Rabat is a city that we all know how to locate on the map for being the capital of Morocco. However, not everyone places it among their priorities when thinking about a grand tour of the country. And it’s a mistake: this city has numerous attractions for all types of tourists, including premium travelers. Therefore, in these lines we show you everything you should know if you want to add this destination to your roadmap.
Rabat is bathed by the Atlantic Ocean and is therefore located in the western part of the country, halfway between the northernmost Atlantic destinations (Tangier, Asilah) and the southernmost (Essaouira, Agadir). A fundamental fact of its geographical location is its proximity to the most populated city in Morocco (Casablanca, 90 km), which brings it closer to the concept of a large metropolitan area, since the area has been immersed for years in an urban growth that has given birth to other modern cities in the area, such as Mohammedia.
But what is truly a metropolitan area is the union of Rabat and Salé: these two cities are barely separated by the humble Bu Regreg river, and practically share the same rhythm of life and the same services. Adding the population of both, the number of inhabitants exceeds 1.5 million.
These are the distances that separate Rabat from the rest of the major tourist destinations in Morocco:
As it is the capital city, its communications network is wide and varied. Of course, it has an international airport (Rabat-Salé) close to the city (7 km) which, although it does not have as much traffic and as many air routes as Marrakech or Casablanca, it is an option to consider for many travelers. The most important airlines in the country operate here, such as Royal Air Maroc and Air Arabia Maroc, as well as other major international airlines (Air France) and some low cost airlines, such as Ryanair. Therefore, it has connections with cities such as Paris, Brussels, Barcelona, Rome, London, Seville and Madrid.
It is also well integrated into the country’s railroad network, not only in terms of conventional trains but also high-speed trains (Al Bouraq), which connects Casablanca with Tangier, passing through Rabat and Kenitra. Therefore, this is an interesting option for those who want to move between these cities in a comfortable and fast way. And for internal mobility, there is also a modern tramway line that connects the two cities of the metropolitan area: Rabat and Salé.
In addition, as is logical, it is an important node in the network of bus lines: although the variety of destinations is greater this way, it is a slower and less comfortable service, although some buses reach high quality standards. In any case, the most suitable option for a private trip is the vehicle, since some of the most important highways of the country reach here: the A1, which comes from the southern Atlantic coast (Casablanca, El Jadida, etc.), the A5, which comes from the northern Atlantic coast (Kenitra, Tangier) and the A2, which comes from the center and east of the country (Meknes, Fez, Oujda).
On the other hand, despite being bathed by the Atlantic Ocean, it does not have a large passenger port, as is the case with other Moroccan maritime cities. Although in the twentieth century military ships could dock here, what exists today is a small and exclusive marina for private and sport boats on the Bu Regreg River, which it shares with neighboring Salé, as it is in fact on its river bank.
As archaeological evidence in the Chellah area shows, the origins of Rabat are very ancient and date back to several centuries before Christ: there was the presence of a Mauritanian kingdom with which the Phoenicians and Carthaginians had a relationship, thanks to the possibilities of the Bu Regreg river. In addition, the settlement called
in Roman times became a municipality with the status of a colony.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the area came under Berber domination, who continued to play a predominant role after the Muslim conquest, which was not without conflict due to the spread of the heretical Khariji doctrine in this territory. To combat this, the orthodox Muslims built a fortress convent, known in Arabic as the
which later became the current name of the city.
This settlement experienced a great impulse in times of the Almohads in the 12th century, whose empire reached the other side of the Strait of Gibraltar. In fact, since the middle of that century, important works and extensions were carried out by Abd el-Mumen and Yacub al-Mansur, who was considering the idea of turning it into his capital.
The transformation of the convent into an alcazaba (kasbah, origin of the current Kasbah of the Udayas), the city walls and the project of the great mosque, of which only the Hassan Tower remains, are part of this period. But at the death of this sovereign, the city fell into decline and in the time of the Marinids, Rabat was little more than a modest walled village.
More than four centuries had to pass before Rabat experienced a new impulse: the one given by the Moors expelled from Spain during the reign of Philip III (1609). One of the most successful activities for its inhabitants was piracy, having as its center of operations the Kasbah of the Udayas and sowing terror among ships from all over Europe for nearly two centuries. Initially, they operated autonomously and later, with the approval of the new Alawite dynasty.
However, the second half of the 18th century marked a new period of decline, not only because of internal disputes and setbacks from the outside (especially from the French), but also because of the great earthquake of 1755 and its subsequent tsunami, which changed the configuration of the Bu Regreg estuary and rendered the local port unusable.
Sultan Sidi Mohammed tried to restore some splendor to the city by building a royal residence and, although he did not have the expected success with his enterprise, this construction ended up being the first nucleus of the current Royal Palace and an important factor for the establishment here of the capital of the French Protectorate in 1912: it was used as a residence by the Alawite Sultan Moulay Yussef, as well as his son Mohammed V, one of the architects of the country’s independence in 1956.
The new administrative city of Rabat developed around it and today it is the official residence of the King of Morocco.
To include Rabat as a stage of your trip in Morocco is a decision full of reasons. Here are a few that will convince you and make this city one of your favorites in the country:
Rabat’s tourist attractions are distributed in two large areas (the historic medina and the neighborhoods beyond the medina), to which must be added the neighboring city of Salé, with areas worth visiting for those who have more time at their disposal.
It is the area surrounded by the walls built by the Almohad Yacub Al Mansur at the end of the 12th century, which are still standing on three sides. Here you can find the main historical monuments of the city, such as:
Rabat is one of the cities where the desire to expand and modernize the old Moroccan cities during the 20th century can be best appreciated. As the capital of the French Protectorate, it underwent a major renovation, and this spirit continues today with the construction of avant-garde infrastructures, such as bridges and skyscrapers. These are some of the places of interest that today can be visited beyond the historic medina, even in the outskirts and surroundings:
Today, Salé is part of the metropolitan area of Rabat, although it has not renounced its own character, which derives largely from a history somewhat different from that of Rabat: probably founded in the eleventh century, within its walled medina developed an important craft and commercial activity (furs, wool, carpets), which put it in contact with European powers and gave it a great cultural refinement, with richly decorated madrasas and mosques. In the 17th century it shared with Rabat the protection and promotion of pirate activity, which earned it reprisals in the form of foreign bombardments. After the earthquake and subsequent tsunami of 1755, Salé fell into serious decline and since then has always been in the shadow of Rabat, which grew during the French Protectorate. Today, however, it walks hand in hand with the capital and shares development projects.
Of course, Rabat is one of the most interesting tourist destinations for premium travelers, as it has exclusive services not only for tourists but also for the local elite. The list of proposals includes spaces and activities such as the following:
Luxury restaurants in Rabat:
Luxury areas in Rabat: