Rabat History and Highlights

Morocco located on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, Rabat is the city rich with Islamic monuments, domes, and minarets, sweeping terraces, wide avenues, and many palaces. This is why a visit to Rabat is added to any tours to Morocco.

Rabat is the political, administrational, and economical capital of Morocco. The city has the largest number of universities in Morocco and the second largest metropolis after the one in Casablanca.

Archeological findings in the Necropolis of Chella, located near Rabat, have shown that this region was occupied by the Romans and even earlier communities as well. The Chella necropolis is one of the riches historical sites in the country included to any travel packages to Morocco.

A bit of the history of Rabat

Around 1150, the first Almohad dynasty king, Abdel Mone'm, decided to establish a permanent camp in that location and ordered his men to construct some small royal palaces for the "Mer Rabat", or the fortified monastery and this was the first stage in the foundation of one of the largest and most modern cities in the North African region. Many of Almohad dynasty structures are still viewed by many tourists who travel to Morocco.

Afterwards, another Almohad ruler, Yaqub Al Mansur, started establishing a marvelous city with the name, Rabat Al Fateh, or the Camp of Victory. This was due to his victory over Alfonso VIII of Castile in the battle of Alarcos in 1195.

After the death of Al Mansur in 1199, the construction work on his ambitious plan to build a great city stopped although the great walls and gates of the city were already completed. This is besides the Hassan Mosque and minaret which were finished as well.

After the defeat of the Almohad army in the battle of Navas de Tolosa in 1212, they lost most of their power and started witnessing a decline. This fact resulted in the abandoning of their city in Rabat.

About 400 years later and in 1610 in particular, when the King of Spain at the time, Philip III, expelled many Moors from Spain, they immigrated to Morocco and many of them settled in Rabat. The city now hosts many structures that were built by the Moorish and the remains of these monuments are admired by many travelers who spend their holidays in Morocco.

At that period Rabat has become the capital of a small kingdom, the Kingdom of Bou Regreg as it was named at the time and it was funded by the money brought by the refugees coming from Andalusia. Many of the inhabitants of Rabat at the time worked as pirates attacking the ships coming from Europe.

Rabat afterwards was added to the Sherif's Kingdom in 1666. However, the pricy activities were still carried out by many people until it was totally stopped in the mid 19th century.

In 1912, the French Official Representative in Morocco, Marshal Lyautey, made Rabat the political and administrative capital of Morocco with a population that exceeded a million people at the time.

Rabat Today

Rabat mainly has four areas of interest; the first is located in the Northern section of the city. This is the Oudaya Kasbah which is partly enclosed the ramparts built during the Almohad rulers. These walls are a major touristic attraction visited by travelers who go on Morocco tours.

The Medina, which has the markets of the city, is bounded in the west by the ramparts of the Almohad dynasty and from the South by the Andalusian walls built in the 17th century.

The new modern and busy section of Rabat is the Mohamed V avenue that runs through the city from the North to the South.

In the Northeast section of the city there is the Hassan towering minaret and the marvelous Mausoleum of Mohamed V, that has become a landmark of the city and a major touristic attraction included in any Morocco private tour.

The famous Merinids necropolis of Chella is located in the Southern section of the city with the vestiges of the Roman town of Sala nearby.

The walls of Rabat

The Oudaya Kasbah is separated from the city place du Souk Al Ghezel, and it is surrounded by thick ramparts. These walls are visited by any tourists enjoying their trips in Morocco.

These walls were mainly erected by Almohad kings in the 12th century. They were afterwards restored and renewed in the 17th and the 18th centuries by the Moriscos and the Alaouite dynasties.

Most of the walls built by Almohad rulers facing onto the sea and running inland survived. These walls surround an Andalusian Garden that dates from the period of Mawlai Rachid, the founder of Alaouite dynasty.

The Andalusian emigrants who occupied the Oudaya Kasbah defended Rabat against many attacks from the sea and from the land. They have rebuilt many sections of the walls and constructed the pirates tower.

These emigrants have pierced the walls of Almohad dynasty to add in order to have canons to defend the city. They have also dug a complicated system of underground passageways to enable the people to enter and exit the Kasbah in times of battles.

The walls of Rabat were mainly built out of rough hewn stones that were covered with ocher plaster. The walls were built with many towers and bastions which number increase in the sections facing the sea and the river.

The Walls of Rabat are 8 to 10 meters high on average and 2.5 meters thick. They are surrounded by a rampart walk bordered by a low parapet and most of this section still remained until today.

This strong military structure has defended Rabat against many European invaders and Pirates attacks over a long period of time. Today, a visit to explore the walls of Morocco is added in almost any Morocco travel tour.

Bab Oudaya

Bab Oudaya or the gate of the Oudaya stands on the top of the cliffs that line the Bou Regreg River and it is the main entrance inside the Kasbah Oudaya.
Considered to be one of the finest examples of Almohad architecture, this monumental gate was built out of stones of red ochre. The gate was built and designed by Yaqub Al Mansur in 1195 and it is more of decorative feature rather than a military structure. Al Mansur wanted the walls of the city, and the city itself, to be a splendid example of architecture.

Crowned by a horseshoe arch, the gate is flanked by two towers. The gate was richly decorated carved in relief into the stone starting at the opening of the arch and continuing till the end of the parapet.

Above the arch of the gate, there are marvelous floral decorations.Both sides of the gate are crowned by beautiful calligraphy.

The same as in any other Moorish palaces, the gatehouse of the former Oudaya Kasbah was also a defensive feature and a tribunal. Today, this gatehouse is acting as an exhibition hall. The Oudaya Bab is often admired by Europeans who enjoy their vacations in Morocco.

Souk Al Ghezel

A nice place to start exploring the medina of Rabat is the Souk Al Ghezel. The word Souk Al Ghezel, meaning the market of deer, was named that way because of the market that once stood here.

The Souk Al Ghezel was where Christian prisoners were sold as slaves. Today, the market sells the best Moroccan carpets that are sold in auctions every Thursday morning. Any tourist who is spending a trip in Morocco and would like to buy a wonderful Moroccan carpet is advised to visit the market.

Rue de Hadj Daoi is located just Southwest of the Souk Al Ghezel. Here, the streets are calmer and many structures built by the Moorish can still be viewed
Most of the houses built by the Moorish were small and constructed with a simple design made out of stone rendered with lime washed with plaster.