“Rabat is my hometown- it is the city in which I feel at ease and happy.”
In North Africa, living in a capital city means enjoying the magical mixture of modernity and authenticity. Rabat, the capital of Morocco, is a true example of a city where life begins with a rich history, and grows with modernity.
Majestic, discreet, and elegant, the peaceful capital of Rabat is connected to the city of Salé by a bridge. It is the third-largest city in Morocco with a population nearing 2,000,000. It is also a coastal city located in the central-western part of Morocco, around 90 km north of Casablanca. Rabat is the main political and administrative center of the country, and here you can find the royal palace, government buildings, embassies, and headquarters of national and international organizations.
The city has always been an administrative and calm city. In general, people wake up early and go to bed early as well; there is not too much entertainment in the evening. However, there are so many places to visit inside and outside the city. What you will love about the city of Rabat is the fact that it is located in the intersection of all the roads, which makes it accessible by all means of transport. In Rabat, you will find people from all nationalities who either study, work, or live in the capital. There are also people who work in Casablanca, but prefer to live in Rabat.
Between Tradition and Modernity
I was born and brought up in the “traditional” city of Fez, but I currently live in Casablanca, the modern economic capital of the Moroccan Kingdom. To be frank, whenever I visit Rabat, I feel that it is a mixture of these two cities. The area produces the feeling of being in a rich and multicultural city that represents the new aspects of life in today’s Morocco. In the capital, I have always experienced the “spirituality” of Fez, yet the modern metropolitan life of Casablanca.
Rabat is the result of a fruitful dialogue between the Arab-Muslim past and Western modernity. It contains the modernist values of urbanism and architecture like those of the Maghreb and Arab world, while preserving the ancient city and its many historical and patrimonial components. This results in the emergence of an original architectural and decorative style peculiar to contemporary Morocco.
Well preserved, the modern city has been designed rationally by including districts and buildings with well-defined functions, as well as important visual and architectural qualities. The modern city is characterized by the coherence of its public spaces and the implementation of hygienic ideas. Since June 2012, a number of sites in the city of Rabat have been recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as World Heritage sites. The “new city” was built in the beginning of the French protectorate in Morocco, and it includes monuments such as the Kasbah of Oudayas, the Garden of Essais, the Medina, the Almohad ramparts and gates, the sites of Chellah, Hassan mosque, and the Mohammed V mausoleum, which all represent the charm and beauty of a great capital.
Rabat is a city of tradition whose most important festivals and perennial customs are of religious inspiration. The word religion, however, does not mean ostracism or extremism. Instead, I have always felt that it is a matter of expressing joy, solidarity, and the happiness of being together. Traditionally curious, Rabati people love to discover. In the souks in the old medina or even in the modern shops, one feels that the most important thing is not to sell or buy; however, it is to talk around a cup of tea, and exchange laughter and looks.
The most important custom of Rabat is actually the art of welcoming. Whatever the feast may be, the customs, places, arms, and hearts are open to others with naturalness and sincerity. Although the majority of the local inhabitants are Muslims and religious traditions are reflected in all areas of life, people of Rabat are friendly, socially confident, and very interested in the modern aspects of life. They are extremely welcoming and warm; even an ordinary merchant in a shop can offer visitors a cup of aromatic tea or coffee. One should never refuse it because it can be vexing for a warm host. Quite often tourists find that the inhabitants of the city are very curious. For example, they may ask various questions concerning work or social and financial status during a discussion. To all questions it is necessary to answer nicely and not to consider them as a simple curiosity, but instead like the desire to learn a little more interesting information on a new friend.
Something for Everyone
Rabat was founded in 1150 by the great Almohad sultan ‘Abd al-Mu’min, just north of the ancient Roman town of Sala Colonia (Chella). It was only a small town of 25,000 inhabitants in 1912 when Lyautey made it the political and administrative capital of the French protectorate. Today, Rabat has become the largest political and administrative center of the country. In fact, the city houses the Royal Palace, parliament, ministries, and foreign embassies. It is also a rich city with a variety of economic, cultural, sports, and educational activities.
