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Rabat: A city guarding ancient wonders

Rabat is the capital of Morocco and thus home to numerous government buildings and the royal palace. It’s an up and coming, cosmopolitan city filled with ancient wonders and relics of a storied past. Rabat is easily walked, which takes visitors along waterfront promenades, through Roman ruins, and past miles of imposing fortifications. Each marvel leads to an even more astounding site.

The Chellah is a necropolis built on Roman ruins
The Chellah is a necropolis built on Roman ruins
Julia Inslee

First among Rabat’s spectacles is the Chellah. This structure is what remains of a walled fortress and necropolis, which was built atop the ruins of a once flourishing Roman city on the banks of the Bou Regreg River. The dual archeological site takes on a romantic, prehistoric air with the hundreds of black and white storks that have taken up residence high in the ruins of the minaret, stone walls, and surrounding trees; and the clacking of the birds’ beaks saturates the air. The site also offers an impressive view of the river valley, especially in the warm glow of the setting sun.

The Kasbah des Oudaias lies at the far western edge of Rabat, perched on a cliff overlooking the sea where the Bou Regreg River meets the Atlantic. This is the old walled-in city. Behind its formidable gates resides a charming village whitewashed in white and blue, laid out in a maze of cobblestone alleyways. A well-manicured garden and café with a terrace view across the river complete the picturesque scenes behind the ancient walls.

On the way to the Kasbah, a wander down the river promenade is the perfect way to spend a warm, sunny afternoon. Several outdoor cafes line the promenade and offer an abundance of ice cream and crepe concoctions. Blue rowboats dot the waterway and can be seen ferrying residents back and forth across the river between Sale and Rabat.

The Hassan Tower and Mohammed V Mausoleum are two striking monuments that face each other in a perpetual stand-off. The Hassan Tower is an unfinished minaret of what was supposed to be a great mosque. Even in its unfinished state, it manages to lord over its neighbor, a mausoleum that entombs several recent kings. This final resting place is a shining white building finely crafted in Arabic fashion with colorful tile work, ornate chandeliers, and intricately sculpted white marble. Brightly costumed soldiers stand guard at the four entrance ways leading to the tomb, protecting the king and safe guarding one of the many treasures of this Moroccan city.

Rabat is an unexpected treat because it has garnered (unfairly) little tourist hype. It has no expectations to live up to so is a constant surprise, even for the most jaded of travelers.

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