Rabat is Morocco’s capital, its administrative and financial center, the official residence of the king, and home to all embassies and ministries. It is the country’s second largest city after Casablanca, and is also a major university center where the country’s major institutions are located. The city is also one of Morocco’s major industrial hubs where textiles, processed food, building materials and other things are manufactured.
The city lies in the middle of Morocco’s Atlantic coastline, at the mouth of the river Bou Regreg. Together with Sale, lying on the other shore of the river, Rabat forms a massive conglomeration, home to 1.7 million people.
Rabat contains several important attractions, dating from various eras of Morocco’s rich history. These include the Chellah Necropolis, Oudaias Kasbah, the Hassan Tower and the Mohammed V Mausoleum. Rabat citadel (Kasbah) was used by the Arabs as a base for campaigns against Spain in the 12th century. Many of the city’s landmarks were created during this era. In the 17th century the city was a refuge for the Muslims driven out of Spain.
The city was first made the capital in 1912 by the French. It remained the capital also after the independence of 1956.
Morocco has a moderate and subtropical climate. Temperatures are cooled off by the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. The interior of the country experiences more extreme temperatures. Summers can be choking hot, whereas winters can be quite cold. The Atlas Mountains experience snow throughout most of the year. The north of the country experiences wet and rainy winters, whereas the south is dry and very cold. The summer along the both coastlines is pleasant, with scarce rain and moderately hot and humid climate.
January average temperature 11.6 deg Celsius, 210 mm rainfall February average temperature 13 deg Celsius, 180 mm rainfall March average temperature 14 deg Celsius, 185 mm rainfall April average temperature 15.5 deg Celsius, 130 mm rainfall May average temperature 18 deg Celsius, 40 mm rainfall June average temperature 20 deg Celsius, 10 mm rainfall July average temperature 23 deg Celsius, 0 mm rainfall August average temperature 23 deg Celsius, 2 mm rainfall September average temperature 21.5 deg Celsius, 30 mm rainfall October average temperature 19 deg Celsius, 80 mm rainfall November average temperature 15.5 deg Celsius, 145 mm rainfall December average temperature 14 deg Celsius, 280 mm rainfall
The Rabat International Airport is located in the nearby town of Salé, but it has limited international connections. Most visitors fly to the nearby airport of Casablanca, and then access Rabat via train. The Mohammed V International Airport near Casablanca is Morocco’s busiest airport. www.onda.ma/ONDA/fr
Rabat has good train connections. The city has two train stations, one at the city center and one at Agdal. A trip from Casablanca takes only 1 hour. To get to Rabat it takes 2.5 hours from Fes and 4 hours from Marrakech. Morocco has great train connections, especially in the north. www.oncf.ma/
Rabat is well connected by bus network with almost any town in Morocco. The main bus station is located slightly out of the city, so using the train is easier.
PETITE TAXI / BLUE CAB
These are all blue, mostly fiat uno. Agree on the price beforehand, or ask the driver to use the meter. This is the most convenient way of getting around in the city.
The shared vans leave when they are full. They are mostly crowded but leave frequently and get you almost anywhere.
The buses are not especially useful, the numbering system is confusing and they are in a bad shape.
Driving in Rabat can be a bit complicated due to many one-way streets. In addition, avoid the rush hours as the traffic can get congested. Parking in the city is hard to find so it is better to park outside.
The main sights of Rabat are easily reachable on foot.
The world-renowned golf course, the Royal Dar Es Salaam Course is located only 20 minutes from Rabat. The complex of three courses, comprising 45 holes, is situated in 1,000 acre cork tree forest. It also features a superb clubhouse, practice ground, changing facilities, a swimming pool and a restaurant serving French food.
BEACHES: The Atlantic Coast
Due to its location on the Atlantic coast, Rabat boasts several lovely beaches close to the city. They are lined north and south of the city. There is a long strip of white sandy beaches extending all the way from Rabat to Casablanca.
NATURE: The Mamora Forest
A perfect place to unwind, and escape the noise and heat of the city is the Mamora Forest, located within short distance of Rabat. Its 134,000 hectares include cork-oak forest, pine groves, wild pear trees, and eucalyptus trees.
Hassan Tower was intended as the largest minaret in the world and the Hassan Mosque the largest mosque. The minaret dates from 1195, the mosque, however, was never finished and was additionally destroyed in the 1755 earthquake. Today, the minaret is 50 meters, although the original plan was to build it 80 m tall. The minaret has a different façade on every side, adorned with intricate motifs.
MAUSOLEUM OF MOHAMMED V
The Mausoleum, located opposite the Hassan Tower, is considered a masterpiece of modern Alaouite dynasty architecture. It has a typical green tiled roof and white silhouette. It contains the tombs of King Hassan II and his two sons. The building was completed in 1971 and the King was buried there after his death in 1999.
CITADEL OF CELLAH
The Roman ruins of Cellah lie on the outskirts of Rabat. This ancient complex is the remnant of the oldest human settlement in the mouth of the river Bou Regreg. Cellah contains the remnants of a once thriving Roman port of Sala Colonia. The Romans abandoned the site in 1154 in favor of the nearby Salé. Later the site was used by the Almohad dynasty as a necropolis. In the 14th century a Merind sultan built the magnificent main gate and several other monuments such as a mosque, a zawiya, and the royal tombs.