Life is becoming even sweeter and easier to enjoy in Rabat. In just half an hour’s drive, you can find yourself eating grilled sardines on a long white sandy beach. Whether you love the traditional shops situated in the old medina or the modern big shopping centers, there is something here for everyone.
It is a very pleasant and quiet city. In general, the “Rabati” welcomes foreigners very well. As I was told by Mohammed Idrissi Koulali, a 33-year-old bank employee living in Rabat, although the city is becoming more and more expensive, there are still so many activities to do.
“Rabat is my hometown- it is the city in which I feel at ease and happy. I love living in Rabat, and I cannot imagine Morocco without it. Although the cost of living has become a bit more expensive, life in this beautiful city is so special”, he states.
Although the city looks more administrative and political, Mohammed has another vision towards life in the capital. He told me that he spends his weekdays between work, family, friends, and a variety of sport activities including marathons, trails, ultra-trails, and hiking. On the weekends, he often takes part in sport competitions and does some training in the forest, on the beach, or in the beautiful region of Harhoura.
In addition to these activities, the city also provides its inhabitants with a variety of educational and job opportunities. Therefore, you can find a great number of students coming in from Sub-Saharan Africa, gulf countries, and the rest of Morocco. Some of them even decide to start their professional careers and live here forever. Additionally, Rabat provides all types of entertainment: libraries, theaters, music, dancing, surfing, horseback riding, and golf.
The same applies when it comes to food. Whether in traditional or modern restaurants, Moroccan and western dishes are everywhere. The Rabati cuisine consists of very rich and varied dishes- you can taste a Berber couscous, a tajine with olives, a tagine of fish, or even other dishes based on argan oil, olive oil, or amlou. You can also appreciate the local hospitality around a traditional mint tea and Moroccan pastries. Even the weather in this coastal city makes it more attractive for tourists from all over the world. The annual sunshine is greater during the whole day, with an average annual temperature of 17 ° C. In summer, the breeze of the Atlantic Ocean refreshes the city.
Dynamic but Calm
Today, Rabat is experiencing a great dynamism with a vast movement of urban, economic, and socio-cultural development. This dynamism is widely noticed in the spread of the modern aspects of life such as jobs, interests, and activities.
Mohamed Amine Douhaoui, 28 years old and father to a little girl, was born in a neighborhood in Rabat called “Yacob Al Mansour”. He is an ICT engineer working in the banking sector. For him, Rabat is a “dear land, the birthplace, the incubator of childhood and the days of youth. It is the land where I have built up my personality, and now I am building my future”.
Amine told me that Rabat is a city where you can easily adapt and feel settled. With the existence of historical monuments, government institutions, and areas of science, as well as economic and touristic destinations, the city is calm and rich in a unique diversity. It is also an open and accommodating city where you can meet people coming from different regions of Morocco.
“This gives the capital the advantage of coexistence and openness to all the people coming from all parts of the country”.
Amine thinks that young people have an important role in developing Rabat and protecting its historical, cultural, and economic richness. For this reason, he decided to take part in the local elections. He even joined the council of his district and participated in the local management.
“We have hopes as young people to successfully and actively participate in the local management experiences in our country, mainly if we belong to the Capital”.
Now, as Head of the Finance Committee of the Yacoub Al Mansoor District Council in Rabat, Amine works mainly to ensure the respect for the legal standards of all financial transactions. He always engages in direct and virtual communication with the local inhabitants to respond to their daily problems and suggest new ideas that need, as he told me, “something of creativity or research and knowledge”.
A day in Rabat is full of professional and social engagements. As an employee in the private sector, Amine works for eight hours a day, then spends the rest between political meetings and community service. In addition, he always prefers to use a bike rather than a car because it is healthier and more practical in helping him manage and supervise all the projects run by the district council. On the weekend, although sometimes there are political and cultural meetings, Amine always tries to allocate some time for hanging out with his small family, eating out, and visiting the leisure centers inside or nearby the capital.
