Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Rabat. الرباط

I had not planned on visiting Rabat on this trip, dismissing because I thought it would be another boring capital city, full of government buildings and not much else.  Boring.  Then, as fate would have it, our original flight from JFK to Morocco got cancelled and now Soon and I are leaving one day earlier which gives us an extra day to explore Morocco. Since we don't want to explore Casablanca without Aaron and Mildred, I had to come up with another plan for spending our first day. After finding out that Rabat is only short one hour train ride away, it made sense to go there.

I still wasn't convinced about going until I started to read up on the dynastic history of Morocco.  As I quickly learned, Rabat along with Fes, Meknes, and Marrakesh make up Morocco's four imperial cities.  So, I now stand corrected.  It is an interesting city and I am now very much looking forward to spending time, albeit not much, in Rabat.


"The history of Rabat" dates back to the 3rd century BC when it existed as a settlement known as Chellah,  located on the Atlantic Ocean at the mouth of the Oued Bou Regreg (Bou Regreg River).  In 40 AD, it fell into Roman hands and was renamed Sala Colonia.  The settlement remained under Roman rule until 250 AD when it was abandoned to local rulers. 

Chellah's location along the northern coast of Morocco made it a perfect launching point for attacks on Spain and that's exactly what the Almohad ruler, Abd al-Mu'mim, did in 1147.   By 1170, Chellah became a military stronghold of such great importance that the Almohads  give it the title Ribatu l-Fath, meaning "stronghold of victory," from which it derives its current name.

The third Almohad ruler, Aby Yusuf Yaqub al-Mansur, moved the capital of Almohad empire to Rabat.  During his rule, Yaqub al-Mansur built Rabat's city walls and the Kasbah de Oudaïa. He also began construction on what would have been the world's largest mosque but died before construction could be completed.  The ruins of the walls, the Kasbah as well as the unfinished mosque, along with the Hassan Tower, still stand today.

 Yaqub's death initiated a period of decline. The Almohad empire lost control of its possessions in Spain and much of its African territory, eventually leading to its total collapse. In the 13th century, much of Rabat's economic power shifted to Fes.

It wasn't until 1912, when Morocco was turned into a French protectorate that Rabat reclaimed the crown as the country's capital. 

By the time we arrive into Rabat, it will be around noon so we won't have much time to explore it so I'm picking out a few of key points of interest for us to visit.

"Le Tour Hassan"(Hassan Tower)
Begun in 1195 by Yaqub al-Mansur, the red sandstone tower was intended to be the largest minaret in the world along with the mosque, also intended to be the world's largest. In 1199, Sultan Yacoub al-Mansour died and construction on the mosque stopped. The tower only reached 44 m (140 ft), about half of its intended 86 m (260 ft) height.  What remains of the tower today, is the lower half.  The rest of the mosque was also left incomplete, with only the beginnings of several walls and 200 columns being constructed.

 "Mausoleum of Mohammed V"
The Mausoleum of Mohamed V is located in the Yaqub al-Mansour Square and stands across from the Hassan Tower.

King Hassan II commissioned the construction of the Mausoleum of Mohamed V for his late father, Mohamed V, in the year 1962. Construction of the Mohamed V Mausoleum was completed in 1971. Sultan Mohamed V ruled over Morocco for two terms. The first was from 1927 to 1953 and again from 1957 to 1961. He is remembered and noted for negotiating the country's independence from France in 1956. Both his sons, King Hassan II and Prince Abdallah, are buried alongside him inside the mausoleum.  Mohammed V is the grandfather of the current king, Mohamemed VI.

It took approximately four hundred men to build and complete the mausoleum which is considered a masterpiece of modern Alaouite dynasty architecture, with its white silhouette, topped by a typical green tiled roof.  Oddly though, the person who designed the mausoleum was a Vietnamese architect who wanted to capture the more traditional Moroccan art techniques, while still asserting an air of modernity.

The Mausoleum is one holy place that foreigners and non-Muslims are allowed to enter so if we can, we'll definitely step inside.

"Kasbah de Oudaïa"

The Oudaïa Kasbah occupies the oldest part of the city commands powerful views over the Oued Bou Regreg and Atlantic Ocean from its cliff-top perch.

The kasbah is named for the Oudaïa, an Arab tribe that settled on the Atlantic coast in the 17th century and played a key role in the defending the city from Spanish invaders during the rule of Ismaïl Ibn Sharif aka Moulay Ismaïl.

Oudaïa Kasbah differs from other kasbahs in Morocco in that it is not simply a fortress or a place, but a small, heavily fortified town, complete with its own mosques and souks.

The kasbah is entered via the Bab Oudaïa, an imposing gatehouse built in 1195.  The Bab Oudaïa is considered to be an outstanding example of Almohad architecture.

Inside the kasbah's walls sits a quaint town  - narrow residential streets lined with buildings lime washed in soft shades of blue and white, most of which were built by Muslim refugees from Spain.

The town's main street, Rue Jamaa, runs straight from the Bab Oudaïa through the kasbah. About 200m from the bab is El Atika mosque, the oldest mosque in Rabat, built in the 12th century and restored in the 18th.

Today, Oudaïa Kasbah is a tourist attraction and so there are plenty of restaurants and shops to cater to travelers like me.  I think it would be the perfect place to take a rest - maybe at a restaurant that has views of the ocean.

Days are short in the winter so I figure we'll only have about four or five hours to spend in Rabat before the sun sets and we won't be able to see anything.  It would be nice though to have dinner somewhere in the medina before hopping back on the train and heading back to Casablanca.
Getting to visit Rabat was most certainly unexpected but we're definitely going to make the most of it!