Morocco's Laid-Back Capital

Discovering Rabat

Rabat is a laid-back capital city with wide, clean streets, plenty of leafy parks, and a river estuary lined with restaurants and a sparkling marina. It’s a city of contrasts: the voluptuously curvaceous, Zaha Hadid–designed theater rubs shoulders with the pirate kasbah (Kasbah des Oudayas); the small medina of whitewashed buildings decorated with sandstone balances out the gracious consular mansions of Souissi; and you can choose to cross the river via the modern Hassan II bridge or take a tiny rowboat.

A Diplomatic Center with Rich Cultural Heritage

Rabat serves as a diplomatic center with a large community of foreign residents. The city offers a small medina and an array of historical sites and museums while maintaining a significantly lower level of tourist pressure compared to places like Marrakesh. Here, you have the freedom to wander and explore without being constantly hassled to make purchases or hire a guide. Rabat is an excellent place to get acquainted with Morocco’s rich cultural heritage. With its attractive and well-kept surroundings, a variety of good restaurants, and comfortable accommodations, it is undoubtedly one of the most pleasant and easygoing cities in the country for tourists.

The Historical Legacy of Rabat

Rabat has a captivating history that dates back to the 12th century when it was founded by Abd al-Mu’min of the Almohad dynasty. Initially established as a fortified town on a rocky outcrop overlooking the River Bou Regreg, it has evolved over the centuries. Yacoub al-Mansour, the grandson of Abd al-Mu’min, expanded the city to encompass the present-day medina, surrounded it with ramparts (some of which still stand), and erected a mosque. The unfinished Hassan Tower, Rabat’s principal landmark, stands as a testament to this era. The neighboring Roman town of Chellah, now within Rabat, was developed as a necropolis in the 13th century.

During the early 1600s, Rabat experienced a revival when Muslims expelled from Spain settled in the city’s present-day medina. Throughout the 17th century, the Kasbah Les Oudayas gained notoriety for its pirates, the Salé Rovers. It became an independent republic known as the Bou Regreg. Even after the republic was integrated into the Alaouite kingdom, piracy persisted until the 19th century. In 1912, Rabat became the administrative capital of the country during the French protectorate and continued as the capital when Morocco regained independence in 1956. The Royal Palace, which remains the king’s principal residence, holds a significant place in the city.

Vibrant Districts and Neighborhoods

Over the past two decades, Rabat has experienced considerable growth and now boasts many important districts beyond the kasbah, medina, and the original French Ville Nouvelle. These districts include L’Océan, the former Spanish and Portuguese seaside area; Hassan, the vicinity of the Hassan Tower; Agdal, a fashionable residential and business district; Ryad, an upscale residential area; and Souissi, an affluent enclave for wealthy individuals and diplomats. Exploring these diverse neighborhoods by taxi, tram, or private vehicle offers a comprehensive understanding of the city as a whole.

Must-Visit Sights in Rabat

Rabat, the capital city of Morocco, is a treasure trove of historical and cultural attractions. From ancient ruins to stunning architecture, this vibrant city offers a wealth of must-visit sights. Embark on a journey to Rabat today and discover the rich heritage and beauty it has to offer.

A Glimpse into History

Bab Rouah (Gate of the Winds)

One of Rabat’s prominent landmarks is Bab Rouah, also known as the Gate of the Winds. Built in 1197 by Yaqoub al Mansour, this city gate now serves as an art gallery. To witness its grandeur, venture outside the city walls and direct your gaze to the right of the modern arches. This gate, once a fortified structure, features a meticulously adorned arch crowned with two intricately carved shells. To access the gate, enter a series of rooms, turning left and then right, until you reach the door that leads to the heart of Rabat’s history.

