having never visited morocco before, i was naturally incredibly excited to be touring the northern coast ‘in style’, but the city that left the biggest impression on me was surprisingly not the fabled casablanca of movie fame, but the coastal capital of rabat.
smaller and calmer than casa, rabat is a quaint and romantic city with elegant tree-lined boulevards and a distinctly european feel. the first place we visited in the city was the stunning yaqub al-mansour esplanade, where the imposing hassan tower dominated the skyline above an promenade of marble pillars, the remnants of a mosque conceived in the 12th century. opposite the ruins stands the mohammed v mausoleum, considered a masterpiece of modern alaouite dynasty architecture, containing the tombs of the moroccan king yaqub al-mansour and his two sons, late king hassan II and prince abdallah.
from there it was a short ride to the gates of the kasbah des oudaias, which occupies the oldest part of the city, and commands powerful views over the river and ocean from its cliff-top perch.
behind the red ochre and orange walls, the andalusian garden offered a haven of peacefulness full of fruit trees, rosebays and cascades of bougainvilleas. the kasbah is predominately residential and the narrow streets are lined with a hodgepodge of blue and whitewashed houses, whose facades reminded me of a summer spent on the greek island on paros; the effect was very tranquil and mediterranean in it’s ambiance. following the cobblestone streets uphill to the beautiful el atiqa mosque, we also happened upon the terrace of café maure with a breathtaking view of rabat and across the harbour to salé; the meeting of bouregreg river and the ocean is simply stunning.
alas, we didn’t have time to stop and soak up the view mint tea in hand (i’ve developed an obsession with sweet moroccan tea and the accompanying saccharine yet moreish pastries), and soon we were on our way delving further and further into the kasbah…
after we emerged from the myriad of narrow streets, we wandered across the road to enter the covered walkways of souk semarra, a traditional moroccan market full of indigenous artisans selling leather goods, paintings, hand-woven rugs and home décor. there were hanging displays of brightly coloured leather slippers, handwoven textiles were piled high and in the centre of the main walkway we even stumbled upon plastic cartons full of (live) tortoises – thankfully these were being sold as pets rather than to be eaten!
everywhere we went our senses were assaulted with the heady aroma of spices and cured meats, mingled with raw hides and tanning treatments, and underneath it all, the sweet aroma of fresh fruits. whilst not as bustling as the egyptian souks i’ve visited in aswan and cairo, i was actually quite thankful for that, as despite our brisk walk through i was able to more closely observe the inner workings of the market trade; from the tourists haggling the prices of leather bags and traditional crockery, to the local women bartering for cuts of meat and small bags of pungent spices. sadly there wasn’t really much time to bargain for goods myself, which was a shame as i’m definitely in the market for a leather holdall and perhaps a few small moroccan rugs for my home, but on reflection there really wouldn’t have been any space in my suitcase to carry them home anyway – oh well!