And so, our last full day in Morocco started…
The day started with the same familiar routine – getting up, eating breakfast and gathering in the bus. This time we were headed to Rabat – the country’s capital. The road took only an hour, just enough time time to wake up properly.
Rabat has a relatively modern history compared to the nearby ancient city of Salé. In 1146, the Almohad ruler Abd al-Mu’min turned Rabat’s ribat into a full-scale fortress to use as a launching point for attacks on Iberia. In 1170, due to its military importance, Rabat acquired the title Ribatu l-Fath, meaning “stronghold of victory,” from which it derives its current name.
Yaqub al-Mansur (known as Moulay Yacoub in Morocco), another Almohad Caliph, moved the capital of his empire to Rabat. He built Rabat’s city walls, the Kasbah of the Udayas and began construction on what would have been the world’s largest mosque. However, Yaqub died and construction stopped. The ruins of the unfinished mosque, along with the Hassan Tower, still stand today.
In the 13th century, much of Rabat’s economic power shifted to Fez. In 1515 a Moorish explorer, El Wassan, reported that Rabat had declined so much that only 100 inhabited houses remained.
Rabat and neighboring Salé united to form the Republic of Bou Regreg in 1627. The republic was run by Barbary pirates who used the two cities as base ports for launching attacks on shipping. The pirates did not have to contend with any central authority until the Alaouite Dynasty united Morocco in 1666. The latter attempted to establish control over the pirates, but failed. European and Muslim authorities continued to attempt to control the pirates over many years, but the Republic of Bou Regreg did not collapse until 1818. Even after the republic’s collapse, pirates continued to use the port of Rabat, which led to the shelling of the city by Austria in 1829 after an Austrian ship had been lost to a pirate attack.
The French invaded Morocco in 1912 and established a protectorate. The French administrator of Morocco, General Hubert Lyautey, decided to relocate the country’s capital from Fez to Rabat. Morocco achieved independence in 1955, Mohammed V, the then King of Morocco, chose to have the capital remain at Rabat.
Our first stop here was the magnificent Royal Palace.
Since the reign of sultan Mohammed ben Abdallah, the Alaouite sultans and kings have maintained a palace in Rabat. The current building was built in 1864, to replace the older palace, by Mohammed IV. The French wanted the sultan to be largely stationed in one place, near their own administrative headquarters, in order to show his acceptance of the new regime.
Although kings had many residences at their disposal, when independence was declared in 1955, they chose to keep the Dâr-al-Makhzen palace as the main palace of the monarch.
Some monarchs, particularly Mohammed V, preferred the smaller and relatively secluded palace of Dar es Salaam, further out of center of the city, maintaining the Dâr-al-Makhzen as their official and administrative residence.
The palace sits at the end of the mechouar, a large parade ground also containing a small mosque. The mechouar is used for large public assemblies, such as the return from exile of Mohammed V in 1955.
As well as living space for the king and the royal family, there is accommodation for the Moroccan Royal Guard. The palace complex also contains the Collège Royal, a school for senior members of the royal family, a cookery school, and a ground floor library built to contain the manuscript collection of Hassan II.
There are extensive gardens and grounds surrounding the palace, the design of which was influenced by French formality, traditional Arabic motifs and local horticulture.
The palace cannot be visited, even more, you can’t go more than 50 m away from the gates.
Next we continued with the history of the royal family and visited the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, a mausoleum located on the opposite side of the Hassan Tower, on the Yacoub al-Mansour esplanade. It contains the tombs of the Moroccan king and his two sons, late King Hassan II and Prince Abdallah. The building is considered a masterpiece of modern Alaouite dynasty architecture, with its white silhouette, topped by a typical green tiled roof, green being the colour of Islam. A reader of the Koran is often present, having his assigned seat. Its construction was completed in 1971. Hassan II was buried there following his death in 1999.
The mausoleum is built on the site of incomplete mosque where also stands the Hassan Tower the minaret of that mosque. Commissioned by Abu Yusuf Yaqub al-Mansur, the third Caliph of the Almohad Caliphate in 1195, the tower was intended to be the largest minaret in the world along with the mosque, also intended to be the world’s largest. When al-Mansur died in 1199, construction on the mosque stopped. The tower reached 44 m , about half of its intended 86 m height. The rest of the mosque was also left incomplete, with only the beginnings of several walls and 348 columns being constructed. The tower, made of red sandstone, along with the remains of the mosque and the modern Mausoleum of Mohammed V, forms an important historical and tourist complex in Rabat.
Jabir ibn Aflah,the designer of the mosque, who was also supposed to have designed Hassan’s sister tower, the Giraldaof Seville in Al Andalus (modern day Spain). Both of the towers were modeled on the minaret based on the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech, but also drew influence from the ancient Egyptian Lighthouse of Alexandria for its height and method of ascendancy, a series of ramps.
The mosque is strategically placed on the high south bank of the Bu Regreg river to provide an imposing spectacle visible for miles around. Since the area surrounding was suburban at the time of construction and lacked the population to regularly fill the mosque, historians have been led to believe that it was built to serve double-duty as both a place of worship and as a fortress.
Instead of stairs, the tower is ascended by ramps, which would have allowed the muezzin to ride a horse to the top to issue the call to prayer. At the center of each of the six floors would have been a vaulted chamber surrounded by the ramps and lit by the horseshoe-shaped windows set into the sides of the tower. Its exterior is decorated with panels of sebka patterning as well as engaged columns and capitals carved from the same sandstone as the tower itself, but retains one marble capital of Andalusi spolia.
