Rabat is the capital city of Morocco and the country’s seventh largest city with an urban population of approximately 580,000 (2014) and a metropolitan population of over 1.2 million. It is also the capital city of the Rabat-Salé-Kénitra administrative region. Rabat is located on the Atlantic Ocean at the mouth of the river Bou Regreg, opposite Salé, the city’s main commuter town.
Rabat was founded in the 12th century by Almohads. The city steadily grew but went into an extended period of decline following the collapse of the Almohads. In the 17th century Rabat became a haven for Barbary pirates. The French established a protectorate over Morocco in 1912 and made Rabat its administrative center. Morocco achieved independence in 1955 and Rabat became its capital.
Rabat, Temara, and Salé form a conurbation of over 1.8 million people. Silt-related problems have diminished Rabat’s role as a port; however, Rabat, and Salé still maintain important textile, food processing and construction industries. In addition, tourism and the presence of all foreign embassies in Morocco serve to make Rabat one of the most important cities in the country. The Moroccan capital was ranked at second place by CNN in its “Top Travel Destinations of 2013”. It is one of four Imperial cities of Morocco, and the medina of Rabat is listed as a World Heritage Site.
The Kasbah of the Udayas (also spelled “Kasbah of the Oudaias”) is the oldest part of the present-day city, built by the Almohads in the 12th century. It was later refortified and expanded by the corsairs and the ‘Alawi dynasty in the 17th and 18th centuries. The kasbah is now a residential district with traditional houses painted white and blue on the outside. Its southern section includes the “Andalusian Garden”, landscaped in the 20th century.
The city’s historic walls were first built by the Almohad caliph Ya’qub al-Mansur and completed in 1197, with later additions in the 17th and 19th centuries. A number of monumental gates are found along the walls, the most notable being Bab er-Rouah. The other Almohad-era gates are Bab el-Had, Bab al-Alou, Bab Zaers, and Bab al-Hadid, though many of them were modified in more recent periods.
The old medina, located below the kasbah and above the line of the Andalusian Wall, contains many historic mosques and traditional houses. The rest of the area within the Almohad walls but south of the Andalusian Wall was largely built up in the 20th century when Rabat became the capital during the French Protectorate. These districts contain numerous public buildings and apartment blocs built in contemporary styles of that period, such as neo-Moorish (known as néo-Mauresque or arabisant in French), Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and modern architecture. Examples of these include the Bank al-Maghrib building (built in the 1920s), the Central Post Office building (circa 1921, expanded in 1930s), the Parliament building (built in the 1920s), St.-Peter’s Cathedral (inaugurated in 1921, with later additions), the Rabat-Ville train station (early 1920s), and some of the apartment blocs on Rue Gaza (built or begun in the 1930s), among others.
Overlooking the shores of the river is the Hassan Tower, a monumental unfinished minaret constructed by Ya’qub al-Mansur in the late 12th century. It was built for an enormous mosque planned as part of the larger city al-Mansur was constructing. Across from the tower today, at the southern end of the mosque’s remains, is the Mausoleum of Mohammed V (d. 1961), which houses the remains of King Mohammed V and King Hassan II. The mausoleum, completed in 1971, was designed in a neo-Moorish or Moroccan revivalist style by Vietnamese architect Cong Vo Toan.
A short distance south of the historic city walls is the archeological site of Chellah, a walled enclosure containing a 13th to 14th-century Marinid funerary and religious complex as well as the ruins of the Roman city of Sala Colonia. Across the river is the city of Salé, which also preserves a historic medina. The medina of Salé includes monuments from the Marinid period such as Bab Mrissa and the Madrasa of Abu al-Hasan as well as landmarks from later periods.