It’s a typical Thursday morning on Rue des Consuls, the main road of the Rabat medina. The souvenir market section of this medieval, walled area is only a tiny sliver of the old medina. It’s also an easy and stress-free introduction to shopping and sight-seeing in Morocco.
Vendors slowly crack open the doors of their boutiques around 10:30, sipping sweet mint tea as they warmly greet each other and leisurely set up their bright and colorful ware. No one is in a hurry. Fortunately, neither am I.
I start my morning stroll from the main entrance of Rue Des Consuls just below the Rabat Casbah, overlooking where the majestic Bou Regreg River and Atlantic Ocean divinely come together on the north side of the Rabat Medina.
Facing down the road at the left-hand opening of Rue Des Consuls, you will find a co-op called Coopéerative Artisanale des Tisserands de Rabat. They sell bed covers and throws at extremely reasonable prices; hand-woven from cotton and wool.
I step inside to see the vendor. He’s a wizened little man and he does not speak French, but we always manage to communicate in gestures and smiles. I have never seen anyone else working in the shop. Talk about an amazing work ethic.
I continue my stroll through the Rabat medina.
Rue des Consuls gets its name from the 19th century diplomats who lived above the tiny, bustling shops. I can picture them as I gaze up and see countless examples of once-glorious colonial architecture. There is a certain charm to these deteriorating structures – such character and uniqueness to their tilting, fading features.
I gaze down a curious abandoned pathway and I take a photo of an almost-hidden gem; a street sign that reads: Impasse Du Consulat De France or “Path to the French Consulate.”
A tall man approaches me in a traditional Moroccan Djellaba (a long woolen cloak). He points down the path and asks me if I’d like to see the original consulate. Seeing as the tiny cobblestone walkway is completely desolate, I politely decline and say that as a woman by myself, I’m sadly not comfortable.
“Madame,” he said to me graciously in French, “You are now Moroccan. I can guarantee that you will be fine with me. I want to show you the building that was once the glorious French Consulate.”
I know in my gut that this is not a moment to miss. I follow my spontaneous guide and we quietly shuffle down the dusty path and through a crumbling door and into a hazy, disintegrating structure.
I catch my breath as I literally feel the ghosts of the past envelop me in this once-impressive room. The high roof is long-gone and the clear blue sky shines brightly through the decaying building. Faded paint, pale walls, and gorgeous, yet washed-out colonial black and white tile (imported from Marseilles, according to my guide), dot the muted floor. An imposingly blank space outlines the shadow where a massive fountain once majestically stood.
I feel a slight twinge of sadness and yet some odd comfort in this room. It had clearly been well-used and even perhaps loved at the time. My new friend shows me the old exit down to the river (now boarded closed). So many hopeful people coming in and out. Fading into history. The complex had been the official French consulate from 1912 until 1956 when it was abandoned and moved to a more efficient location. Not one with nearly as much character, though. That much is certain.
Abdel, my impromptu guide, also tells me that there are plans to renovate the structure. He chuckles, though, and admits that this might take a while on Moroccan time.
We part ways a few minutes later. He disappears almost as quickly as he appears into the Rabat medina, asking for nothing but a hearty handshake. I carry on my way, reminding myself when I want to look at my watch that Moroccan time, albeit often late, is a gift for which I am grateful.
As the surprisingly strong winter sun shines down on me, I mosey on, passing beneath the massive old pharmacy sign (the pharmacy is no longer there but it’s a quirky landmark) and keep going straight. On your right side, a few stores before the ‘T’ junction, you can see two large bronze statues of lions in front a jewelry store called Maison D’Argent.
Don’t miss going through the wooden door at the back right-hand side of this shop to see the antique Berber collection dating all the way from the 15th century to the present: swords, jewelry, decorative pieces and pottery. It’s like a mini-museum.
Turning to the right at this intersection, you will arrive at the newly covered area of the medina. This section of the medina is fondly called the Rue des Chaussures because of all of the brightly colored “baboush,” or handmade Moroccan slippers for sale.
I pop in to see Rochdi, a friendly local artist at shop # 80. In Moroccan directional terms, he is a few doors down from the fish guy. Rochdi has a knack with kids and will happily paint a personalize Moroccan landscape on a white tee-shirt for little ones. When the weather is warmer, he even will create a makeshift “tattoo” with non-toxic paint on your child’s arm.
As the afternoon sun starts to wane, I put my jacket back on and prepare to wrap things up for the day. My shoes are dusty but I feel satisfied with the tracks I have taken today. And I don’t mind at all being on Moroccan time.
You will discover that the medina in Rabat is much more relaxed than in Fez or Marrakesh. The vendors of the Rabat medina are not typically aggressive. Prices are always negotiable, but understand that apart from the two or three block radius that is the tourist area, locals shop in the old medina just as much, if not more, than tourists. Which in turn, becomes part of its charm.
About the Author
Tara Fraiture is a dual British-American national. She now lives in Morocco with her cat, three kids and husband. In her free time, Tara enjoys belly dancing (badly) and impersonating accents (she’s a whiz, much to her children’s delight). Tara has happily lived in Cameroon, Egypt, Senegal, El Salvador, and Qatar. After many years of teaching French and Spanish, this global nomad found her passion (or perhaps her demise) in freelance journalism and she has been furiously writing ever since. And as she puts it, “writing is cheaper than therapy.” Humor is part of her mantra, as well as finding stories with heart and human connection.