Thursday, January 3, 2013

Moroccan Travels, Part Six: Rabat!

This says "Medina Rabat" or "City of Rabat." If you can see the logo at the
top or read the Arabic words underneath, this sign is about
Rabat's recent addition as a UNESCO World Heritage site!

I'll just come out and say it - Rabat is my favorite city that we have visited in Morocco. Perhaps it's because Justin and I live so close (only about 45 minutes away) and thus spend more time in Rabat than in other cities. Or perhaps it's the lack of the crowds upon crowds of tourists that swarm to cities like Fes and Marrakech. Or maybe it's all the green spaces, beautiful gardens, and parks throughout the city.

Whatever it might be, I think Morocco's capital city is really unappreciated on the tourist scene. And before Justin and I went up to Tangier for New Year’s Eve (more on that another time) we spent a couple of days in Rabat just enjoying ourselves - since we are usually there for work, we often do not have the chance to take advantage of all it has to offer. As we were walking around, Justin and I kept remarking to each other how much we love Rabat. There are some absolutely beautiful sites to see throughout this city. So without further ado, below is a photo tour of my favorite sites to see in Rabat!

 1. The Hassan Mosque and the Mohammed V Mausoleum
A must-see, the minaret of the Hassan Mosque is visible from almost any view of Rabat. The mosque was begun in 1195 but construction was abandoned in 1199 when then-Sultan Yacoub al-Mansour died. At the time, the minaret and mosque were expected to be the largest in the world (it is currently 164 feet tall; had it been finished it would have reached around 262 feet). The bases of the mosque’s columns give a sense of the size of the place and along with the unfinished tower create a kind of ethereal ambiance.

Facing the minaret is the mausoleum of King Mohammed V, designed by a Vietnamese architect and beautiful inside and outside. A lot of what people come to Morocco to see is the artisanry, but unfortunately in many of the older palaces and museums the work has suffered over the centuries. Because the mausoleum is modern, well maintained, and houses revered figures’ remains (those of Mohamed V (the current king’s grandfather) and his sons, King Hassan II (the current king’s father) and Prince Abdallah, the visitor can see the height of these traditional Moroccan crafts and craftsmanship in perfect condition. It is also one of the very few Muslim religious buildings that are in use and open to non-Muslims. 

The mosque and mausoleum are set on top of a hill towards the northern end of Rabat. We usually come into Rabat from Tiflet in a grand taxi which passes through Sale before crossing the Bouregreg river south into Rabat. The view going over the bridge, seeing the unfinished minaret and mausoleum on the top of the hill, the city stretching out around them, and finally the medina, kasbah, and ocean off to the right is spectacular. Both are free and the view from the top of the hill looking down isn’t bad either!

The unfinished Hassan Tower and Mosque.
Inside the Mohammed V Mausoleum.
Beautiful ceilings in the Mohammed V Mausoleum.

2. Promenade along the water and the Kasbah Oudayas
The River Bouregreg sits on one side of Rabat and feeds into the Atlantic Ocean. The area around the river has been made into a beautiful promenade with anchored boats and cafes along it. The promenade leads into the Kasbah Oudayas - a fortress and city built on a hilltop to be more easily defended. Inside the Kasbah are beautiful gardens, blue and whitewashed walls, and an amazing view of the Atlantic Ocean.

With my parents, looking out over the promenade and the Kasbah.
Bab Oudaia - a huge intricate gate leading into the Kasbah.
In the Andalucian Gardens, just inside the gate of the Kasbah.
Inside the Kasbah.
A musician inside the Kasbah.
Justin looks out in the direction of New York!

3. The "New City" of Rabat
Most bigger Moroccan cities have an "old medina" and the "Ville Nouvelle," or new city - and Rabat is no different. Rabat's Ville Nouvelle features a beautiful promenade leading down one of the main avenues, as well as lots of parks, galleries, shops, and restaurants.

Promenade with lots of palm trees and pigeons.
A very cool gallery in the Ville Nouvelle named Galerie Mohamed El Fassi.
When we visited last week it featured an exhibit of works by young Moroccan artists.
Work by a young Moroccan artist - I thought it was beautiful!
Hard to tell from the picture, but while most of this is painted,
some parts have added pieces (e.g. the jewelry)
which gives it a really interesting effect.

4. The Chellah
Just outside the Ville Nouvelle are some amazing ruins that have been uninhabited since 1154 but for over a thousand years prior, served as Sala Colonia, a thriving Roman city and port. But this is actually two or three sites in one, because while ruins remain of this ancient Roman town, it also has the ruins of a mosque and necropolis from the 14th century built right on top of it. And on top of that there’s beautiful plants and LOTS of storks who have taken up residence on the grounds, with huge nests atop any available surface.

Approaching the Chellah from the Ville Nouvelle.
The minaret of the mosque, and two storks in flight!
A sacred spring pool filled with eels. Women come here and feed
eggs to the eels to invoke assistance with fertility and childbirth.
Remains of tiles and beautiful gates.

5. The Zoo!
Rabat refurbished its zoo and reopened its doors sometime in the last year or two. It is a beautiful zoo which seems to focus mostly on African animals, and has some that we don't see in America (in zoos or otherwise): the Atlas lions, a subspecies that is extinct in the wild, and the African wild dogs, nearly extinct as well. The animals seem well cared for and most seemed to have plenty of space in their enclosures (no bars or anything like that). And also very exciting was a restaurant at the zoo that serves NEW YORK BAGELS! Though sadly they were nowhere near the real thing - still as close as we have found here :) The zoo was unfortunately a bit difficult to get to, but well worth the excursion!

The Atlas lions, playing.
Just thought this giraffe was taking a funny pose :)
The African wild dogs.
Cute porcupine.
Yes, that is an NYC bagel listed there - even one called the Brooklyn!
Here's their "Brooklyn" bagel. Not exact but we'll take what we can get.
The inside even had a few pieces of pastrami!

I hope you enjoyed your short tour of Rabat. There's much more to see, from simple things like walking around in the old medina, shopping in the medina or the Ville Nouvelle, visiting some of the many parks, or soaking in the city life at a patisserie or cafe. As Justin and I discover more about Rabat, I'll be sure to post updates. 

Wishing everyone a happy 2013!! Hope your celebrations were great on whatever side of the world you may have been on :)

1 comment:

  1. CNN knows what I'm talking about - Rabat was rated a #2 travel destination for 2013!!