Photo: Nicolai Steinø
Rabat, Morocco, is an interesting city in terms of architecture and urban design. As the capital of the country, it is the seat of the parliament, ministries and the royal palace. While many official buildings feature a traditionalist design with Islamic architectural elements and ornamentation, much of the city’s modern architecture is also distinct and of high architectural quality. Modernism in many ways has its origin in the traditional architecture of the Maghreb – Le Corbusier among others sought his inspiration here – and maybe this is why it translates back so well.
The old part of Rabat consists of the kasbah, the medina and the royal palace. Together with a vast and originally unbuilt tract of land between the medina and the palace, this area is surrounded by a city wall. During the time of the French protectorate, the unbuilt land inside the city wall was developed according to French ideas of urban design with avenues, parks, and 5-6 storey buildings, many of which have arcades along major streets.
Obviously, the vast majority of modern Rabat is located outside the city wall. Here, urban design is less distinct, and there is no apparent city plan. One notable exception is the Agdal district to the south of the royal palace. With a regular grid of streets, one of which connects one of the gates of the royal place with a mosque, this area stands out both for its architecture and urban design.
A bit further south, a modern replica of a traditional city gate marks the entrance to Madinat Al Irfane – the city of knowledge – where a number of schools of higher education, including the National School of Architecture, are located. Although not a campus in any conventional sense, the atmosphere of the area is dominated by the many students who stroll around and sit at the restaurants at the central arcade.
The necropolis of Chellah to the east of the walled city is a magical site. With its own walls an a magnificent gate – traditionally, gates are among the most richly decorated elements in Islamic architecture – this site contains roman ruins, several tombs and the remnants of a 14th century mosque. The ruins are partly overgrown by plants and plenty of storks nest in the area. From the high end of this sloping site, there is a view of the Bou Regreg river valley which separates Rabat from its twin city Salé to the north.
You can see a selection of my photos from Rabat here