The first human settlement in the Rabat area dates back to the eighth century BC, at the current Chellah site. That designation originates from a Roman distortion of the Latin word Sala, the first name for the Bou Regreg river, which separates the towns of Rabat and Sale.
The Romans established a river port there, but that disappeared with the fall of their empire. Berber tribes then moved in further downstream, on both sides of the river.
A ribat (fortified monastery) was built on the rocky overhang of the right bank by monk soldiers in the tenth century AD, providing the city with the name by which it is known to this day. It was from here that the Almohad, a Berber tribe from the Atlas Mountains, launched their holy war, building the Kasbah of the Udayas and making Rabat a stronghold.
At the end of the 12th century, Ya'qub al-Mansur, the powerful Almohad caliph, attempted to turn Rabat into the ‘Alexandria of the Atlantic’. He began work on the world’s largest mosque and the Hassan Tower, which was modelled on the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech and the Giralda minaret in Seville. He strengthened the Kasbah, surrounding it with two huge walls and five gates.
The distinguished ruler was also responsible for definitively settling on the name of Rabat El Fath, which translates as ‘Ribat of Victory’. But Al-Mansur died before the construction work he had ordered was completed, and the town fell into decline.
The mosque and its minaret, the Hassan Tower, were never finished; they would be seriously damaged by an earthquake in 1755 and would gradually fall into ruin.
The collapse of the Almohad empire initiated Rabat’s decline. The Kasbah remained inhabited, but slowly lost its original purpose, attracting instead an increasingly large foreign contingent.
Rabat, capital of the Kingdom of Morocco
In 1912, Sultan Moulay Youssef moved from Fez to Rabat, designating the latter as the administrative capital of Morocco.
Once a tiny settlement, Rabat is today the capital of one of Africa’s largest countries, and is the seat of its government and parliament. It is the focal point of what is now Morocco’s second biggest urban area, boasting over a million residents when Sale (on the other side of the Bou Regreg) is taken into account.
In keeping with its lofty status, it is the most well maintained, flower-bedecked and affluent-looking city in the kingdom. But it is also authentically Moroccan, the very antithesis of a soulless capital.
An environmentally friendly city
Designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2012, Rabat was also named Africa’s first ‘green city’ in April 2010. Along with Washington, New York, Mumbai, Rome and Shanghai, it was chosen to lead celebrations of Earth Day across the world.
Rabat is home to several football clubs, including two that currently play in the Botola Pro (the Moroccan top flight), namely:
Fath Union Sport (FUS)
· Four Moroccan second division titles
· Three second-placed finishes in the Moroccan top division
· Five Moroccan Cups
· One CAF Confederation Cup (2010)
Association Sportive des Forces Armees Royales (AS FAR)
· 12 Moroccan League titles
· 11 Moroccan Cups
· One CAF Champions League title (1985)
· One CAF Confederation Cup (2005)
Stade Marocain, Rabat’s third football club, is significantly older (founded in 1919) and boasts an equally illustrious history, but does not presently feature in the Botola Pro.