Rabat: the royal road
The Moroccan capital is a pleasant city in which to stay, cultivating with modernity its Arab-Andalusian past along with an adventurous spirit. A pirate city of long ago, all that remains from that period are anecdotes, but they participate in the myths and legends of its royal elegance.
For a long time, Rabat was seen only as the administrative and political capital of Morocco. The large international companies had—and still have—their headquarters along its tree-lined boulevards. ‘Rabat has remained the refuge of courtesy, of measure, of elegant ways and noble gestures… all that graced us in the 18th century', said Marshal Lyautey in 1919, and that has not changed.
There is a real sweetness to life in Rabat that its Mediterranean climate, tempered by the Atlantic Ocean, highlights. This peaceful atmosphere, of which in the past virtually only expatriates took advantage, has gradually acquired real notoriety. It has become trendy, fashionable, and a weekend retreat, if only to play golf: the Royal Golf Dar Es Salam is the most prestigious course in all of Morocco.
Though the old part of Rabat is Arab-Andalusian, the more ‘contemporary' part is modernist. It was built under the protectorate in the 1920s and 1930s by French architects of the Le Corbusier movement, with straight streets and avenues, no frills facades, gardens and parks. Rabat is an incredibly green city, the only one where we feel the salt spray under the palm trees. It is also very gourmet. You will taste the best pastillas and the most delicious gazelle horn pastries in the world, especially at Maymana on Avenue Mohammed VI.
But Rabat is also a fantastic panoply of adventures. It dates back to when the Moors made a garrison of its fortress and to when the pirates who attacked the slave ships set up their rear base.
Who today would think that Rabat was, indeed, once a pirate city before being the royal capital? Its embassies are now ‘legendary offices', and its administrative functions tend to give it a somewhat staid air. But this quiet facade conceals an emerging hipster chic that combines well with its elegant architecture, and colourful past. Perhaps it does fit its nickname of being the ‘Arab Washington'.
It is in any case here in its splendid mausoleum that her kings chose to make their eternal home.