Rabat, Morocco’s capital city, tends to be underestimated by travellers but it has a welcoming charm all its own. It’s a real must when exploring the northern region between Casablanca, Meknes and Fes.
Located at the mouth of the River Bou Regreg, on north Africa’s Barbary Atlantic coast, and home to half a million residents, it is one of Morocco’s four imperial cities and one of the region’s most exciting UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Rabat is steeped in history, from 1146 when Abd a-Mu’min built the huge fairytale fortress, through to the time of Barbary pirates and the Corsair Republics (1627) and onwards to when the French established their protectorate (1912-1930).
The combination of dramatically high fortifications staring down across the Atlantic horizon, delightful narrow Medina blue streets, seascape vistas (including the city’s old graveyards above traditional fishing fleets) and mix of Arabesque markets, makes the city as charming as it is unexpected. The growing reputation of Mawazine music festival only adds to the gentle feel of Rabat.
As good a place as any to start, is the impressive unfinished minaret Hassan Tower, which has overlooked the imperial port city for the past eight centuries. With commanding views from the top of the hill down across to the city’s new stadium, the traditionally dressed guards positioned around the famous Mohamed V Mausoleum give the white onyx building, with its delicately carved woodwork, plaster and marble, an air of old-school grandeur.
After dipping in and out of the more traditional food stalls and busier market venues, I highly recommend soaking up the coastal landscapes. Especially if your journey is to take you inland across the traditional trading centres of Meknes, Volubilis and Fes.
The sea breeze and picturesque old-style harbour settings are difficult to beat anywhere in Morocco.