Rabat’s Kasbah district is one of the city’s top sightseeing draws. Inside the 11th-century fortress walls is a small neighborhood of winding lanes rimmed by Andalusian-style houses. This is a prime area for a meandering stroll, with plenty of photo opportunities within the narrow blue-and-white lanes.
At the Kasbah’s southern end, you’ll find the tranquil Andalusian Gardens, while at the district’s northern tip is a platform offering panoramic views over both the Atlantic Ocean to the west and Salé to the north.
The most impressive gateway into the Kasbah is the 12th-century Bab Oudaia in the southern wall. From Bab Oudaia, the main road of Rue el Jamma leads to the Kasbah Mosque, which is the oldest mosque in Rabat.
Built by the Almohads, the unfinished Hassan Tower (Le Tour Hassan) was the work of ruler Yacoub al-Mansour and would have been the minaret for his grand vision of a massive mosque on this site that was planned to be one of the largest in the world.
Upon his death in 1150, construction was abandoned, and this 45-meter-high tower is all that remains of his original ambitious plan.
Intricately carved motifs and designs cover the tower’s facade, pointing to the sumptuousness of what al-Mansour had in mind.
The Hassan Tower, and the neighboring Mausoleum of Mohammed V both sit inside the manicured gardens of Jardin Tour Hassan.
THE MAUSOLEUM OF KING MOHAMMED V
The glittering Mausoleum of King Mohammed V was built on the very place where, upon his return from exile in Madagascar, he gathered thousands of Moroccans together to thank God for giving independence to their country.
As well as the tomb of Mohammed V, his son King Hassan II is also buried here.
The opulent tomb chamber is a showcase of Moroccan traditional design, resplendently decorated, with zellige tilework covering the walls around the grand marble tomb.
Non-Muslims cannot enter the adjoining mosque but are able to view the mausoleum’s tomb chamber from a terrace above, as long as they are dressed respectfully (shoulders and knees covered).
The remnants of the 14th-century Merenid citadel-town of Chellah are an atmospheric place.
The walled ruins are positioned on an older Roman town called Sala, which archaeologists uncovered evidence of in the 1930s. Today, parts of both these settlements can be seen.
Chellah thrived as a Merenid citadel in the early 14th century. The crumbled ruins of mosques and mausoleums they built here are now covered with rambling brambles, providing nesting sites for storks. The excavated Roman part of the site includes a forum, bath, and temple.
For a good overview of the entire Chellah ruins, an overlooking terrace provides excellent views across the site.
Rabat’s rambling medina area has a distinctly Andalusian style to its buildings, as most of the architecture here dates from the 17th century, when Muslims from Spain’s Andalusia region arrived. This makes it very different to the medinas of Fes and Marrakesh.
In particular, while strolling here, look out for the Grand Mosque on Rue Souka, built by the Merenids in the 14th century. Nearby is a Merenid-built fountain.
The Mellah (Jewish Quarter) is in the medina’s southeast corner.
If you’re looking for bargains and local craftwork, the two best shopping streets are Souq es Sebbat and Rue Souka.
The Kasbah district sits just off the medina’s northeast corner, so it’s easy to combine visits to both in one morning or afternoon.
RABAT VILLE NOUVELLE
Rabat’s Ville Nouvelle (New City) is home to the Archaeological Museum and also the surprisingly interesting Postal Museum (on Avenue Mohammed V), which brings together a superb collection of Moroccan stamps, telephones, and telegraph machines.
The streets of the Ville Nouvelle host a wealth of French colonial architecture and are a pleasant place for a stroll.
Right on the district’s edge, Avenue Hassan II follows the 17th-century defensive wall separating the modern city from the medina.
To the south of the Ville Nouvelle is Rabat’s Royal Palace, constructed in 1864 and fenced off from its surroundings with a grand wall. The complex is not open to the public as the current king still uses the palace as his residence.
You can get good photographs of the palace exterior from the nearby Sunna Mosque.
For a slice of lush nature, take a trip out to Jardins Exotiques, about 13 kilometers north of Rabat.
