History of Rabat
Rabat began as a Phoenician settlement, and was later occupied by the Romans. It was the southernmost urban center of the Roman province, and was self governing. Roman rule was withdrawn in the third century, but Rabat remained a trading center.
In the 10th century a group of orthodox Arabs established a rabat in the city at the Kasbah. A rabat is a religious warrior training community. These warriors fought against the Almoravids. Eventually Youssef Ben Tachfine overcame the Rabati soldiers.
In the 12th century, Rabat was used as a military and naval base by the Almohads. Yaacoub el Mansour made Rabat the capital of his empire. He was responsible for building the Tour Hassan mosque and the city walls, calling Rabat, Rabat el Fath- the Rabat of Victory. When Mansour died his successors didn't continue their work in Rabat, Rabat remained almost completely vacant, and the empire was ruled from Marrakech and Seville.
In the 14th century the Merenid rulers built the Chellah to bury their dead there. However most of Rabat continued to be empty. Leo Africanus, who came to Rabat in 1500, said that there were only about one hundred houses in the city.
In the 17th century, Muslim refugees who had been expelled from Spain were offered the city of Rabat as a place to settle. Because Yacoub el Mansour had built such massive walls around the city, too large an area for the new refugees, the new refugees built a wall dividing the area between into what is now the old medina and the Ville Nouvelle. At this point, the main commercial activity in Rabat was piracy. With the fall of the Saadians in the 17th century, Rabat and Sale pulled together and established the Republic of the Bou Regreg, and was run by the Barbary pirates. This empire remained together until 1818. After the collapse of the empire, pirates still used the ports and were even attacked by Austria in 1829 over pirate activity.
In 1912 the French established a protectorate in Morocco. The French administrator of Morocco, Hubert Lyautey, decided to establish the capital of the protectorate in Rabat. In 1913 the French designed the Ville Nouvelle as an administrative sector of the city.
At Morocco independence, Mohammed V, continued with Rabat as the capital of the kingdom.
The City Today
Rabat has quite a juxtaposition of neighborhoods, from very traditional Moroccan neighborhoods to very Westernized neighborhoods. There is really a little bit of everything.
The important thing for navigating Rabat is to realize it is divided into various neighborhoods that function as cities within themselves. Each neighborhood will have its own grocery stores, restaurants, hardware stores etc. Each neighborhood also has its own feel.
1. The Kasbah of the Oudayas.
2. The Chellah
3. The Hassan Tower and Mosque.
4. The Royal Palace.
5. The Old Medina
6. The Exotic Gardens
7. Archaelogical Museum
1. Beaches- There are a handful of beaches around Rabat. They typically increase in quality and cleanliness just outside the city in Temara, Harhoura, Plage Nationes and Boughraba.
2. Exercise- Fitness gyms are in every neighborhood. You can lift weights, take lessons for judo and full contact fighting, and most offer a separate time for females to work out and do aerobics classes.
3. Parks- There are several parks around the city to relax (or jog) in. Probably the best is the Hilton Park, located next to the Old Hilton in Agdal. It is filled with trees, a few coffee areas, make shift soccer fields and a 1.75 mile jogging loop.
4. Avenue Mohammed V- this is the main drag and on the weekends it is packed with people walking up and down the street, window shopping, chatting and having coffee.
5. Coffee Culture- Moroccans love to drink coffee or tea and chat in cafes. There are coffee shops on practically every street. So if you enjoy the café life, there is plenty available for you.
If you need a touch of Americana, there is a TGI Fridays, MacDonalds, Pizza Hut, Dominos, and several trendy cafes like Berts in Agdal. Wifi is available in many of the cafes. The MegaMall and Label Vie Suisse both have American style food courts with hamburgers, pizza, fried chicken, fajitas etc.
Marrakech, Fez, Rabat by Barnaby Rogerson
Rabat A-Z Guide- Available at Rabat Bookstores, has useful phone numbers and a detailed map of the city.