Hassan Tower, Rabat’s landmark, is outside the medina upstream (N 34°01.445, W 06°49.295′). It is easy to reach via the large boulevard that leads to Salé. Guarded parking is available on a side street on the left. Visiting the mosque complex and the mausoleum is free of charge (every day except Friday noon from 8 a.m. to sunset).
The name of the tower does not come from the late King Hassan II, but from the district of Hassan (Quartier Hassan). The mosque and the associated tower were commissioned by Yaqub al-Mansur at the end of the 12th century, but he died during the construction work. The largest Islamic mosque was to be built, modeled on the Giralda in Seville. But Yaqub’s successors moved to Marrakesh and the project was never completed. The largely finished buildings were largely destroyed by an earthquake in 1755, so that now you can only see parts of the walls, a few columns and the tower, which was supposed to be 80 m high, but only reached a height of 44 m . Each of the four walls is decorated with reliefs. The tower can no longer be climbed. Nevertheless, the complex with the neighboring mausoleum is very impressive and definitely worth seeing.
Between 1961 and 1967, the mausoleum of Mohamed V, the founder of the new kingdom and grandfather of the current king, was built on the edge of the mosque ruins. The father of the current king, Hassan II, is also buried here. The burial complex consists of a mosque, the mausoleum and a small memorial with pictures from the life of the king. From the top floor of the mausoleum you can look down on the Carrara marble sarcophagi of the deceased kings and admire the sumptuous Moorish architecture inside with carved ornaments, stucco and mosaics. The completely motionless guards in the Mausoleum area are dressed in noble costumes with harem pants and sashes – a popular photo motif
The burial place of the Merinid sultans. The area on a hill is surrounded by a wall from the 14th century. The origins of the place go back to the Carthaginians, recent excavations also point to a Roman settlement called Sala Colonia. Sparse remains can still be seen.
Nowadays, Chellah is revered as a holy place because Marabouts used to clean themselves at the springs of the district. It is also an important Merinid necropolis from the 13th and 14th centuries. Almost everything that can be seen today dates from Abu al-Hassan, the « Black Sultan ». The necropolis was built in 1339 on the remains of an Islamic The best-preserved and most beautiful is the tomb of Sultan Abu al-Hassan Next to it is a mosque, the minaret of which is beautifully ornamented, and a zaouia, which is also quite well preserved.
Chellah is not only worth seeing because of its graves, but also because of the variety of plants and the countless storks and cattle egrets breeding on the ruins (of course only in spring) – an oasis of calm compared to the hustle and bustle of the big city. The necropolis is open daily from 8.30am to 6pm, including public holidays; Admission: 70DH. A guide is not compulsory. There is a guarded parking lot.