What to visit in Rabat and Salé?
Rabat is the political and administrative capital of the Kingdom of Morocco. With a population of around 1.7 million, it is located on the southern shore of the Bou Regreg estuary, which separates Rabat from Salé.
It was originally a Carthaginian and then Roman settlement, and is named after Ribat al-Fatah, a fortress founded in 1150 by the Almohad regent Abd al-Mu'min, who used the Kasbah (or fortress) in the area to fight the Christian kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula.
During his reign, what was once a military camp gradually developed into a small town known as al-Mahdiya, with its mosque and royal residence. And in 1170, given its military importance, Rabat acquired the title of Ribat al-Fath, meaning 'bastion of victory', from which it takes its present name.
Rabat is the second most important city in the country after Casablanca - the largest and most economically significant. But it is still an enclave where ancient history and tradition merge with the drive to become a dynamic, cutting-edge, modern city.
Berber, Andalusian, French... The dual essence of Rabat and Salé is perfectly manifested, so close and yet so different from each other. While Rabat is more cosmopolitan and open, Salé is a residential area, more traditional and ancient.
Rabat offers the possibility of getting to know at first hand the attractive historical, cultural, and religious mix that has been developing for hundreds of years in this corner of the Maghreb. With an enviable heritage that is irresistible to any traveller, it is a must-see for anyone visiting Morocco. For example, the Kasbah - the citadel or fortress - of the Oudayas, named after the tribe that occupied it in the early 19th century, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built in the 12th century, it is one of the city's main attractions, and inside you should visit the café, the garden, and the Museum of Moroccan Arts.
The medina is another point of interest in the city. Surrounded by walls built by the Andalusians expelled from Spain, it is an enchanting tangle of narrow streets lined with whitewashed houses tinged with blue. Highlights include the El Atiqa Mosque, the oldest mosque in Rabat, and the Corsairs' Tower, a reminder of the city's pirate past. The Almohad ramparts are very striking, and five of the old gates have been preserved. The remains of the Hassan Tower - the minaret of the mosque of the same name - the necropolis of Chellah Sellah, the Mausoleum of Mohammed V and the Mausoleum of Mohammed V are also remarkable.
Salé, on the right bank of the Bou Regreg River, functions as a dormitory town for Rabat. It is a more chaotic city due to the intense rural exodus it has experienced over the years, but that does not mean it does not have some interesting places to visit. The Medina, for example, is one of the most authentic in the country, with its ramparts, seven gates and intricate maze of labyrinthine streets. Here you can visit the souks, such as the Ghezel souk (for textiles), the Merzouk (for jewellery and mats) and the Kebir (selling general products).
Possibly the finest monument in the city is the 14th-century Merini Madrasa, with its beautifully decorated doors and spectacular courtyard. Next to it is the great Almohad mosque, although it is not open to non-Muslims. Also highly recommended is the potters' village of Oujla, outside the city and next to the river, full of workshops with a wealth of experience working the clayey soil of the area.