This vast series of gardens, shaded by tall palms, was the work of French horticulturist Marcel Francois, who brought plant species from sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and South America here to create a showcase of exotic nature.
A series of walkways, scattered with ornamental bridges, water features, and follies, wind through the gardens, which today have a shaggy, overgrown ambience that adds to the charm.
It’s hugely popular on weekends with local families, so for a quieter experience head here on a weekday.
THE CITY OF LIGHT, MOROCCAN CAPITAL OF CULTURE…
MOHAMMED V THEATRE
The biggest place for theatre is the Mohammed V Theatre in the centre of the town, which was opened in 1962. Construction on a new performing arts center, the Grand Theatre of Rabat, began in 2014. Designed by architect Zaha Hadid, it will reportedly be the largest theater in the Arab world and in Africa. It is scheduled to open in 2022.
Many organizations are active in cultural and social issues. Orient-Occident Foundation and ONA Foundation are the biggest of these. An independent art scene is active in the city. L’appartement 22, which is the first independent space for visual arts created by Abdellah Karroum, opened in 2002 and introduced international and local artists. Other independent spaces opened few years after, such as Le Cube, also set up in a private space.
Mawazine is a music festival in Rabat organized under the auspices of King Mohammed VI of Morocco, that started in 2001 where music groups, fans and spectators come together in a week-long celebration of culture and music both locally and internationally. Musicians such as Scorpions, Rihanna, Elton John, Stromae and many others have performed at the festival. Mawazine was host to more than 2,500,000 in 2013. Workshops are available for teaching dances and other arts. The festival is free. However, while most areas are free, there are those that require payment, specifically the smaller stages being the historical site of Chellah, the Mohammed V National Theater, and the Renaissance Cultural Center.
PLACES OF WORSHIP
The places of worship are predominantly Muslim mosques. The oldest mosque in the city is the “Old Mosque” (Jama’ al-‘Atiqa) in the Kasbah of the Udayas. It was originally founded during Abd al-Mu’min’s construction of the kasbah in 1150, though its current form mostly dates from an 18th-century restoration. Other important mosques include the Great Mosque in the old medina, also known as the el-Kharrazin Mosque, and the As-Sunna Mosque in central Rabat, originally completed in 1785 by Sultan Muhammad ibn Abdallah.
The last remaining synagogues in Rabat are the Rabbi Shalom Zawi Synagogue and the Talmud Torah Synagogue. There are also Christian churches and temples, including an Evangelical church and St. Peter’s Cathedral (Cathédral de Saint-Pierre), which hosts the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Rabat.
MUSEUMS / ART GALLERIES
In 2014, the Mohammed VI Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art opened its doors with an inaugural exhibition which will be a landmark: “1914-2014, one hundred creation”.
He established Rabat as the epicenter of the Moroccan plastic scene. A fair return of things for this city which, before Casablanca, saw the birth of the country’s first modern art galleries. In 1957, the gallery L’œil Noir and La Découverte opened, two ephemeral spaces founded by artists, soon followed by L’atelier which, from 1972 to 1992, will exhibit all the pioneers of modern Moroccan art among which Jilali Gharbaoui, Ahmed Cherkaoui, Mohamed Melihi, Mohamed Chebaa, Farid Belkahia or Chaïbia.
MOHAMMED VI MUSEUM OF MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY ART
After a memorable inaugural exhibition in 2014, which brought together all the big names of the Moroccan pictorial scene, the MMVI alternates individual exhibitions of the greatest figures of world art, such as Picasso or Modigliani, and the big names of the scene Moroccan, emblematic figures of the beginnings of modern art in our country, young creation or foreign artists working in Morocco. This program, as well as the actions carried out in favor of students and college students, attests to the will of this institution to disseminate the Moroccan artistic heritage while encouraging creativity and cultural development.
