19 June 2017

Rabat, Morocco 2017

Whereas Casablanca is a bustling, mainly modern-looking city, Morocco's capital RABAT, a short drive from Casa, is a good introduction to some of the country's exotic flavour and its living historical evidence. And that began with late-day checking into a riad ... the traditional guest houses about which I've already written. Dar El Kebira was a revelation behind an unprepossessing door in the medina (old town).
Reception area; photo Mark Charteris

Bathroom sink ceramics: photo Heather Daveno
The bathroom sink shows the care and craftmanship that goes into riad hospitality. The bedrooms and the service were equally impressive. Once tried, a standard hotel can never hold a candle to such cultural immersion. Staying at a riad or dar usually places you within the heartbeat of a Moroccan city's medina and souks.

Heather enjoys sunset in Rabat: photo Doug Baum

Sunset overlooking the Atlantic, just outside the medina walls and over the hill from our riad; so many people out strolling. Burial stones were scattered over the slope, on both sides of the road; we were to see many such sights (cremation is not an option in Islam). As dusk fell we walked around part of the medina walls to find a recommended restaurant.

Harira soup is one of several Moroccan food specialties and the one I found most pleasing. Variations occur regularly this one with a hard boiled egg but all are pleasantly spiced. The appetizers aka mezzes present the most variety in taste, always including the customary assortment of olives. Traditional tagine meals are a work of art, basically a small mountain of meat and vegetables, but rarely seem to have unique spicing. I crave more traces of their preserved lemons and cinnamon, lovely cinnamon. Glasses of mint tea, of course, are de rigueur everywhere.

Next day to the old Kasbah Oudayas, a UNESCO World Heritage site, at the height of the city. Restoration work on the main gate is underway to preserve its 12th century origin. Some families still live here within the kasbah, plying their trades, generally tolerant of tourists as a market for their wares. Pride in their heritage is obvious. The use of the gorgeous blue colour, sometimes called Majorelle blue, has become a tradition, although we will see it at its most prominent in Chefchaouen. The rampart area is magnificent with a view to the maritime setting.

Photo: Heather Daveno

The tomb of Mohamed V, grandfather of current king Abdullah, is always on the tourist route. The vast space of sheared-off columns formerly supported a mosque, destroyed by an earthquake. Only the unfinished minaret tower still stands. Particularly notable are the fabulous decorative lanterns. Lots of colour in the beautiful interior tomb and the ceremonial guards. 
Photo: Doug Baum

Photo: Mark Charteris

More than one earthquake has afflicted Rabat. We visited anciently-inhabited Chellah, once a Phoenician, then a Roman site. Little is left of what they abandoned; later the 14th century Marinid Muslim dynasty rebuilt the complex as a royal necropolis. Ruined buildings after a 1755 earthquake are being restored from that period. It makes a stunning venue for concerts and festivals, contained within the existing surrounding wall. Storks have claimed the site as nesting grounds and add to the other-worldly atmosphere. Descent into the site is through well-maintained gardens, an attraction in themselves.

2nd century Roman Base; photo Doug Baum
Photo Heather Daveno

As I said, a perfect introduction to the mystery and magic of Morocco. A special thank you to my esteemed travel companions for sharing their expert photographs (uncredited photos are mine).

© 2017 Brenda Dougall Merriman

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