Notably, the mosque was given cylindrical stone columns rather than the brick piers more commonly seen in Almohad architecture. These columns were to be formed from drums of differing height, an idea that, while innovative at the time, slowed down construction significantly and contributed to the mosque’s unfinished state.
In addition to being incomplete, the mosque sustained some damage in the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake. This site was granted World Heritage Status in 2012
I was actively looking for a souvenir shop and my last hope was the next site we visited – Kasbah of the Udayas. The significance of this ancient site was recognized by UNESCO, and it added the Kasbah of the Udayas on the World Heritage Tentative List in the year 2006, under their cultural division.
Ibn Hawqal, a geographer, mentioned the first ribat that was built on this site in 977 in his documents. According to his account the structure was able to provide housing for approximately a hundred thousand soldiers. The Almoravids had constructed their own Kasbah in 1140, while fighting off the Almohad who had been trying to invade and take over the ruling power from the Almoravids. The Almohads eventually won the battle and began reconstruction and developments on the Kasbah . They not only reconstructed the Kasbah of the Udayas, but added a mosque and a palace, naming the structure in tribute to al Mahdi Ibn Tumart, who was one of their ancestors.
During the reign of the Almohads, they brought about numerous changes to Rabat. But after Yaqub al-Mansur passed away in 1199, the Kasbah of the Udayas became deserted and fell into disrepair. It was revived as a place of refuge, and known to be a pirate hideout, after many Moriscos were driven out of Spain, leading them to create their own independent residence in the Kasbah in the 17th century.
Visitors to the Kasbah of the Udayas will still be able to view the lower level that was established by the Alawids and the top level that was added by the Almohads. The wall that protects the Kasbah is an intimidating sight, as it is 2.50 meters in width and stands at a height of between eight to ten meters. Some of the ancient cannons are still present in the esplanade.
The view was quite magnificent :
And this was our last site in Rabat, where, finally, I found some souvenirs and was happy again.
Next we had an unexpected surprise – our guide decided to show us a small town that was not in our program, but was almost as beautiful as Chefchaouen. The town is called Asilah and I was really smitten by it’s looks.
The town’s history dates back to 1500 B.C., when Phoenicians occupied a site called Silis, which is being excavated at Dchar Jdid, some 12 km of present Asilah; that place was once considered to be the Roman stronghold Ad Mercuri, but is now accepted to be Zilil. The town of Asilah itself was partly constructed by the Idrisid dynasty, and Cordoban caliph Al-Hakam II rebuilt the town in 966. The Portuguese conquered the city in 1471 and built its fortifications, but it was abandoned it because of an economic debt crisis in 1549. In 1578, Sebastian of Portugal used Asilah as a base for his troops during a planned crusade that resulted in Sebastian’s death, which in turn caused the Portuguese succession crisis of 1580. In 1589 the Moroccans briefly regained control of Asilah, but then lost it to the Spanish.
In 1692, the town was again taken by the Moroccans under the leadership of Moulay Ismail. Asilah served then as a base for pirates in the 19th and 20th centuries, and in 1829, the Austrians punitively bombarded the city due to Moroccan piracy.
From 1912 to 1956, it was part of Spanish Morocco. A major plan to restore the town was undertaken in 1978 by its mayor, Mohamed Benaissa. Benaissa and painter Mohamed Melehi were instrumental in organizing an art festival, the International Cultural Moussem of Asilah, that starting in 1978 began generating tourism income. It is credited with having promoted urban renewal in Asilah, and is one of the most important art festivals in the country. The festival features local artwork and music and continues to attract large numbers of tourists.
Asilah is now a popular seaside resort, with modern holiday apartment complexes on the coast road leading to the town from Tangier. The old neighborhoods are restored and painted white, and the wealthy from Casablanca have their weekend getaways here.
While tourism dominates, Asilah is said to offer a good introduction to Morocco. It hosts annual music and arts festivals, including a mural-painting festival.
Here, most of our group spent their time eating lunch, but we were too busy to wander around this gorgeous streets. Nevertheless, I spotted some really nice places, serving fresh fish.
Really tired we boarded the bus and went on our final trip for the day – to Tangier. I have to mention the lovely beaches I saw from the bus, they were enormous, sandy and clean. The only minus were the huge waves from the ocean and the wind, but the view was beautiful.
Before we reached Tangier we made a stop at the Hercules’ Cave . According to the myth, Hercules slept here on his way to steal three golden apples from the Garden of the Hesperides. Stealing the apples, which were believed to confer immortality, was the 11th of the “12 Labors of Hercules.” According to the ancient writers, the garden was located in nearby Lixus (the current city of Larache at the Atlantic coast).
Another story goes that the cave is the one end of a 24 kilometers tunnel between Morocco and Spain. A popular folktale is that the famous macaque monkeys at the rock of Gibraltar came from Africa this way.
You won’t find Hercules or monkeys within the caves, but they’re worth exploring nonetheless. The complex has two openings. The one that faces the sea resembles the shape of Africa, and is said to have been created by the Phoenicians. The opening that faces land was created by the local Berbers, who cut their stones from the rock.
Then we saw more amazing beaches and reached a viewing point with a sign, showing that this is the meeting point between the Atlantic ocean and the Mediterranean sea.
Then we just drove through Tangier, saw a little of it and arrived in our hotel. It was quite nice, a little old, but comfy and clean. The name is Hotel Golden Tulip Andalucia Golf Tangier.
This was our last night at Morocco, then next day we had another journey in front of us – Gibraltar. So, stay tuned and don’t forget to travel!