Where Time Stands Still

Chellah Ruins and Gardens

Step into the past at Chellah, an ancient city predating Rabat itself. Founded in the 7th or 8th century BC, Chellah is a mesmerizing archaeological site. As you stroll along the path, you’ll encounter the remains of the Roman city, Sala Colonia, on your left. Although the ruins consist of fragmented stone foundations and column bases, descriptive markers guide you towards the probable locations of the forum, baths, and market. Sultan Abu Saïd and his son Abu al Hassan, from the Merenid dynasty, fortified the site with ramparts, an entrance gate, and magnificent portals. Chellah served as a spiritual retreat for the Merenids, exuding a tranquil atmosphere that can still be felt today. Visit the Merenid sanctuary, nestled amidst tombs, and discover a pool teeming with eels. It is believed that the eels possess miraculous powers, with women tossing eggs into the water for fertility. Explore the remnants of the mosque, adorned with beautiful arches and a prayer niche. Marvel at the birds nesting on the impressive minaret. Adjacent to the mosque lies a captivating wall embellished with Kufi script, an Arabic calligraphy style characterized by angular shapes. Venture further to the left, and you’ll encounter the zaouia (sanctuary), featuring the ruins of individual cells surrounding a basin and ancient mosaic work. The journey continues with well-maintained walled gardens, blessed with natural springs and offering panoramic views of the River Bou Regreg. Gaze upon cultivated fields and cliffs across the river, while a small white koubba crowns the hill on your right.

Forêt Ibn Sina: Nature’s Tranquil Haven

Escape the bustling city and immerse yourself in the serene beauty of Forêt Ibn Sina. This expansive park, enclosed by a fence, boasts a network of wide, well-maintained dirt trails winding through lush woodlands. Whether you’re an avid runner or seeking a leisurely walk, this park provides the perfect setting. With diligent gardeners tending to its every corner, you can enjoy the tranquility of nature close to the city center. Access to Forêt Ibn Sina is conveniently located next to the Sofitel Jardin des Roses.

Grand Theatre of Rabat: Where Culture and Architecture Converge

Situated on the banks of the Bou Regreg River, the Grand Theatre of Rabat stands as an architectural marvel. Designed by the renowned Zaha Hadid, its graceful white curves contrast with the nearby ancient Hassan Tower and Mausoleum. Boasting the title of Africa’s largest theater, it accommodates an impressive 1,800 seats in its auditorium. Additionally, a smaller theater, a restaurant, cafés, a bookstore, and an outdoor auditorium seating 7,000 people complete the theater complex. Immerse yourself in the vibrant cultural scene of Rabat at this magnificent venue.

Hassan Tower: A Testament to History

Travel back in time to the 12th century as you explore the grandeur of Hassan Tower. Yacoub al Mansour, the fourth ruler of the Almohad dynasty and grandson of Rabat’s founder, envisioned an extraordinary mosque. Intended to be the largest in the Muslim world, the mosque project was abandoned upon al Mansour’s death in 1199. Devastated by the powerful tremors of the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, only the tower remains as a significant remnant of al Mansour’s dream. While the mosque’s rectangular courtyard displays a few remaining columns, the tower itself was never completed, resulting in its somewhat disproportionate appearance. Take a moment to appreciate the intricate craftsmanship showcased in the carved stone and mosaic decorations adorning the tower’s pinnacle. From the tower’s base, a magnificent view of the river unfolds before you. At dawn, locals gather here to capture their wedding memories in a picturesque setting.

Kasbah des Oudayas: Unveiling the City’s Origins

The Kasbah des Oudayas holds the key to Rabat’s early history. Strategically located on elevated ground at the mouth of the Bou Regreg River and the Atlantic Ocean, it served as a defensive stronghold. This kasbah, which once encompassed the entire city and included the castle of Yaqoub al Mansour, remains inhabited to this day. Ascend the steps leading to the imposing ornamental gate, reminiscent of Bab Rouah and also constructed by the Almohads. Inside the gate, an art gallery now occupies the space. Explore the kasbah, turning right onto Rue Jama (Mosque Street), and encounter a mosque dating back to Almohad times. Though reconstructed in the late 18th century by an English Muslim named Ahmed el Inglizi, the mosque retains its historical charm. Follow the road until you reach Dar Baraka, a house that marks the end of Rue Jama. As you emerge onto a vast platform overlooking the Bou Regreg estuary, a magnificent vista awaits. Feast your eyes on the panoramic view of Salé, the neighboring old quarter, and descend to the water’s edge. Return to Rue Jama and take a left turn onto Rue Bazo. Wandering down this picturesque street, you’ll encounter charming houses along the kasbah’s descent. Eventually, you’ll reach the banks of the Bou Regreg, where the enchanting Jardin des Oudayas (Oudayas Garden) invites you to explore its walled retreat. Take a moment to relax at Café Maure, savoring a cup of tea. The garden, designed in the early 20th century, offers wheelchair accessibility and is enclosed by walls dating back to the beginning of the Alaouite dynasty in the 17th century. At the garden’s highest point stands the Musée des Oudayas (Oudayas Museum), showcasing traditional costumes and a 12th-century Koran.

