We depart Casablanca, with it’s Alhambra-styled Municipal Building and the Hassan II Mosque, and the souk where I bought some clothes. We drive through a farmer’s market and shop from our car for bananas, apples and round loaves of Moroccan bread that would sustain us on the road. Outside of the city, minarets dot the landscape with regularity, their square shape I would later learn is a regional style.
We arrive in Rabat, founded in the 10th century, now the capital of Morocco, and the second largest metropolis behind Casablanca. We drive along the crenelated wall of the Kasbah of the Oudaias (shown in the header of this page) and find a place to park. The rest of our way is on foot through the covered alleys of the medina, to our lodging for the night.
We walk through an unassuming wooden door and into the Dar El Kariba Riad. The courtyard is three stories tall, topped with a pyramid-shaped glass ceiling and the lobby looks like a royal home. I cannot believe we’re staying in such a place. I admire a tall pair of carved double doors with large brass barrel locks, wondering where the door leads to. Imagine my surprise when I’m handed the keys to those doors, which are to my room …
The bathroom sink is finely painted blue and white porcelain with engraved brass fixtures, sunk in to a simple wrought iron stand. I won’t find a single piece of brass hardware here that isn’t etched or engraved. I collect some of the toiletries to reconstruct my lost kit and investigate the welcome tagine on the table. I really don’t want to leave, but we’ve been promised a remarkable sunset…
We walk to the waterfront, passing old graveyards on both sides of the highway. There’s a lighthouse and a sand and rock beach.
We’re treated to plumes of water sent high into the air as waves crash into the breakwater, while the sun turns the sky from pale blue to tones of Navajo pink and yellow.
Dinner tonight is at the Dar Naji restaurant, where we sample our first classic Moroccan cuisine – a chickpea soup that resembles Turkish chorba, served with a honey bun and a hard boiled egg that you crumble into the chorba. Ten selections of mezze presented on a bed of romaine leaves, bread, tagines, and tea served by a waiter who pours a steady stream from a silver pot, held above his head, into the six glasses on a silver tray, which he rotated with his other hand. Dinner and a show!
The next day we visit the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, the father of Moroccan Independence. Across the plaza is the Hassan Tower and Mosque begun in 1195 but never completed. Mohammed V conducted the first Friday prayers here after Morocco gained its independence in 1956.
If the Hassan mosque had been completed, it would have held 40,000 worshippers, making it the second largest mosque in the world. Shown below at right is a prayer room that may have been part of the original mosque. They were replacing the prayer rugs that day, so the doors were open and rolls of carpet were laying outside. Tempted as I was to walk in, you cannot enter mosques in Morocco unless you are Muslim.
The pebble mosaic walkway (shown at upper right) near the Mohammed V Mausoleum courtyard reminded me of similar stone walkways at both the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, and the Alhambra Fortress in Spain. Upon arriving home, Elena Dent left a comment on my Facebook page, telling me that it’s a common paving style in hot climates. The stones are set on edge, and when water is dumped on them, the crevices hold the water for evaporative cooling.
The Mausoleum of Mohammed V was commissioned by his son, Hassan II. It was built by 400 Moroccan craftsmen from white Italian marble. The dome was made by French glassmakers.
Our next site is the Chellah Necropolis, dating to 1339. The site was destroyed during the 1755 earthquake that destroyed much of Morocco. It’s home to over 70 storks, in the biggest bird nests I have ever seen.
- Originally the Roman Port of Sala, it must have been spectacular, with its gardens and buildings housing bakeries, hammams, artisans and royalty. Chellah became the burial site for the Merinid sultans during the 14th century.
We finish the day roaming around in the Kasbah of the Oadaias in Rabat, a 12th century fortress at the head of the medina, restored during the 17th-18th centuries. I’m still kicking myself for not buying a hat from this street performer and artisan:
I found it curious that the guard tower at the corner of the wall, had its cannons pointed inwards towards the city…
- For additional details including historical notes, travel tips and a few additional photos, please see my original journal at August Phoenix Hats.
Next stop – the Blue City of Chefchaouen…