After you’ve spent some of your Morocco holiday time in Casablanca, What else is there to do?, you may have wondered. As your Moroccan tour operator will be glad to point out, there is a whole country to explore out there. If you’ve only got one or two days in Morocco, then travel northbound where Morocco’s exoticness abounds under local culture, customs and cuisine.
Rabat has been Morocco’s capital city since 1956. That belies its long existence. Coming into being in Phoenician times, it has plenty of its history. You will find Rabat is just as cosmopolitan as its larger cousin, but with a much more laid back air. You will find, moreover, that the hustle and bustle of other Moroccan cities is missing here. You can wander down its wide tree lined boulevards without the usual jostling of other places. You will be able to explore the markets and souks at your own pace. Exploring the historical gems will be at your speed, not the crowds.
There is plenty of history to experience here and in the city of Sale, just across the estuary. Phoenicians and Romans set up outposts during the height of their civilizations. They administered trade and built cities. Some places lasted long after the empires fell such as Roman built Volubilis. Berbers eventually took control and held it until the Moslems arrived. The Roman settlement of Sale Colonia declined was the river dried up or changed course.
A new town of Sale came into being on the opposite side where the inhabitants, known as the Zenata Tribe, built a fortress on the present site of Rabat’s Kasbah. The Almohads arrived in the 12th century. Under Yacoub al-Mansour, Rabat was briefly the imperial capital. With his death, Rabat lost its significance.
In the 17th century, Rabat was found again by pirates, Muslim refugees, Christian renegades and others. It flourished and became the capital during the rule of Sultan Mohammed ben Abdallah. That didn’t last very long and Rabat fell back into obscurity. It was the French who made Rabat the capital to avoid problems in the more traditional cities of Marrakech and Fez. Rabat has remained the seat of the government since then and one of the many homes of the King.
Rabat is a great city for children and family too. It lacks the hassle of other Moroccan cities. You can easily take your little ones shopping in souks. The medina isn’t as old as some in the interior of Morocco, but it is a great place to roam. Nearby is the Grand Mosque, originally built in the 14th century.
Abandoned Roman city of Sale Colonia and Merenid necropolis Chellah is a peaceful repite in your Morocco tour. The city was abandoned for Sale across the river. Among the sights to see here are the Arc de Triomphe and the Jupiter Temple. Islamic ruins include an elegant minaret, a small merdesa and the tomb of Abou al Hassan Ali and his wife. Most impressive is the colony of storks that have taken up residence on the minaret.
A visit to the impressive Kasbah Des Oudaias would be in order. Found in the older part of the city, it has great views of the river and ocean. Enter through the gate built by the Almohads in 1195. Near the Bab Oudaia gate is the oldest mosque in Rabat, built in the 12th century, restored in the 18th. And for a great view of Sale and the estuary, find you way to the Signal Platform or Plateforme du Semaphore.
A great shady retreat would be the French built Andalusian Gardens that sit on the palace grounds. The palace itself was built in the 17th century by the Moulay Ismail. It became a medersa and now it houses the Musee des Oudaia. Besides the museum, you can visit the original palace mosque and hamman.
Rabat has a couple of great museums to visit, too. The Archeology Musuem and the Museum of Science and Nature. Another couple destinations that children would enjoy would be the Parc Zoologique National and the Jardins Exotiques. This is but a few of the places to visit in Rabat. Your Morocco tour operator will be glad to help you find others if time allows.
by Carole Morris