Stepping through the arched exit of Rabat Ville Station, we are immediately struck by the spaciousness. Bright green lawns surround a cascading fountain with a wide, palm lined avenue leading away between the art deco buildings on either side. It is pristine, calm and inviting, and we immediately feel a connection.
We don’t have our bearings yet, so after much negotiation, we opt for a ride in an iconic blue taxi to the entrance of the Medina (no cars allowed), which was actually within easy walking distance from the station.
Mohammed V Avenue is the main thoroughfare through the Medina. Most of the shops are closed, yet we can sense the latent energy as we trundle our suitcases down the cobbled street.
Riad Dar Rabiaa
Our first riad in Morocco is hidden behind a simple door down an innocuous alley. Jango’s twin across the way looks up languidly as we knock. As we step in, the coolness of the mint green inner courtyard with it’s inviting plunge pool washes over us. Our hostess pours us mint tea while we fill in the requisite registration form. (I am sure that this is a leftover from the French. Not sure what it is used for now).
Our room, in shades of green and pink, is simple and perfectly fit for purpose.
We only have an afternoon in Rabat and I had an elaborate plan that involved a taxi to Hassan Tower, then a tram from there across the river to Sale; a walk through the Salé Medina to the beach and Salé cemetery; then a rowboat across the river to Oudiya. However, when we asked our host to order a taxi, she suggested that we could use “green” taxis – an electric tricycle. They can take you on a tour of all the main sites (takes about 2 hours@ 100 MAD per hour). We weren’t keen on a tour guide, but liked the idea of the tricycle. She called one and when he arrived he said it would be 40 MAD to take us to Hassan Tower which sounded fine.
The trip starts with a delightful ride along Mohamed V. The Medina comes to life as stores open after Mosque . At the top gate we see people clustered around scrumptious street food stalls and vow to come back here for supper. What a delight to sit in the shade with the breeze from the motion and just that bit of distance from the throng of crowds going about the Medina. We covered distance surprisingly quickly and soon reach the entrance of Hassan Tower.
Rabat is the capital city of Morocco and the country’s seventh largest city. It is clean, spaciousness and clever planning incorporates the new with the old and the quiet after the cacophony of Casablanca
Tour Hassan II
The horse guards change as we arrive. Huge red Moroccan flags flutter all around; the truncated columns jut up in formation; the strange remnant of a wall stands to one side, the mausoleum sparkles in its modern glory; all dominated by the tower.
We couldn’t stop taking photographs and we didn’t want to leave.
Tour Hassan is the minaret of an incomplete mosque. It was commissioned by Abu Yusuf Yaqub al-Mansur, the third Caliph of the Almohad Caliphate, near the end of the 12th century. The tower was intended to be the largest minaret in the world, and the mosque, if completed, would have been the largest in the western Muslim world. When al-Mansur died in 1199, construction on the mosque stopped. The minaret was left standing at a height of 44 meters. The rest of the mosque was also left incomplete, with only the beginnings of several walls and 348 columns being constructed. The modern Mausoleum of Mohammed V, forms part of the complex.
An earthquake in 1755 destroyed much of the construction.
Families getting their photographs taken.
Cats getting their photographs taken.
Rather than looking for the tram station as I had planned, we relish the idea of being driven around and make a snap decision to continue with our velos to Chellah.
We drift through charming parts of the city along tree lined avenues, towards the Chellah necropolis. I am expecting ruins and am amazed at the magnificent fairy tale castle that appears as we crest the hill. It has been closed since COVID, so we are unable to enter and see the necropolis and Roman ruins. However, it is still remarkable to observe the majestic doors and delight at the cats who are allowed entry, walking in and out of the grand entrance at will. We stroll along the lawns around the perimeter, admiring the sweeping views, yet again wishing we had more time.
No matter where we go in Rabat, we can see the Mohammed VI tower
The tallest tower in Africa
The 250-metre high Mohammed VI Tower is designed to be visible from a distance of 50 kilometres all round. With a total area of 102,800 m², the building consists of a tower set on a podium, to resemble a rocket on its launch pad.
Inside, the 55 storeys contain a luxury hotel, offices, high-end apartments and even a viewing terrace at the top, all accessible via a total of 40 lifts, 23 in the tower and 17 in the podium.
The structure can withstand not only the usual elements, such as strong winds or seismic events, but also flooding from the neighbouring Bouregreg river. The tower is braced 70% by its concrete core and 30% by the structure of the steel porticos on its façade. In view of the apartments at the top of the tower, a tuned mass damper system to reduce oscillations will be installed in the last few storeys.
Designed by BESIX’s Façade Department, the façades are particularly stunning, covering an area of more than 70.000 m², 41,000 m² for the tower and 32,500 m² for the podium. Transparent to the north, the south façade of the tower is fitted with photovoltaic panels.
Grand Théâtre de Rabat
With a dedicated land area of 47 000 sqm and a gross floor area of 27 000 sqm, the Rabat Grand Theatre is a cultural venue of the highest standards. It will include a 2,050-seat theatre, a smaller 520-seat theatre, creative studios and a fully-equipped outdoor amphitheatre with a capacity of up to 7,000 people.
We continue on our way towards the tram station. We see it in the far distance and are concerned that the time that it will take to get there, catch a tram from there to Salé and then walk through the Salé medina to the cemetery and then a boat ride back across to the Kasbah would mean we would see it in the dark. We change our minds yet again and ask him to take us directly to Oudiya.
We arrive at the bottom of the medina and he takes us right through the souks, tooting his horn, the tightly pressed crowds squeezing to the side to avoid being run over. So embarrassing – we pretend we are American.
At the Kasbah, we finally say goodbye to our friendly guide. Just under 2 hours. MAD200 very well spent.
The Oudaya Kasbah is located at the mouth of the Bou Regreg River, opposite the city of Salé.
It is beautiful. With views across the bay to Salé and the cemetery which has prime seaside real estate.
It guards the entrance to the river. The cannon embrasures and crenellated walls conjure up pictures of sailing ships finding safe harbour from rapacious pirates. In fact, the opposite is true. Salé was home to rapacious pirates and the Kasbah kept the good guys out.
The Kasbah is a haven of tranquility, with its flower-filled little streets, Andalusian garden, art, food and Moorish cafés. The streets are a maze. White walls, some blue. Quite beautiful.
We eventually make our way through the medina towards our Riad. Total chaos. At least 50% of the shops are closed – Sunday or Prophets birthday. Can’t believe how much busier it would be normally. And this supposedly is a quiet medina.
Eventually we find our way back to Mohammed V avenue, alive with street food. The most popular run a long queue and serve a flat bread stuffed with spicy mince. MAD6
Our Riad had recommended some traditional restaurants, but we decide to eat in the street. After some to-in and fro-ing in the main avenue, we find a little place (Hamza Food) in a side street full of families tucking into tasty looking dishes.
Delicious Taco Mixte (mince, saucisson, pulet) and Pasticcio Gratin Royale (pulet, ham) Coke Zero, 2 Jus Citron- MAD 78. Fantastic waiter and experience.
We collect a coffee to go to have with our Benis pastries. Although tea seems to be most popular drink in Morocco, they really know how to make good coffee.
We fall into an exhausted sleep despite the sounds from the neighbouring homes.
We’re up early to book tickets for the bullet train to Tangier. The walk up Mohammed V Avenue is quiet and streets are deserted
Rabat is a delightful city and are glad we ignored all the advice to give it a skip. It is definitely one of our favourite Moroccan cities.