Our series exploring cities that bear the traces of Islam and its civilization takes us to the capital of Morocco, the city of Rabat, located on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Enjoy your reading.
Origin of the Name Rabat
With a rich history, Rabat was used as a ribat, a border outpost, in the late 1100s during the Almoravid period to defend against enemy attacks. It later became a city during the Almohad era and gained significance as a military camp for the conquests in Al-Andalus. With subsequent victories, it became known as Ribatu-l-Fath, eventually evolving into Rabat in the common language.
Population, Economy, and Religious-Cultural Structure
In the 1931 census, the city had over 28,000 Muslims and more than 4,000 Jews. Following Morocco’s independence in 1956, Rabat, which remained the capital, has a population of approximately 1,722,000 in recent censuses.
The city is known for its craftsmanship, producing handcrafted products, leather goods, blankets, rugs, and carpets. It shares in the country’s income sources, including trade, tourism, textiles, and phosphate minerals.
Islam is the official religion of the country, with most Muslims adhering to the Maliki school of thought. Christians make up the second-largest religious group, while the Jewish population is quite small due to emigration to Israel.
Historical Districts: Kasbah and Sale
Rabat consists of an inner fortress called the Kasbah and the old city known as the medina. The Kasbah is located between the vast wooden gate where the Abu Regreg River meets the Atlantic Ocean. Across from it is Sale, a region frequented by pirates in history and accustomed to ocean tides. Sale underwent significant urban development during the Marinid era.
Introduction to Islam
Rabat’s introduction to Islam coincided with the introduction of Islam to nearby Al-Andalus. It served as a military camp during the Al-Andalus campaigns and became a preferred settlement for Muslims in the years that followed. Especially after the recapture of Al-Andalus by Christians in the 17th century, Muslims were exiled to this city. This contributed to the solidification of Rabat and Sale’s Islamic identity.
Republic of Bou Regreg
The exiled Muslims in this city, who refused to accept the oppression they faced, engaged in maritime battles with Christians. They constructed new walls around the city, built mosques, and worked on urban development in areas such as commerce and craftsmanship. Eventually, Rabat and Sale declared their independence during internal conflicts in the country. This independent governance became known as the Republic of Bou Regreg, and during that time, they dealt significant blows to Portuguese and Spanish forces.
General Louis-Hubert-Gonzalve Lyautey
On July 19, 1911, the French occupied the cities of Rabat and Sale. The appointed colonial governor, Gonzalve Lyautey, moved the administrative center from Fes to Rabat, preserving the city’s historical ambiance due to its strategic importance. He conducted important urban development projects and constructed railways. The preservation of Rabat’s historic character to the present day is attributed to the protection laws he enacted.
Unfinished Cultural Heritage: Hassan Mosque
The remnants of the Hassan Mosque, initiated by Emir Yakub al-Mansur in 1195 as a grand mosque with twenty thousand worshippers, are located in the city center. At that time, it was envisioned as the largest mosque but was never completed. The minaret, designed to be 80 meters tall, stands at 44 meters. Among the ruins, you can also find the tombs of King Mohammed V and his two sons, aligned towards the qibla.
Reflection of Book Eras: Talib Bookstore
Talib Bookstore, in operation for over 50 years, is the oldest bookstore in Rabat. It was once frequented by scholars, teachers, and thinkers. Resisting the unstoppable progress of technology in all areas, this bookstore stands as a mirror of eras when books held sway.
The owner of the bookstore, Khalid el-Miknasi, began this trade as a family profession. Over time, he wrote letters to the pioneers of this sector in the country, hoping to avoid the fate of bookstores closing one after the other. As one of the few places in Morocco where old books can be found, Talib Bookstore gained fame both domestically and internationally. Miknasi summarizes the current state of bookstores, saying, ‘Despite strong and violent winds trying to extinguish the literary and scientific flame, we are trying to preserve the value of bookstores.’
Historical Sites and UNESCO
Notable historical sites in Rabat include the Mosque of the Sunnah, the Abu’l-Ja’ad Mosque, the Moulay Suleiman Mosque, the Hassaniyya Library, Mohammed V University, and the Museum of Antiquities. Rabat, also the headquarters of the Islamic Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2012.