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Capital of Morocco, Rabat is one of the four imperial cities, the second biggest in the country (metropolitan population over 1.2 million). But unlikely most of capitals, do not expect for a noisy and messy place. Rabat is a liberal and charming destination, with beautiful palaces and great food! Let's see it!
Rabat is located at the mouth of the Bou Regret river, opposite to Sale, its main commuter town. It is only 45 minutes by train from Casablanca, it is considered cheaper than Fez and Meknes, and has clean and calm streets.
What is the story of Rabat, Morocco?
Abd al-Mu'min (the first Almohad sultan, from the Beber confederation that created an Islamic Empire in North Africa and Spain) founded the city in the XII century as a quarter to his troops during his holy war - he eventually gave up on Spain. It was only during the reign of the 3rd ruler, Abū Yūsuf Yaʿqūb al-Manṣūr (Yacoub al-Mansour), that the city was named as we know it, meaning Camp of Conquest.
Yacoub al-Mansour would be the responsible for the construction of the fortified walls and the Tower of Hassan, a beautiful mosque that still exists.
In the beginning of the XVII century both Rabat and Salé were home to many Andalusian Moors from Spain, and later to Barbary pirates. When France colonized Morocco, the French government transformed Rabat in administrative capital, and once Morocco was independent the new government made of it an urban prefecture (Salé included).
Rabat is a beautiful place but to enjoy fully everything it offers one must know that there is a rich story behind its attractions. The old town still is until the current days surrounded by ramparts. You will see:
The medina: This place allows a very pleasant walk, and it is where you will find lots of traditional shops and cafes. Compared to other medinas in the country, Rabat's is considered hassle-free. It is an ideal place to buy leather products at a good price, carpets, embroidered fabrics, and other typical Moroccan items, such as lamps, jewellery, antiques, and wooden products. Get ready to bargaining!
Mellah: This is the Jewish neighbourhood in Rabat. The first mellah in Morocco date back to the XV century, and their legacy remains, including in this city.
Kasbah des Oudaïa: It is fortress originally built in the XII century (destroyed and reconstructed many times) that also is UNESCO's World Heritage Site. The place was home to many Arab tribes, Andalusian immigrants, and Moroccan sultans. It is a quiet and charming place to walk around. At the city's entrance you will find a beautiful Almohad gateway called Bab Oudaia decorated with carved arches. Rabat's oldest mosque is also within the Kasbah's walls, known as the Old Mosque (but it is not open to visitors).
Andalusian Gardens and Oudayas Museum: these are one of the most visited places in the city. Located next to the Kasbah, the gardens were built in French style in 1920 and will guarantee you a pleasant walk as the gardens are always full of many flowers and fruit trees. The museum not only is a great example of the old city's architecture but it is great for those who want to know more about its history and see art works.
Royal Palace: Even though its interior is closed for visitors it still is a nice stop. The palace served as royal residence and was built in 1864. It was designed by French architects but the inspiration was Arab. Visitors can take pictures of the exterior and of/with the royal guards.
Chellah: Located on the outskirts of the city, this is an old medieval fortified ruins and an ancient Roman Mauretania necropolis. It was abandoned in 1154 but in mid-14 century a sultan built there gates and monuments, such as mosques, royal tombs, and a zawiya. Nowadays it includes a garden and a tourist venue.
Tower of Hassan: Even though the ruler Yacoub al-Mansour unfortunately died before the tower's conclusion, this is one of the most symbolic places in Rabat. It is a bit further from the other main attractions so some tourists skip it sometimes. But once within its walls, enjoy the indigo and white colours and the calmness the place brings in. The site became part of the UNESCO world heritage in 2012.
Mausoleum of Muḥammad V: Very close to Hassan Tower you will find the beautiful tomb of King Muhammad V. Enjoy visiting the mausoleum's interior, guarded by the Moroccan Royal Guard. Even though the tomb is open to non-Muslims, remember to show discretion as a sign of respect.
Apart from the old city, you can also enjoy walking around the modern quarter, that is partly enclosed by the fortified wall. The structures are somehow modern but still dating back to 1950, such as the Muḥammad V University (founded 1957), some administrative buildings, and the national library.
Is it worth to visit Rabat, Morocco?
Rabat is a lovely city and definitely adds a special taste to your Morocco trip, not just due its historical attractions but also due its very friendly people and delicious food. It is a place that will get you prepared for wonderful surprises!