Visitors journeying to Morocco will no doubt enjoy visiting some of the country’s most famous and exotic cities; they will be drawn by the ancient pink walls of Marrakech, the old medina in Fez and the endless beaches of Essaouira. However, one city that tourists sometimes (and unfortunately) overlook is Salé. Salé is the twin city to the Moroccan capital of Rabat, lying just across the river Bou Regreg. The Bou Regreg River forms the border between Salé and Rabat, and after passing between the two cities, empties itself into the Atlantic Ocean. Many visitors to Morocco are overwhelmed by the historical sites in Rabat (such as the medina, the ancient ruins of Chellah, and the mausoleum of Mohammed V), and they forget that a short boat ride away from the capital will lead them to the less glamorous, but equally fascinating city of Salé.
Some Morocco History
Historically, Salé played an important role in helping to form Morocco into the vibrant nation that it is today. In the 1950’s, the first demonstrations against the French were launched in Salé, sparking political uprisings across the country that eventually led to Morocco gaining its independence from France in 1956.
Salé has always had the reputation of a town that likes to “stir things up,” and in the 17th century the town was infamous for its pirates known as the “Salée Rovers.” The town was so famous for pirate activities that Daniel Defoe wrote the city into his renowned work “Robinson Crusoe,” placing Robinson in the captivity of the Salée Rovers!
While the history of Salé is certainly fascinating, it is the relaxed feel and vibe of the town that will truly draw in adventurous travelers. Salé is home to 800,000 people, and many work as poorly paid factor workers. In this way it is in stark contrast to Rabat, which is filled with government workers and has a much more official feel to it than Salé.
It is Salé’s “unofficial” vibe that will draw in tourists – it is a true Moroccan town, one that is not dedicated primarily to tourism or government activities. Instead, one will wander through the old streets of Salé and see old men sitting in run-down cafes, sipping on coffee and chatting quietly. Children play in the streets, and women bring home freshly baked Moroccan flat bread from the neighborhood bakery or communal ovens. Life moves at a slow pace, which many tourists find refreshing after the hustle and bustle of Rabat.
Morocco Salé’s Monuments
When visiting Salé, take the time to visit some of the town’s ancient religious monuments; beautiful Morocco mosques in the city center proudly display the ancient craftsmanship of Moroccan tile making, known in Arabic as zellige. Step into an intricately designed 14th century madrasa and ponder the majestic architecture that comprises the school building. Walk down to the shores of the Bou Regreg and watch as brightly colored boats unload their daily catch – feel free to buy some fresh fish for yourself, as the fish in Salé is known for being particularly delicious especially if prepared in a traditional Moroccan tajine.
Salé is also known for its craftsmen who produce stunning wooden pieces such as desks, chairs, and trays (the trays make fantastic gifts!). Be sure to stop by one of the woodworking factories in Salé and have a peek both at the way the craftsmen create their wooden artwork as well to see what they have on sell – Salé prices are known to be much cheaper than Rabat’s, so you may find some amazing deals!
Salé is one of Morocco’s many hidden gems – it is not on the traditional travel agenda for most who go on Morocco tours, but by taking a trip to this laid-back, ancient city you will see a side of Morocco that the guidebooks often miss and have a chance to discover the friendly ambience of a traditional Moroccan working-class town.
By Terry, Content Editor and JBT Travel Guide