Rabat is a little known destination and one not much frequented by tourists heading to Morocco. This is precisely one of its major attractions – the chance to enjoy its monuments and spots full of atmosphere, minus the stress associated with other cities like Marrakech, Casablanca or Fez.
The city lies on the mouth of the river Bou Regreg, on the Atlantic seaboard, and is a curious blend of the old and new. The old medina and the city walls contrast with the new city, home to the country’s administrative facilities. It is not overly big, so you can see it all in a couple of days. Following is a selection we have made of the essential sights to see when visiting Rabat.
The Hassan Tower – Splendour Cut Short
The Hassan Tower is one of Rabat’s major landmarks, the unfinished fruit of the city’s greatest age of splendour. In the 12th century, Sultan Yaqoub al-Mansour decided to build the largest mosque in the West, to which end he commissioned the same architect who had designed the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech, and La Giralda of Seville. Unfortunately, the sultan died before the mosque had been completed, and construction work came to a halt. The most striking architectural feature is the minaret with its geometric designs. It was scheduled to be 86 metres high, but only 44 metres were eventually completed. The rest of the complex comprises the columns built to support 21 naves.
Alongside this ancient mosque stands the Mausoleum of Muhammad V, where the remains of the Alawite monarchs, Muhammad V and Hassan II, were laid to rest. Built between 1961 and 1971, it is a commendable example of contemporary Moroccan architecture. The project was assigned to the Vietnamese, Vo Toan, who successfully captured the essence of the country’s architectural and decorative tradition.
In Search of Origins – the Chellah Necropolis
The Chellah is a fortified precinct located some 2 kilometres from Rabat. Its interior houses, among other things, remains of the Roman city – after the Phoenicians and Carthaginians, they were the first to settle the area. Preserved in this early urban nucleus are the remains of the forum and temple of Jupiter. There are also vestiges of the early Islamic era. In the 15th century the precinct was reconverted by the Arabs into a necropolis, and features remains of tombs and a mosque.
The Kasbah of the Udayas – Rabat’s Magical Corner
Rabat is well worth visiting, if only for a tour of this walled quarter, made up of labyrinthine streets full of houses painted blue and white. The Kasbah was built in the 17th century by the Udayas on a cliff sited on the south bank of the river mouth to defend the coastline from a possible Spanish invasion. This is evident in its fortress-like character, with numerous battlements and lookouts, which now make excellent viewpoints for sightseers. In addition to wandering through the streets, soaking up the atmosphere in all its corners, you should take the chance to visit the Museum of the Udayas, located in the Andalusian Gardens, which boasts one of the finest jewellery collections in Morocco.
City of Gardens
Rabat is also known as the “city of gardens”, so make sure you stroll leisurely through and relax in one of them. Most noteworthy are the Nouzzah Hassan Gardens, located opposite the city walls, designed by the French general, Lyautey; the Jardins d'Essais Botanical Gardens, with exotic fruit, ornamental and Mediterranean trees, and Rabat Zoo, for those who fancy seeing animals, apart from plants.
Shopping in the Souq
The word souq, associated with tranquility, might sound like science fiction to the traveller in Morocco, but this is true of the bazaar in Rabat. With hardly any hustling by street vendors, you can tour the Souq in search of food, spices, craftwork, garments, carpets and a host of other goods.
You’ve noted everything you can see in Rabat, right? Take out a Vueling and enjoy a visit to this city.
Text by ISABELYLUIS Comunicación
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