Our next destination was Rabat via a local train with our tour group consisting of 16 people plus 1 guide whom we had met on the last day of Casablanca. Our group only had an afternoon here before jumping on another train to Meknes. It really is an interesting mix of emotions involving the excitement of being in another culture & tackling my shyness around a large group of people who became a mini family over the course of the adventure.
This group of wonderful people were like a fruit salad full of different personalities & up-beat energies.
Rabat (Arabic: الرباط, ar-Ribaaṭ, literally “Fortified Place”) is the Political capital and fifth largest city of Morocco. This city is relatively modern in comparison to Casablanca and actually reminds me of Limassol in Cyprus (or London on a sunny day) with it’s glistening contemporary buildings & pretty, modern streets. Rabat has not quite established itself as a tourist destination, however visitors who do go find a gem of a city. The colonial architecture is stunning, the palm-lined boulevards are well kept and relatively free of traffic, and the atmosphere has a cosmopolitan flair, even a lot of the locals walk around with a graceful & confident air wearing designer clothing, trendy accessories & driving stylish cars. All in all, life here is pleasant and civilised. Although at times Rabat can be rather dull in comparison to other Moroccan destinations because there are very few areas within the city that has that charm most tourists search for. Yet the city is more laid-back, pleasant and more provincial than Casablanca or Marrakesh, and far less grimy and frantic. This would be a good place to possibly live if you were considering living in Morocco because it would be an easier place to adjust & adapt to the lifestyle as oppose to the hustle and bustle of other Moroccan cities.
The first site we visited within Rabat was the Hassan Tower or Tour Hassan (Arabic: صومعة حسان) which is the minaret of an incomplete mosque. Construction began in 1195 and the tower, made of red sandstone was intended to be the largest minaret in the world along with the mosque, also intended to be the world’s largest. Sultan Yacoub al-Mansour died in 1199 and construction on the mosque was cut short. The rest of the mosque was also left incomplete, with only the beginnings of several walls and 200 columns constructed.
The tower itself is ascended by ramps as oppose to stairs. The minaret’s ramps would have allowed the muezzin to ride a horse to the top of the tower to issue the call to prayer.
Caitlin with her energetic personality & insatiable thirst for adventure found a way to climb one of the columns! These columns were reasonably high with nothing to grip so I have no idea how she got up there.
Next on the agenda was a building situated near to the minaret, entitled The Mausoleum of Mohammed V. This place made me feel entirely at peace, there was a great sense of calm walking into the building as you can hear a reader of the Quran chanting softly within the room. The building is considered a masterpiece of modern Alaouite dynasty architecture, with its white silhouette, topped by a typical green tiled roof, green being the colour of Islam. Its construction was completed in 1971. Hassan II was buried there following his death in 1999.
Soon after that our group wandered over to Kasbah of the Udayas via the promenade sea front. Taking a walk through the Kasbah, through its wonderful gates into the small labyrinth of whitewashed houses tinged with blue was just lovely, it was like the secret garden or a magical little village sheltered & surrounded by a protective wall. What makes this place even more special is that each house seems to have its own shade of blue, ranging from turquoise to indigo. Beware of so called “Guides” within the Kasbah who try to get you to follow them throughout the Kasbah for a fee, you really do not need a guide to walk about this place. Also be wary of ‘Henna ladies’ lurking about, they will try to grab your hand and apply henna to your arm before you have even decided you want a henna tattoo or not and before you know it they expect payment for their service you didn’t even want in the first place! I found it best to avoid eye contact & be quite firm if approached. Within this place also, you’ll see a number of street performers, they will happily have their photograph taken as long as you give them a couple of Dirham in exchange.
Our last stop before heading back to the main square near to the train station was a walk through the Medina. Rabat Medina is so much more laid back & less overwhelming than other Medinas in Morocco, and it is unlikely that anyone could get lost inside it. The use of blue to complement the whitewash provides echoes of the Kasbah. There is a nice atmosphere surrounding this medina. It is a piece of the typical historical way of living in Morocco without the hassle and without the excessive tourism. This area is definitely walkable and you won’t get lost if you have a map. There is one street that sells nice crafts, pottery and rugs, and another that sells all kinds of spices, candy, food items, clothes & household goods, a real quaint little gem within this cosmopolitan city.
For me, although very elegant & polished, Rabat wasn’t my favourite destination but it is non the less surprising because the moment you walk into the city you are surrounded by modernity with magical elements of the past. I think any visitor to this place really only needs an afternoon to experience Rabat as it is a good contrast to other Moroccan Cities that have more of that antique & unruly charm you are after.
Next weeks Moroccan blog post will be about Meknes.
If you want to see the first post about Casablanca click here.
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