Tips for visiting the beautiful Oudayas Kasbah and the vibrant Medina
What to see and do in Rabat
Rabat is the least visited of the 4 imperial cities but despite that, it preserves famous historical monuments of great beauty and quality craftsmanship (check our Morocco itinerary to discover more about our adventure). Among the attractions in the city, our favourite is undoubtedly the beautiful Oudayas Kasbah, a fortified town in the north part of Rabat located on a rocky outcrop facing the Bou Regreg river and the rough Atlantic Ocean. The Kasbah is the original citadel of the Almohad, Merinid and subsequent Andalusian towns in Rabat.
Built in the 12th century by the Almoravids and fortified to resist enemy attacks, is one of the country’s unique sites and nowadays has become a quiet residential area that perfectly combines historical sites with modern establishments. It owes its name to the Arab tribe of the Oudayas, who were settled here by Moulay Ismail in 1672 to protect the city from the attacks of the rebel tribes.
Our driver drops us off right in front of the impressive Bab Oudaya gate, indeed one of the most beautiful external Moorish monuments. It was built in 1195 by Almohad Sultan Yacoub al Mansour and believed to be the most beautiful gate in Rabat. The gate is imposing, but it strikes the beauty of its decoration. The essential feature is the arch, composed of three different designs: the basic horseshoe, a check-and-shoulder design and finally a band of geometric ornamentation.
Entering the Kasbah, we immediately notice the Andalusian influence: walls uniformly covered with lime, small white and blue painted houses everywhere, cobbled streets, massive doors to coloured mouldings and wrought iron. The atmosphere is also fantastic: old men sitting outside the blue doors of the houses talking together, women hanging out clothes in the sun and some lonely cat hunting for food.
After getting lost in some narrow alleys, we reach Rue Jamaa where we can find the well preserved El Atiqa Mosque, built in the 12th century and well known to be the oldest Mosque of Rabat. It’s not allowed to enter inside unless you are Muslim, so after taking some pics of this beautiful architectural structure, we go on with our walk until we reach the Plateforme du Sémaphore.
The view from this wide terrace is fantastic, in front of us the Bou Regreg estuary and on the left side, a beach where many guys challenge the rough waves of the Atlantic Ocean. Back in the day, it was a great place to defend the fortress thanks to its high position.
Going back on Rue Jamaa, we wander down the winding street lined with picturesque houses to reach the beautiful terrace of Cafe Maure and sip a tasty mint tea. Suddenly the waiter comes up to us with a trail full of local pastries…Oh yeah! There are the Kab Ghzahl, and we love them! Made with sugar, almond paste, butter and orange flowers are delicious and it’s impossible not to give in!
Anyway the trail is plenty of local delicacies: the cinnamon oranges, the Mlouwza, traditional Moroccan almond cookies, the Lunes biscuits made with sesame, the Chefchezvous made with almond paste and last but not least, the traditional Chebakya biscuits covered with sesame and honey…we are always into local food so…in the end we tasted 5 different sweets…
After this refreshing break, we leave the Kasbah passing through the beautiful Andalusian Gardens, a shady retreat, with a profusion of daturas, oleanders, orange, lemon and banana trees created in the Moorish style by French at the beginning of the twentieth century. Here is also located the Palace Museum with an impressive array of traditional Moroccan artwork, carpets, astronomical instruments, and old items such as a 12th century Koran.
It’s the moment to get lost in the narrow streets of the Medina that stretches opposite the Kasbah. We first walk along Rue des Consuls where we can see the artisans who make copper objects and carpets, ceramics but also shops that sell spices and argan oil. At some point, this street crosses Rue Souk Es Sebat where, turning left, is located a covered market selling leather, jewels and fabrics.
After a quick visit of the covered market, we go on walking on Rue Souika, the main and most vibrant street of the whole Medina. We walk on this bustling street passing by the Grand mosque until we have a seat for lunch in one of the many restaurants that alternate with many shops and stalls.
We are hungry now, and we can’t miss tasting a plate of couscous with beef and vegetables! Satisfied by this delicious local dish, we continue along Rue Souika to reach Bab El Had, an imposing gate built in the 12th century and known as “the entrance gate of the Medina”. A vibrant market, pitched at the foot of the gate, take place here every Sunday, but …it’s Monday…so, after this enjoyable walk, we have to jump in our car and continue the tour towards the Hassan Tower.
Need to Know
1) When to go and how long
All year round but the best seasons are spring and autumn to avoid the intense heat of the summer season. We spent in Rabat around 4 hours on our way from Casablanca to Meknes.
2) How to get there
If you are travelling around on your own, the cheapest way is by bus or train (about 1 hour and a half) from Casablanca. Rabat Airport is 7 kilometres north of the city but is small and mainly served by domestic flights.
If you are travelling around Morocco, the best way is to book a private car with a driver through a local agency to avoid wasting time and do your visits with no rush. In our 2 trips around Morocco, we arranged the vehicle with driver with Tizi trekking and Atlas discovery.
3) Where to sleep and eat
If you decide to have an overnight in Rabat, you’ll find affordable Riad in the Medina (so as many local cheap restaurants); if you need more comfortable accommodations, the best option is the Ville Nouvelle (new Rabat) where you’ll find some modern hotels, built by the French, as well as a large number of excellent restaurants. Click below to see the list of accommodations in Rabat. If you want to know more about Rabat restaurants, check here.
4) Are you looking for the best websites and companies to save money with?
5) Guide book
We recommend the Lonely Planet guide. Check the deals and get yours!