rabat morocco city capital of morocco country

The city is on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, in the North-West of Morocco, 40 km away from Kenitra and 90 km at the North-East of Casablanca. It is separated from the city of Salé at the level of the mouth of Bouregreg. On the administrative level, its territory, of a surface area of 118 km, corresponds to that of the prefecture of Rabat that is made of the urban community of Rabat, one the one hand, divided into 5 districts; and on the other hand the urban community of Touarga, where is located the main royal palace of the country. During the most recent census (2015), the city had 1 972 686 inhabitants, making Rabat the 7th most populated city in the Kingdom. With its suburban area, it is the second-biggest conurbation of the country after that of Casablanca. It was founded in 1150 by the Almohad dynasty, which built there a citadel (which became the Kasbah of the Oudayas), a mosque and a residence. It was what we called by then a ribat, a “fortress”. The current name comes from “ribat al fath”, the “camp of victory”. Later, the grandson of Al-Mumim, Ya’qub al-Manur, grew up and completed the building of the city, notably by surrounding it with ramparts. After, it served as a base for military operations in Andalusia.

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 around Rabat and across the Bouregreg River to nearby Salé. 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.

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.

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.

What to Do in Rabat

Udayas Kasbah — The Udayas Kasbah is a small and perfect, beautiful old kasbah with blue-painted walls and boutique shops. Be sure to stop by the Cafè Maure, sip on a tea, maybe grab a Moroccan cookie for a quick pick-me-up, 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. If you have time, take a peek inside the Archeology Museum in the gardens for a look back through the history of Rabat.

Shop the Medina — Like most other Moroccan cities, Rabat has an old, maze-like medina. However, unlike other medinas around Morocco, the prices here are all basically fixed so you can stroll through this hassle-free medina in all of Morocco, casually shop for teapots, carpets, leather bags and various other souvenirs, and skip the headache of haggling over the price.

Hassan Tower and Mosque — This unfinished, ambitious mosque was initially started in 1195 by Yacoub el-Mansour (“The Victorious”) around the same time he oversaw the construction of the Udayas 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 al-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 reported to giving 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 Abdellah. The lavish mausoleum was designed by Vietnamese architect Vo Toan.

Jewelry Museum — 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.

Mohammed VI Museum for Modern and Contemporary Art —  Newly opened in October 2014, the Museum for Modern and Contemporary Art in Rabat ville 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. 10, rue Beni Mellal, Angle Av Mohamed V. Tues-Sun, 9:30am – 7:30pm.

Chellah Gardens (Sala Colonia) and Necropolis — Head to the Chellah Gardens for a relaxing, beautiful walk through this ancient Roman-Moroccan ruin. Originally the site of the Roman city of Sala Colonia, hundreds of years after the Romans fled Morocco, the Almohad dynasty used the now-abandoned city as a necropolis, dubbed Chellah. They were followed by the Merinids, who built a mosque, zaouia and the royal tombs here. The great Lisbon earthquake of 1755, the same that leveled much of Meknes, damaged many of the structures here and the unused city fell into ruin. 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 gazing up at the storks. 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. Open daily, 8am – 6pm.

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