The picturesque Kasbah lies to the north of the city. It is partly enclosed by the ramparts, dating from the Almohad period. The impressive arched gate dates from 1195. The Kasbah has many interesting sights in store: the palace and Andalucian gardens, a broad panoramic terrace, the Kasbah Mosque -the city's oldest mosque, founded in 1050. Below the terrace lies a nice beach, frequented by the locals.
The old city of Rabat was constructed by the Muslim refugees from Badajos, Spain. The small but lively medina abounds in founduks, the traditional cafés, and shops. In the shops you can buy leather goods, foot wear, Moroccan crafts, souvenirs and the famous Rabat carpets.
Sale, a superb white medina on the opposite side of the river from Rabat, is the place to go for fine pottery. It is also an important port city abounding in great sights as well: old walls and gates, religious shrines, the Old Mosque dating from the 12th century, and the Medersa, school founded in the 13th century. In medieval times it was an important port and the base for the Barbary pirates in the 17th century.
Moroccan traditional cuisine is based on elaborate dishes based on meat and sweet pastries. Rabat cuisine is one of Morocco’s most international. Other international cuisines, such as Chinese and European are also widely available. Hotel restaurants offer mostly French cuisine; restaurants offer Spanish, French, Italian and typical Moroccan fare.
Prices vary little over the town, but the same food is less pricey elsewhere in Morocco. In the medina you can find several pleasant, moderately priced café-restaurants. The Ville Nouvelle district offers a series of excellent Moroccan and French five-star restaurants, as well as a few Oriental restaurants.
There is a wide range of bars, clubs and discos available throughout Rabat, but you should expect European prices. Rabat, as well as the tourist resorts, is home to many of the country’s most popular night spots. Clubs play a variety of music, including local styles.
You can get an issue of monthly events at most tourist offices.
The earliest settlement on the Bou Regreg River dates to pre-Roman times. In Sala, on the opposite side of the river from today’s Rabat, a fortress was built during the Roman times, which was the southernmost Roman colony in Morocco. Rabat, as we know it today, was founded in the 12th century by the Almohads. They used Rabat as a base for the attacks on Spain. By 1170 all of Andalucia was under Muslim rule. Yaqub al-Mansur moved the capital of his empire to Rabat, built the city walls, the Kasbah, and begun the building of Hassan Mosque, which was intended as the biggest mosque in the world. After his death the construction stopped and the mosque, as well as the Hassan Tower, was never finished. The Almohad Empire lost its control over the territory in Spain and much of Africa and eventually collapsed. This was also the beginning of Rabat’s downfall. It was soon overshadowed by other, bigger and more prosperous cities such as Fes, Meknes and Marrakech. It only began to grow again in the 17th century when Moriscos, expelled from Spain, started to settle here. In 1627 Rabat and the neighboring Sale united to form the autonomous Republic of Bou Regreg, run by the Barbary pirates who used the two cities as a base for their attacks on merchant ships. During this time Moroccan pirates went as far as Ireland and Bou Regreg republic was one of the major bases of piracy in the world. The Andalucians rebuilt the medina below the Kasbah to resemble their homes in Spanish Badajoz. The town finally reverted to government control under Moulay Rashid. However, unofficial piracy continued until 1829, when Austria revenged a lost ship by shelling Rabat and the neighboring coastal towns. This was followed by another era of reduced significance which continued up until French took over and made Rabat the capital.
MODERN (20TH CENTURY)
The French occupied Morocco in 1912 and created a protectorate. The capital was moved from Fes to Rabat; Fes had become too unstable due to Berber rebellions. Sultan Moulay Youssef followed the French and relocated his residence as well. In 1913 Rabat’s modern quarter, Ville Nouvelle, was designed by Henry Prost. It became the administrative sector. In this era Rabat gained much modern architecture, universities, embassies, and offices.
Morocco gained independence in 1956, and the King of Morocco, Mohammed V, decided to keep Rabat as the capital.
When Moroccans meet they take time and talk about their families, friends and other general topics. A Moroccan handshake is weaker by the western standards. When a relationship is established you may kiss on both cheeks, starting with the left. When a man and a woman shake hands, the woman must be the first to extend her hand. If she does not, the man only bows his head in greeting.
If invited to someone’s home, be careful not to admire something too much, as your hosts will most often feel obliged to present you the object. This is the Arab fear of the ‘evil eye’. The envied object is given away to deter jealousy. When invited to Moroccan home, always bring a gift: sweet pastries, figs, nuts, dates or flowers.
Eating with hands is an old tradition. Eat with the right hand and only use the thumb and the first two fingers.
The best time to visit Morocco depends on which areas you want to visit. The Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts are pleasant during the summer, with the average temperature slightly above 20°C. The interior of the country is very hot in the summer and more manageable from March to June and September to December. The Atlas Mountains experience extremes of temperature; from hot to cold. Many of then highest peaks remain snow capped throughout most of the year.