Built on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean on the left bank of the Bou Regreg Estuary, Rabat is the capital of Morocco. It stands opposite Salé with which its history is closely linked. A city of trees and parks and one of Morocco’s four imperial cities, Rabat has a mix of Arab and European architecture and culture.
The origins of the city date back to the seventh century. A Mauritanian trading post once stood in the southeast of the city. The area was first colonized by the Carthaginians, then by the Romans and in the tenth century, by the Berbers who were Muslims. Rabat was founded by the first Almohad ruler in the twelfth century as a garrison to fight the Spanish. The fort was later developed by Yacoub El Mansour who named the site Ribat E Fath meaning ‘Victory Fortress’. From 1579–1603 a period of stability allowed the building of Rabat’s fortified wall within which the modern city has developed. In 1609 Philip II of Spain expelled the Andalucian Moors from his Kingdom and many settled in Rabat and other parts of Morocco. The seventeenth century saw the rise of the ‘Alawi Dynasty, in particular under the reign of Moulay Rachid who finished the building of the Casbah and the port in Rabat around 1666–69. In 1912 Rabat became the capital of the region that was now a French protectorate. The building of a new city was ordered under General Lyautey. Independence for Morocco was achieved in 1956 with Rabat remaining the nation’s capital. In 1957 Morocco became a kingdom with the Sultan taking the title Mohammed V.
With the silting up of the river, the port has lost importance but the city has a textile industry and manufactures building materials. Food, fish and fruit processing, handicrafts and tourism are also important. The Mohammed V International Airport is 30 km south of Casablanca which lies 92 km southwest of Rabat by road. A royal palace was built in the 1950s and the Mohammed V University in 1957. The railway station is in the centre of the modern city. Most of the administrative buildings and institutes including the National Conservatory of Music, Dance and Dramatic Arts are located on the southern outskirts.
Places of Interest
The most famous site is the Hassan Tower, the incomplete minaret of the great mosque begun by Yacoub El Mansour in the twelfth century. Behind its marble columns lies the Mohammed V Mausoleum. The Museum of the Oudayas, or Museum of Moroccan Arts, is situated in an opulent seventeenth century lodge built by Moulay Ismail and has collections of Moroccan carpets, musical instruments, jewellery in gold and silver with precious stones and pearls, and pottery from Rabat and Salé. The Archaeological Museum has bronzes dating from pre-Roman civilisations. The Postal Museum, founded in 1970, includes Morocco’s first official stamp dated 12 May 1912. The Mohammed VI Modern and Contemporary Art Museum opened in 2014. It is Morocco’s first major museum to be built since gaining independence from France in 1956.