A MULTITUDE OF GALLERIES AND EXHIBITION VENUES
Rabat has several very active private galleries such as Marsam (also publisher), Galerie Nadira La Découverte, Abla Ababou Galerie, or Fan Dok to name just a few, not to mention the galleries of foreign institutes. Private foundations are also very active, thanks to places such as the CDG Foundation’s Art Space; the Villa des Arts in Rabat, supported by the ONA Foundation or the Bank Al-Maghrib Museum which exhibits, alongside its Royal Air Maroc magazine Sol 0.5 Loji bobo collection of coins, it’s a very rich collection of modern and contemporary art, all by organizing several temporary exhibitions each year. The capital can also be proud of its rooms managed by the Ministry of Culture, including Bab Rouah and Bab El Kebir.
VIRTUAL MUSEUM OF THE VILLA DES ARTS IN RABAT
This old and beautiful villa from the 20th century has been converted into a large contemporary art exhibition space that regularly hosts temporary exhibitions. It also integrates the first Moroccan virtual museum which is associated with the Museums Without Borders organization, to offer art lovers the first virtual museum on Islamic art.
L’APARTMENT 22: IN RABAT AND ON THE AIR
Founded in 2002 by Abdellah Karroum, also director of Mathaf (the Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha, Qatar). Apartment 22 is an independent exhibition and debate space that questions both the history of art and the social, political, and cultural context of its emergence. It accompanied the birth of an unprecedented wave of young artists and researchers and its role as a “micro-academy was further strengthened following the launch of R22, the first web radio for art. Open by appointment
THE MUSEUM OF HISTORY AND CIVILIZATIONS
Renovated by the National Museum Foundation, the former Archaeological Museum reopened in April 2017 as a Museum of History and Civilizations. The scenography is up to the quality of the pieces, presented in chronological order Prehistoric tools, Neolithic furniture, bronze or ceramic statuettes of the first cities of the time of the first cities of the Islamic era allow both adults and children to better perceive the long history of Morocco. Note the exceptional collection of bronze including the bust of Juba II, the crowned ephebe, or the old fisherman. They alone are worth a visit.
THE BANK AL MAGHREB MUSEUM
In the historical branch of the Banque du Maroc, three sections await you: the history of currency, art gallery, and business area (dedicated to the history of the Banque du Maroc). Both are served by an impressive scenography which gives pride of place to didactic explanations. Coins and banknotes serve as a common thread for a very complete vision of the history of the Kingdom. There are coins dating from the reign of Juba II and a superb Almohad coin of 10 dirhams. Fans of works of art are not left out with a collection that brings together all the major Moroccan painters. Temporary exhibitions are also scheduled, including the exciting and original Arabic Calligraphy, between artistic gestures and monetary textuality .
The first technical museum in Morocco, it invites visitors to take a fascinating journey through the history of telecommunications in Morocco, from rekkas and jari (messengers) as well as the aerial telegraph (early 20th century) to mobile phones, in going through telegraphs, early telephones or telex. Among the many pearls of this museum: the phototelegram, used to transmit, in 1955, the photo of the late King Mohammed V; old switches in perfect working order (to test yourself) or a life-size reproduction of a scene Andalusian music recording. Ideal for a family visit
THE NATIONAL RESISTANCE MUSEUM OF RABAT
The four floors of this building bring together some 2,154 pieces and historical documents relating to the major events of the struggle for independence. They retrace the process of decolonization from its beginnings, through the National Movement of Armed Resistance, the formation of the Liberation Army in the north and south of the Kingdom, and finally the advent of Independence in 1956.
THE NATIONAL LIBRARY OF THE KINGDOM OF MOROCCO (BNRM)
library and cultural center Its 28-meter-high white tower, reminiscent of the Hassan Tower, also resonates as a call to discover this magnificent place entirely dedicated to culture and memory. The (BNRM) houses more than 340,000 works, including 60,000 manuscripts and rare books that benefit from optimal conditions for their preservation. Open to the public, the media library is very popular with students, researchers, and curious minds who can consult books, magazines, and newspapers in a studious and peaceful atmosphere. All along the year, the BNRM also rolls out a program full of events, which make its exhibition space and its performance hall vibrant places.