Morocco’s present capital is Rabat, white, imperial and impressive. Sited on the Atlantic coast, it was little more than a small fort guarding the Bou Regreg River when Marshal Louis Lyautey, first- resident-general during the French Protectorate, established his base there in 1912. It had an imperial past and a long history, however, testified to by the great wall that surrounds the city.
Named after a ribat (an early fort or monastery) it became Ribat al-Fatah or Victory Fortress under Sultan Yacoub al-Mansour following his victories over the Spanish kings of Leon and Castile. Today it is a charming location with a profusion of offices, ministries and embassies, scrupulously clean boulevards, pleasant restaurants and hotels and a positively relaxing atmosphere.
Places to visit include the marble walls and green glazed roofs of the tomb and mausoleum of King Mohammed V, grandfather of the present King, who spent most of his life in the struggle for the nation’s independence, also the Tour Hassan or Hassan Tower that dominates the medina, all that is left of Mansour’s attempt to build one of the biggest mosques in Islam, interrupted by his death in 1199.
Though a showcase of colonial architecture, it still has the dignity of its rust-coloured ancient gates and the picturesque Chella, walled necropolis of the Merinids, with Roman ruins, sparkling pools and the brightest of flowers.
The Kasbah of Oudayas is located in Rabat at the edge of Bou Regreg River opposite Sale la blanche. When the Almohades emipre has captured Rabat they destroyed the Kasbah of Almoravides and start reconstruction in AD 1150 with a new palace and mosque and named it Al Mehdia after their ancestor al-Mehdi Ibn Tumart. After the death of Yaqub Al-Mansur in 1199 AD the kasbah, known as Kasbah des Oudayas become a visitor attraction and a village for art lover.
During the UNESCO meeting held in Saint Petersburg in 2012, the World Heritage Committee has declared the Rabat, the Moroccan capital a UNESCO World Heritage Site by deciding to add it to the cultural treasures of the World Heritage List.
Directly across the Bou Regreg River from Rabat, linked by a modern bridge, is the old white city of SALE, peaceful and rather conservative with its traditional ways, its souks, jewellery and pottery. At first it is hard to realise that this sister city to Rabat was for centuries the scourge of Europe, a wolves lair of piracy, home port of the dreaded Corsairs, the Sallee Rovers.
Though the city established trade alliances with Venice, Genoa, England and the Netherlands, it became in the 16th century the base of the Corsairs who were joined by Christian renegade captains raiding European merchant ships and men-of-war, especially Spanish and Portuguese vessels carrying riches from the Americas.
In their sleek craft powered by sail and tiers of oars they ventured into the Atlantic and mounted raids, robbing and kidnapping as far as the coasts of Iceland and Cornwall, a form of eastern Vikings.
For a short period in the 17th century they became so powerful that the two cities briefly declared the Independent Republic of Bou Regreg which was abandoned after British bombardment in 1611.
The novelist, Daniel Defoe, set his castaway hero, Robinson Crusoe, as a pirate captive in Sale. The city has some exquisite buildings including the Grand Mosque built in the late 12th century and the Abul Hassan Medersa or religious school, completed in 1342.