Meknes to Rabat

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February 12th 2019
Published: February 13th 2019
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We enjoy the best breakfast of the holiday in the riad. Freshly cooked, piping hot pancakes, a perfect omelette, bread, yogurt, fresh fruit and even a bowl of tiny strawberries, halved and macerated in a little sugar. Madame who is in charge is French, so that is probably why. Thus refreshed we set off to visit the Bou Inania Medersa (what they call a madrassa in Morocco). Despite being listed as opening at 9.00, it’s closed when we arrive. The cleaning lady tells us it opens at 10.00 so we decide to walk back to the main square, confident we now know the route. However, the souks are entirely different this early. None of the shops have opened, so instead of navigating our way down incredibly narrow passages between the shops selling young men’s fashion, and navigating via landmarks such as ‘the one in the fake Canada Goose jacket’ or ‘the one in head to toe Moncler' we’re faced with a series of identical closed wooden doors. We nonetheless manage to find our way round for a short stroll till the medersa opens. It has a courtyard with beautiful tiling and carved stucco, through which is a second courtyard used for ablutions. This latter is much plainer, wuth crumbling plaster walls, but made beautiful by the light shining in from simple stained glass windows high up in the walls. We clamber up to the rooftop, but the view is disappointing. We can see the minaret of the mosque, but it’s somewhat obscured by the satellite dishes and lines of washing that adorn every residential rooftop.

Aziz picks us up and we haul our luggage back out of the medina. We stop to visit the Dar el-Ma and Heri es-Souani, both grand projects built by Moulay Ismail. The Dar el-Ma is the water house, with 15 barrel valuted rooms each of which originally contained a water wheel, worked by horses to scoop water out from an underground source. There’s only one wheel remaining now. Through the water house we pass into the ruins of the Heri es-Souani, once a massive building with 29 aisles built to store grain. All that’s left now are rows of arched walls, with no roof. It’s impressive and peaceful. We leave and walk round the reservoir to rejoin Aziz and Hassan to set off for Rabat. Rabat is just a couple of hours drive away by motorway. As we approach the city, we pass the king’s palace. He has two in Rabat, but this is the one he grew up in. It is well protected, with 3 guards every hundred yards or so. They are all in different uniforms. Apparently he has three different wings of the army and police on guard to reduce the risk of a coup by any one faction.

We stop to visit the Chellah necropolis, just outside the city walls, which proves an unexpected delight. It is surrounded by huge sandstone walls built in the 14th century and recently renovated. Inside are the ruins of Sala Colonia, once an important Roman city and the remains of the necropolis of Abou el-Hassan, the last Merinid ruler. There’s also a small botanical garden. It is a peaceful haven away from the noise of the city centre – and yet not altogether peaceful. There are 75 pairs of nesting white storks in and near the Chellah. Their huge nests are perched atop every building and the make a loud clacking sound, as they repeatedly open and close their beaks to communicate with each other.

We continue into the city, driving past yet another royal palace to get to the Hassan Tower. This is the incomplete minaret of what was planned to be the world’s largest mosque, before building stalled in 1199. Further damage was inflicted by the 1755 earthquake and all that now remains is the partial tower and a huge open space covered with the bases of columns. Opposite is a much smaller functioning mosque, next door to the Mausoleum of Mohammed V. This is an ornate white building designed by a Vietnamese architect and built following his death in 1961. His son King Hassan II has a small tomb in the corner.

We then proceed to the riad. Once more there is the usual walk through the alleyways lugging the luggage. Our room is tiny here but they are full tonight but tell us they will upgrade us tomorrow. We decide to set off to explore the surrounding medina.

We set off down the “Corniche” (ha!) below the Kasbah, which here is built on a promontory, to protect the riverine approach to Rabat. It's all a bit deserted, renovation going on (there's a lot of that here) and windy too. A couple of windblown restaurants overlooking the water do not appeal as places for dinner. We go back into the medina and immediately hit a snag. Not the gaggles of French executives on “le team bonding challenge”, but the fact that we don’t seem to be able to go down a key “rue” in the medina as there is renovation work going on. We take a circuitous route to head south using our inadequate map. Convinced there must be a plethora of restaurants somewhere, we grow increasingly desperate as we find nowhere. Eventually emerging back onto Rue des Consuls, the apparently blocked route we avoided, we are very annoyed to find that in fact you just present yourself at the corrugated iron sheeting barricade, demand passage, and the man lets you through. All you have to do is avoid the reversing tipper trucks, the steel rods about to be lifted into the building being worked on, the men swinging huge sledge hammers to demolish the wall you are walking past, stone fragments flying everywhere, the scaffolding poles accidentally dropped from the tower, etc, nothing to worry about. “Le 'elf and safety” has not made it to Rabat as yet.

We resort to Tripadvisor for some help with restaurants. We find a recommended place that we venture forth and find up an alleyway for dinner. It is OK but not as nice as the place we found last night in Meknes. Rabat has not seemingly caught up on the tourist stakes as yet, so the same level of infrastructure for visitors is not there.

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