Rabat

Picture of parliament Rabat was the first city we visited in Morocco and overall we spent a bit under a day in the Moroccan capital. In retrospect, we probably should have stayed a little longer here. Originally though it was just a convenient place to spend some time en route from the Casablanca airport to Fez. We stayed at the Hotel Balima which is an easy 5 minute walk from the train station (Rabat-Ville) and sits directly across from the Moroccan Assembly of Representatives (part of parliament).
Picture of casbah_walls Rabat has everything the major Moroccan tourist destinations have with a couple advantages. First - it's a real working city and that means half the population is not obsessed with separating visitors from their money. The benefit of this is the ability to wander through the city without the barrage of questions and comments you'll experience in Fez and Marrakesh. There are still some areas that require a bit of caution. The most notable is just outside the Oudaias casbah. The casbah is pretty much a must-see if you're in Rabat. The main entrance is just to the right of that enormous gate in the distance. Along the way people will quietly try to funnel you into some of the side gates, or possibly inform you that non-Muslims cannot enter the casbah without a guide. Most of this was quiet and discrete when we visited, unlike the girls trying to give out 'free' henna tattoos. It might be best to keep your hands in your pockets when they come around as they're rather persistent.
Picture of bougainvillea Once you're inside the casbah, all is quiet and serene and shockingly picturesque. It's not a very large place, there are two main roads which form an L shape and a couple of side alleys and staircases. All construction inside the casbah except for the outer walls themselves are whitewashed.
Picture of casbah_street We're not really sure what the blue signifies (if anything) but it's a great place to wander around at random. At the 'top' of the casbah near the highest point is a large open area which looks out over the Atlantic Ocean and the mouth of the Bou Regreg river.
Picture of sale Just across the river is the city of Sale. Once upon a time - specifically the 1600s - Sale was the base of operations for the Barbary Pirates who would use the rugged coast of Morocco to ambush European shipping through the Strait of Gibraltar. At the time, Sale was a relatively wealthy place. Nowadays it seems to be mostly just an older component of Rabat although we didn't have time to visit it. The white specks in front of Sale's walls are gravestones in a large Islamic cemetery.
Picture of andalusian_gardens Back inside the lowest corner of casbah, diagonally opposite the view over the ocean, lies the Andalusian Garden. This is a pretty place with a lot of paths to help you avoid getting a henna tattoo. We spent a lot of time in Morocco just observing, and in particular observing the interaction between Moroccans and tourists. It appears that the primary purpose of getting a temporary henna tattoo on the hand or wrist is to identify you to the entire rest of Morocco as the type of person who is willing to give people a few Dirham for just about any imaginable service.
Picture of medina Rabat's medina is small and manageable. Generally it is a flat square so it is nearly impossible to get seriously lost. A decent amount of shopping can be done here, especially once you get away from the medina entrance closest to the casbah. Once again in retrospect - this quite possibly would have been the ideal place to shop for carpets. At night, food stalls appear in many of the streets along the edges of the medina. Another nice feature of Rabat is that the medina is directly adjacent to the new city so that in the space of a couple city blocks you can go from banks and airline offices to haggling for fruit and crafts in a narrow alleyway.
Picture of tower_and_mausoleum In central Rabat along the river are the Hassan Tower and the Mausoleum of Mohammed V. A bit farther inland are a couple more attractions we didn't have time to visit but would've liked to see. Namely, the archeological museum and the Roman necropolis at Chellah.
Picture of mausoleum The mausoleum contains the tombs of King Mohammed V, King Hassan II and a few other members of the royal family. Non-Muslims are allowed to enter what is basically a small balcony overlooking the tombs. Once again - you do not need a guide to enter the mausoleum. A guide followed us in, pointed out the tomb of Mohammed V (it's the big tomb-looking thing right in the center of the floor) and then asked for 50 dirham for the 'tour'. He left disappointed.
Picture of mosque_ruins Outside the mausoleum sits the Hassan Tower and a field of columns which are all that remain of what was once intended to be the greatest mosque in the world. Yacoub al-Mansour ("the victorious") started construction on the tower and the mosque in 1195 AD. 4 years later he died, construction stopped, the mosque fell apart over time and this is all that remains. The minaret was intended to be somewhere between twice and three times the height it actually is which would truly have been spectacular. This plaza is also a pleasant place to spend time and there are more good views across the river to Sale. We however decided to return to our hotel, collect our luggage and catch a train to Fez.

Back to Trips