Rabat’s walkable centre, enchanting features, clean public beaches, well-kept palm-lined boulevards, especially at ville nouvelle, roads relatively free of traffic, a fairy-tale 12th-century Kasbah, and an attractive medina, easily make it a perfect place for a short, leisurely holiday. Here is what I found there when I visited.
The more things change, the more they remain the same. I have often heard this saying, but I grabbed its import recently when I travelled to Morocco’s Rabat. Rabat is not the usual place many people go to on holiday. I have friends whose usual complaint about the city is that it lacks touristic spots. I think they overgeneralized. Anyway, tastes are different, so do the pieces of stuff that influence our choices. For me, when I visited, I did enjoy my short stay there and my reasons are plenty:
To start with, I think Rabat is an ideal, serene destination in Morocco for anyone seeking a place to relax. The claim that the city is not a high-end tourist destination is made probably because not many people have been patient enough to explore the city’s qualities. Rabat is a historic place and walking its street is like strolling a historical path. The city’s leading attractions tell its history—in fact, our history, in loud ways.
My trip to Rabat was official; unfortunately (or should I say, fortunately), the event I was billed to attend was rescheduled for 2 days later. I had landed in the city before I realized. With 48 hours to play with, I chose to fulfil a childhood fantasy by exploring this city of the Berbers, to soak up and enjoy the bits and pieces that it holds.
Thank goodness for the internet and friends who are well grounded in Morocco (you can easily get help from Afro Tourism if you need one), after just a few clicks and chats, I knew where to go, and was out on the street (with a local taxi driver) feeling the vibes. I might have been lucky, but the frequency at which I met people who politely greeted me and seemed interested in what I do suggest to me that the people here are nice and welcoming.
One of the earliest things I learnt about Rabat was the meaning of its name. Literally, Rabat means ‘fortified place’. However, you won’t appreciate the meaning until you’ve visited the city and experienced its ambience.
My first major stop in Rabat was Yacoub al-Mansour esplanade. I saw the magnificent Hassan Tower, which was intended to be the largest minaret in the world when it was being built though it was never completed. At 44-metre high, the Tower stands out as one of the city’s major landmarks and as I walked around in-between the sea of stone columns around it, I could only imagine how tall Sultan Yacoub al-Mansour who initiated the project would have intended it to be. The Mausoleum of Mohammed V is also in this area. Inside the Mausoleum are extravagant walls with highly decorated ceilings, zellij tiles, and the tombs of King Mohamed V and his son King Hassan II.
From Yacoub al-Mansour esplanade, the taxi driver took me to the Medina. The medina (old town) is a walled neighbourhood built by the sea around the 17th century. Inside its gate is a maze of alleyways, with various shops and local street vendors selling just about anything. I think the Medina shops are gradually switching to selling modern and western goods such as iPhones, trainers, jackets etc., though there are still some traditional shops at the Medina where you can get some Moroccan traditional stuff. Compared to some other Medinas, this Medina is relatively small, but without a guide, it’s easy to get missing there.
Another place I visited is Chellah. If I had wanted to follow history by date, I ought to have visited this place first. The walled city of Chellah dates as far back as the third Century BC. Though now abandoned, the several ancient ruins suggest a glorious past in Chellah where cats, storks and various other animals now live.
I have always heard of Kasbah of the Udaya (or Kasbah des Oudaïas), and visiting the place was fulfilling. In Kasbah, I was welcomed to labyrinthine streets painted in blue and white. The history of the area reminds me of Bo’Kaap in Cape Town, South Area: both neighbourhoods have colourful buildings, and residents are mostly Muslim immigrants. Walking through the Kasbah, I got to Avenue Laalhou, just a walking distance from the battlement where I got a good view of the sea. There is a beach close by, though I didn’t get there, I learn surfers frequent the place a lot.
I wanted more. I wanted to walk the streets like local, I wanted to grab the surfboard and ride the Ocean’s energy beneath my feet. I wanted to learn about Morocco’s royalty. I wanted to spend time on the beach sipping Moroccan beer (mint tea). But my time was short, and 48 hours ran out so fast. But there is one slice of hope…I will definitely go back there someday.