For our young father, so many cultural traditions are now being limited to special religious and family occasions.
“Moroccan culture and traditions are rich and diverse. We are in the capital, so it is a mixture of traditions and customs. We try to stick to our traditions mainly during Fridays, feasts, and the month of Ramadan”.
A Land of Opportunities
Although it is not the economic capital of the kingdom, Rabat is a city of opportunities for young Moroccans and international students. It is an hour’s drive from Casablanca, the economic centre of Morocco, which means that people can live in Rabat, yet work in Casablanca. Additionally, the city provides a variety of job opportunities due to its political, administrative, and diplomatic level. Therefore, the city has become a destination for young graduates looking for social and financial stability.
One of these young residents who has decided to live in Rabat is Abdellatif Amrani Zerifi, a TV cameraman and a student at the Faculty of Law in Salé. He is also married and father of two children.
Since Rabat is located in the center of Morocco administratively, geographically, and politically, he describes the capital as a beautiful city and a suitable town for social stability.
“There is an important socio-economic stability here, mainly thanks to the job opportunities that the capital can provide”.
According to Abdellatif, the daily life in the capital is characterized by a rapid rhythm, but with daily routines and a high standard of living, especially compared to Fez- the city from where he came. However, what is important about the capital is that job opportunities are everywhere, and the level of awareness and education is higher when compared to other cities. For Abdellatif, Rabat provides enough opportunities for him as a journalist to do his job, much better than in other cities. This is a result of the “political decision-making” in the capital and its availability of information sources.
“I have to move from one place to another for press coverage. This creates another problem related to time pressure in order to deliver the news item in a timely manner. In my daily life, It’s hard to keep a regular schedule”.
Abdellatif often tries to find time to get rid of stress and pressure related to work. To do so, he enjoys visiting green spaces to entertain his children and feel at ease. Situated near Rabat, Mamora Forest is the perfect destination for Abdellaif and his small family to find peace, quiet, and seclusion from the bustling world outside. It is also the place where he enjoys cooking “tajine”, his favorite Moroccan dish.
Some Like It, Some Don’t
Rabat is a welcoming city and a land of opportunities where you can find jobs and attend different cultural, educational, and political activities. However, there are some people who don’t like living in the capital. Some of them are even forced, which is the case of Yassir Elkhalfi, a Moroccan journalist. Although he is based in Rabat, he is originally from Agadir.
“Rabat is a city that has been imposed on me due to the absence of job opportunities in the press sector in the city where I am from. I simply consider it just a transit city or a temporary station for work. It is not a choice, but rather an obligatory decision that I had to take. By moving to a city that imposes certain aspects of living different from the ones in the south or north of Morocco, I hope I will not stay here for long”, he expresses.
Even though Yassir has this negative feeling, he is living in Rabat and trying to adapt to the rhythm of life inside a capital city. He spends the whole week between home, workplace, and the café. He explains that on Sunday, the only day off, he prefers to visit the Oudaya or walk along the beach.
Rabat, like other capitals, suffers from different problems such as the great number of graduates competing for a single job. The cost-of-living has also become higher in comparison with other cities, which can cost you an arm and a leg for a small apartment in a decent street in the city. Additionally, even if diversity is a good thing, the amount of people living in the capital can be a bit overwhelming. The existence of heavy traffic has become a nightmare as well, mainly in the city center where ministries, embassies, and local and international organizations are found.
Generally, the Moroccan capital is on the way to regain its cultural identity, which has long been shrouded in its administrative and political character by an ambitious development project launched in 2014, “Rabat, the city of lights, Morocco’s cultural capital”. The project is expected to be completed in 2018.
The old medina, the sunset next to the ocean, the garden of Essays, Dar es Salam golf and palace, the Villa des Arts, the marina of Bouregreg. the beaches from Harhoura to Skhirat, the Mega Mall, the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art- these sites, in addition to others, have made the city proud of itself, mainly while welcoming tourists, students, and expatriates coming from all over the world.