Lalla Soukaina Mosque: A Marvel of Moorish Architecture

Built in the 1980s to honor King Hassan II’s granddaughter, Lalla Soukaina Mosque exemplifies the splendid tradition of Moorish architecture. Marvel at the exquisite sandstone work adorning the mosque’s walkways, and admire the vibrant geometric designs painted on the ceilings. The mosque’s surroundings feature meticulously maintained gardens, providing a picturesque setting. While non-Muslims cannot enter the mosque, its exterior alone offers ample beauty to behold.

Mohammed V Mausoleum: A Majestic Resting Place

Adjacent to the Hassan Tower, overlooking the river, lies the Mohammed V Mausoleum, the final resting place of King Mohammed V, who passed away in 1961. The mausoleum’s tomb rests underground, with a terrace overlooking it accessible via steps on each side. Often, you’ll witness someone ritually reading the Koran as you peer down. Beyond the central sarcophagus of King Mohammed V lie the tombs of his sons, Prince Moulay Abdallah and King Hassan II. The latter was interred here in July 1999, with world leaders gathering for his state funeral. The tomb, designed by a Vietnamese architect and constructed between 1962 and 1966, is characterized by its cubic shape, pyramidal green-tile roof, elaborately decorated ceiling, and onyx interior walls. An adjoining mosque, built simultaneously, complements the mausoleum.

Musée de l’Histoire et des Civilisations: A Journey through Time

Formerly known as the Musée Archéologique, the Musée de l’Histoire et des Civilisations has been showcasing artifacts discovered throughout Morocco since its opening in 1931. Explore a vast collection of prehistoric, Roman, and Islamic-period artifacts. Noteworthy exhibits include numerous inscribed Roman tablets and a substantial collection of Roman bronze items. The museum particularly excels in representing the archaeological sites of Chellah and Volubilis. Additionally, you’ll encounter a plaster cast of early human remains discovered at the Dar Es-Soltane caves along the coast south of Rabat.

Musée Mohammed VI d’Art Moderne et Contemporain: A Celebration of Moroccan Artistry

Step into the striking Musée Mohammed VI d’Art Moderne et Contemporain, an exquisite museum that opened its doors in 2014. Immerse yourself in a captivating display of contemporary artworks from across Morocco. The permanent collection traces the evolution of Moroccan art from the 20th century onward, while thoughtfully curated temporary exhibitions delve into fascinating themes. Make sure to visit the museum’s charming café, where you can take a moment to reflect on the artistic wonders that surround you.

Rabat Zoological Gardens: A Paradise of Biodiversity

Spanning over 120 acres, Rabat’s Zoological Gardens house more than 1,800 animals representing 150 different species. The animals reside in spacious enclosures that replicate five distinct ecosystems: Atlas Mountains, desert, savannah, rainforest, and wetlands. One of the highlights is the presence of Atlas lions, a subspecies found only in captivity. As you explore the zoo, you’ll encounter elephants, giraffes, hippos, as well as majestic oryx and gazelles. Don’t miss the opportunity to visit the educational farm and attend one of the daily scheduled events for an enriched experience.

Royal Palace (Mechouar): A Majestic Landmark

Situated behind manicured lawns, Morocco’s Royal Palace is an expansive cream-colored building. Adorned with an ornamental gate, ceremonially dressed guards in white, blue, or red add an air of grandeur to the complex. The palace serves as the administrative hub for the cabinet, prime minister, and other government officials. Typically occupied by the royal family, the palace is regrettably closed to the public.

Sunna Mosque: A Testament to Timeless Beauty

Originally erected in the 18th century, Rabat’s Sunna Mosque underwent several transformations before reaching its current form. Located in the heart of the medina, the mosque’s minaret, which dates back to the Alaouite dynasty, has become an iconic symbol of Rabat’s skyline. Admire the craftsmanship of the intricate zellij (mosaic tilework) and carved wooden decorations as you explore this architectural gem. Although access is restricted to Muslims during prayer times, visitors can appreciate the mosque’s exterior and capture its splendor.

Stylia Tours: Your Gateway to Rabat

Stylia Tours is your gateway to Rabat. Let us meticulously plan a tailor-made trip for you, ensuring a seamless and memorable travel experience. Explore the wonders of Rabat with us.