Rabat might not have the same popularity other major cities like Marrakech and Casablanca have, but the capital of Morocco does deserve your attention since it presents some good history and culture that is unique to the place.
Rabat is only one hour away by train from Casablanca, so if you spent 48 hours in Rabat, here’s what you could do:
Start your day by visiting the Medina. Just crossing through its massive walls is quite an experience in itself. Walk along its narrow streets and admire all the things they have for sale. You can spend hours here since the Medina is quite big and there are tons of alleys housing small shops. If you’re in the shopping mood, head to Rue des Consuls, where you can see all sorts of interesting craftsmanship traditional to Morocco in items such as shoes, lanterns, rugs, leather, jewelry, etc. This street is famous also because of its history. It is called Rue des Consuls because foreign diplomats were required to reside here from the 17th century until 1912. At that time the main activities in the area were piracy and slavery. The slaves were auctioned in Rue des Consuls. Under a treaty with the Sultan, they were to be redeemed by foreign diplomats who back then had a budget for such purchases. For convenience, these diplomats resided just a few tens of meters from the place of “negotiation”. Interesting, eh?
Outside the touristy parts of Rue des Consuls, the Medina caters more to locals, where they can find their every day items.
After that bit of history (and shopping), take your time to sit down, relax, and have some traditional Moroccan tea. There are many places in the Medina where you sit down for tea and watch the active streets perform their daily routine. Also, if you’re into sweets, don’t miss trying some Moroccan sweets. I found my favorite to be a sort of Doughnut I bought from a very small shop at the end of Rue des Consuls.
After a nice lunch, you can head over to the Andalusian Gardens by the Kasbah des Oudaias. You can easily spend an hour here walking around the garden and ruins. Be aware that you could get unsolicited tour guides that will start guiding you and expect payment by the end.
Next to the gardens is the Kasbah Museum, where you can see well curated artifacts from prehistoric to colonial times in the area. And, next to the museum is the Kasbah des Oudaias itself. A Kasbah is a type of fortress or citadel.
This ancient fortress is part of the origins of Rabat and was used to fight off enemies, host royal delegations, and plan for the Muslim conquest of Spain.
This one was built in the 12th century during the reign of the Almohads. When the Almohads captured Rabat from the Almoravids, they destroyed their Kasbah and reconstructed their own starting in 1150 AD. But, after the death of the Almohad Caliph –Yacoub Al-Mansour– in 1199 AD, the Kasbah was abandoned. Later in the 17th century, it became the capital of the kingdom.
Make sure to walk along the streets; all painted in white and blue, and head over towards the mouth of the Bou Regreg River, where you can see a stunning sunset decorated with a view of the fortifications. If you’re into doors, there are also some really exquisite Moroccan doors adorning the Kasbah alleys as well.
By night, take a stroll along Mohammed V Avenue. This short avenue has some great examples of 1930’s Moroccan architecture (like the train station in the picture below) and has some nice restaurants and cafes. The café and terrace at the base of Hotel Balima is a good place to relax, and apparently a good expat spot.
Start your morning in Chellah, the oldest known human settlement along the Bou Regreg River. It overlooks the river plane that stretches out beneath. Historians believe it was originally founded by Carthaginians during the 3rd century BC, later conquered by the Romans, and then passed under Arab rule. Today, Chellah is only inhabited by a huge number of birds. They have even settled in interesting places, like building a stork nest on top of the old minaret! What’s interesting here is the combination of Roman and Arab architecture and ruins coexisting in one place.
If you’re in the walking mood (like I often am), you can walk back from Chellah to the center of the city. Along the way, you will see the King’s Palace. The Palace was first built at the end of the 18th century, and later redesigned, rebuilt by the King Hassan II. Don’t expect to get in, but sometimes guards might let you walk along the path from one entrance to the other, especially if you look like a tourist.
After the King’s Palace you can head to Hassan Tower and Mohammed V Mausoleum. Both sights are next to each other. Hassan Tower is actually an unfinished minaret built in the 12th century and was supposed to be the biggest minaret in the world, accompanied by the biggest mosque in the world. The current height of the tower is 44m, which is roughly half of its intended 86m. Construction stopped in 1199 after Yacoub Al-Mansour died. You might wonder what all the small pillars are for? Those are the 200 unfinished columns that were supposed to compose the mosque. Quite huge!
The Mausoleum of Mohammed V, is the burial place of the current king’s grandfather, father, and uncle. While small in scale, with all its intricate details and decorative patterns.
Spend some time walking around downtown, where you can see more French Art Deco architecture and the ancient walls that still surround Rabat. Did you know that Rabat literally means “Fortified Place”?