Just an hour north of Casablanca along the Atlantic Coast is Rabat, the political hub and the home of the King of Morocco, His Majesty Mohamed VI, as well as various ministries, dignitaries and embassies. It has been the capital of Morocco, first under the French Protectorate in 1912 and then continuing after Moroccan Independence in 1956.
Many travelers consider Rabat an overlooked gem. It is the cleanest major city in Morocco and many people love this city because of the ease in which one can get around — wide sidewalks, friendly petit taxis and a new tram to help commuters get back and forth. Rabat has a real European feel to it, with cafés lining the streets, a fine selection of restaurants, and a mix of languages overheard on the streets.
Like most other Moroccan cities, Rabat has an old, maze-like medina. The prices here are all usually fixed so you can stroll through the most hassle-free medina in all of Morocco, casually shop for tea pots, carpets, leather bags and various other souvenirs without having to haggle over the price.
Just up from the hill from the medina is the Kasbah of the Udayas (Oudayas or Oudaïas), a well-preserved fortress dating from 12th century Almohad Dynasty with commanding views over Rabat, nearby Salé, the Bouregreg River and the Atlantic. Wander through the Andalusian Gardens, up through the blue-painted walls and enjoy a tea beneath the shade at the Café Oudaïa. A long stretch of the Rabat Beach starts behind the medina and down the hill from the kasbah. This is one of the better city beaches in Morocco and home to the Oudaïa Surf Club. There is another beach, Temara Plage, just a few minutes south of the city if you want smaller crowds.
In Rabat, you can easily dive into art and culture while feeling at ease. The Theater of Rabat is home to the Rabati Theater Troupe. Many comedies, usually in French or Arabic, are staged here as well as visiting performances from around the world. The Goëthe Institute and Institute Français keep year-long schedules of events and as well as the yearly Mawazine Festival which invites musicians from around the world. Some of the recent performers have been Alicia Keys, B.B. King and Ricky Martin.
Map of Rabat Medina
We’ve got some very good maps of each of Morocco’s medinas that we supply to our travelers coming on a journey with our team. Here’s a map of Rabat in Morocco to peruse.
What to See
Hassan Tower and Mosque
This unfinished, ambitious mosque was initially started in 1195 by Yacoub el Mansour (“The Victorious”) around the same time he overseeing the construction of the Oudayas Kasbah. The Hassan Mosque was meant to be the second largest mosque in the world and the greatest in Morocco. Original construction was abandoned in 1199, after el Mansour’s death, and never resumed. The mosque’s prayer hall was in use until the Great Earthquake of 1755 (the same that leveled Lisbon) brought down the supporting columns, some of which have been resorted to give an idea of its possible size. It remains one of the most beautiful pieces of Almohad architecture in all of Morocco, though not as complete as the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakesh.
The Mausoleum of Mohammed V
Just across from the Hassan Tower lies the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, begun in 1961, the year of the King’s death, and completed six years later. Mohamed V, his sons Hassan II (the current king’s father) and Moulay Abellah. The lavish mausoleum was designed by Vietnamese architect Vo Toan.
The Oudayas Kasbah was originally constructed under the rule of Yacoub el Mansour (“the Victorious) who was responsible for the creation of Rabat as the capital of Morocco in the late 12th century. After his rule, it passed into ruin before becoming a hub for pirates and Andalusian refugees, who established their own state of the Republic of Bou Regreg before reverting to the control of Moulay Rachid. Stop by the Cafè Maure to sip on a tea and enjoy the view after a stroll through the Andalusian gardens in the old palace grounds. Ignore any faux guides who will ask if you need a guide or tell you that you need to pay an entry fee to walk through the gates. Make sure you take a stroll through the Andalusian Gardens.
Nesting in the 17th century palace of Moulay Ismail in the middle of the Oudayas Kasbah is the Jewelry Museum. Explanations here are limited to French, Spanish and Arabic, though it does house a fair selection of jewelry from the Phoenician and Roman colonies in Morocco, as well as jewelry typical from the various regions and cities of Morocco. This is the stop for those looking for a historical perspective of the jewelry adorning the women, and men, of Morocco. (Open daily except Tuesday, 9am – 4pm, Entrance fee 10 dhs).
Mohammed VI Museum for Modern and Contemporary Art
Newly opened in October 2014, the Museum for Modern and Contemporary Art in Rabat is dedicated to preserving both past and present art in Morocco. Inspired by traditional Moroccan architecture, the museum took a decade to build and cost more than US $20 million in total. The first exhibition was dedicated to the last 100 years of Moroccan art, labeled: “1914–2014: 100 Years of Creation” and hosts 400 art pieces by over 150 Moroccan artists. The more modern pieces lean towards the abstract and figurative. (Open Daily).
Chellah Gardens (Sala Colonia) Necropolis
Head south to the Chellah Gardens (also known as Sala Colonia) for a relaxing, beautiful walk through this ancient Roman ruin. Originally the site of the Roman city it was taken over by the Almohad dynasty, who used it as a necropolis, and then the Merinids, who built a mosque, zaouia and the royal tombs before Chellah fell into ruin. The great Lisbon earthquake of 1755, the same that leveled much of Meknes, damaged many of the structures here. Today, Chellah has been transformed into a popular tourist destination for the expansive gardens. In the spring, hundreds of flowers are in bloom and couples can be strolling at their leisure along with the occasional bird watcher. The grounds are yours to explore, from the citadel to the ruins. The gardens also play host to the annual Chellah Jazz Festival, which is usually held in September. (Chellah open daily, 8am – 6pm, Entrance fee 10 dhs).
Villa Des Arts de Rabat
This newly opened jem is part of the ONA Foundation, one of Rabat’s primary cultural foundations. Stop in for a look at fresh, contemporary Moroccan art and keep an eye out for upcoming lyrical and musical performances. Located on 10, rue Beni Mellal, Angle Av Mohamed V. (Open daily except Mondays, 9:30am – 7:30pm, Entrance free).
Where to Eat in Rabat
To search for a particular restaurant, we recommend Best Restaurants in Morocco for the most up to date menus and other information available on the internet. Below are a few of our favorites places to dine.
Ch’hiwates du Terroir
(7 Rue d’Oran – Open daily only for lunch, 80-200 dhs)
Opened in the Spring 2014, this new restaurant has made its mark for its fresh, all organic, slow-food inspired menu. Some interesting vegetarians cous cous options and a nice, contemporary take on Moroccan cuisine.
(2 Avenue Ahmed El Yazidi – Open for lunches and dinners, 80-300 dhs)
For those looking for some great Italian food, look no further than Il Giardino featuring Sicilian-style cuisine and, consequently, one of the best swordfish steaks in town.
(6, rue Belgnaoui, in the medina, reservations recommended, open for lunches/dinners, 200-300 dhs)
Come at night to follow a guide leading you through the medina by lantern light. Traditional Moroccan cuisine. A little expensive for what it is, but the atmosphere with the light strum of the oud player is unbeatable.
La Goethe Institute
(7, Rue Sana’a, 80-150 dhs)
A great stop for those in need of a decent pint of beer. Stick to the pizza and salad. A laid back venue with a good mix of internationals and Moroccans, though the smoke can get a little think later into the night.
And, for a more family-friendly atmosphere, consider La Mamma, an Italian restaurant, behind the Hotel Balima on Avenue Mohammed V.
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Intro Photo by: seyyah
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