Morocco’s Imperial Cities: Rabat

Founded in the 12th century by the Almohad caliph Yaqub al-Mansur, Rabat was designated in the 18th century as one of Morocco’s four Imperial Cities by the Alaouite sultan Muhammad ibn Abdallah. The other three imperial cities are Meknés, Marrakech and Fez. Today, Rabat is Morocco’s second largest city, serves as the country’s capital and hosts all foreign embassies. Located at the mouth of the Bou Regreg River on the Atlantic Ocean, Rabat has merged with neighboring Temara and Salé to form a conurbation which is home to more than 1.8 million people. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Rabat presents an interesting blend of old and new, and visitors will find a busy, modern city with several historical and cultural attractions to explore.

Due to its strategic position, Rabat has changed hands many times during its history, with each subsequent invader having an impact on the city’s culture. Although Rabat existed as a fortress used by Almohad ruler Abd-al-Mu’min in 1146 to launch attacks on Iberia, it was Almohad caliph Yaqub al-Mansur who built the city’s magnificent protective walls and the spectacular Kasbah of the Udayas, which remain to this day. He also started construction of a mosque which was intended to be the largest in the world. However, the Almohad caliph died before it was completed and the project was abandoned. Visitors to Rabat can see the ruins of the unfinished mosque, along with the incomplete minaret known as the Hassan Tower. Constructed from red sandstone, the tower stands at 44 meters high, about half the height originally planned. Together with the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, Hasan Tower and the incomplete mosque are must-see attractions when exploring the city.

Nature-lovers will enjoy a visit to the Exotic Gardens of Rabat-Salé. A network of pathways wind their way through palm trees, lotus flowers and other flora, past streams, waterfalls and fountains, and over rope bridges. Routes are marked with colored signs and there are seats along the way where visitors can rest and enjoy the tranquility. The gardens also feature a building housing a variety of reptiles and spiders.

Other places of interest in the Imperial City of Rabat include the main Royal residence Dâr-al-Makhzen, Rabat Hassan, Avenue Mohammed V, Pietri Square, the Rabat Medina and the Bouregreg Marina.