Last Updated: 2021-12-01
Whether you’re planning a trip or anything else, here’s a famous piece of advice: the lower your expectations, the better. Otherwise, you run the risk of dreaming up a destination that doesn’t match reality in the slightest.
Maybe I can thank this principle for my pleasant impression of the Kasbah of the Udayas. Or maybe it’s just that no picture I’ve ever seen can do it justice. In any case, it’s now one of my favorite places in Morocco and the focus of this article.
Let’s get started!
History repeats itself they say, so there are always patterns to find. One of these is where we build fortifications. Throughout the world, there are forts at the mouths of navigable rivers, preferably on the highest ground around, for defense against naval incursions along the coast as well as up the river.
The Kasbah of the Udayas was built to protect the ancient Roman city of Sala Colonia (today known as the Necropolis of Chellah), as well as the mouth of the navigable river, known as the Bou Regreg. The expansive Kasbah we see today started off as a humble military bunker nearly 1000 years ago.
In time it was built into a small fort, then expanded into a citadel. It has been abandoned, occupied, enlarged and remodeled countless times in the last millennium.
The Kasbah owes its name to a remarkable tribe that ruled over it for a time: the Udayas. They first settled on this promontory to take shelter from the attacks of other local tribes as well as to protect their coastal city from pirates, many of whom operated out of the nearby city of Salé.
The ebb and flow of history took a toll on the ancient stronghold. We owe the refreshing order and beauty of the Kasbah today to the French who remodeled and resettled it during the protectorate period (1912-1956).
Entering the Kasbah of the Udayas
It’s located on a promontory in the city where the river meets the sea, so finding the Kasbah won’t be a problem.
As if it wasn’t already conspicuous enough, a broad set of stairs lined with lush grass and palm trees leads up to its typically horseshoe-shaped gate, known as the Bab Udaya, with its rich floral motifs and verses from the Qur’an.
We, however, will be going through a small door just to the right of the gate.
It might sound a bit cliché but once you’re inside the Kasbah you really do feel like you’ve entered another reality. The blue and whitewashed walls that line the narrow alleyways remind you of distant medinas in northern Morocco like Chaouen or Asilah, more than the sprawling city of Rabat that surrounds the fortress. It’s as if the mighty walls cut the kasbah off from outside influences.
Amateur photographers will find plenty of material here. Most visitors enjoy spending two or three hours exploring the hidden treasures of the kasbah.
The first gem is the Andalusian Gardens, planted by the French during the protectorate period. Next is the National Museum of Jewelry, housed in the former residence of Sultan Mulay Ismail. Closer to the heart of the kasbah is the Jama’ al-Atiqa Mosque, the oldest mosque in Rabat. As usual, only muslims are welcome to enter this place of worship.
If we put history aside for a moment, there are two lovely places where you can see the vibrance of modern Morocco. The Café Maure is a great place to take a break and enjoy a cup of tea and some sweet treats with your travelling companions. The Semaphore Platform is a spacious vantage point with great views of the areas around the kasbah.
On a warm day on the esplanade, you can see families and friends enjoying a day at the beach. Interestingly, there is a very large cemetery not far from the shore. For Morocco, this is normal. Unlike other countries where you can only find graveyards tucked away behind walls or on the outskirts of town, they are a normal part of the urban landscape here, just as death for Moroccans is an essential part of life.
Rabat seems to get ignored, unfortunately. At most, people spend a few moments at the Mohammed V Mausoleum, the Hassan Tower (right next to the mausoleum) and the nearby areas, and maybe a quick ride-through bus tour.
Rabat elegantly combines the ancient and the modern. This unique beauty made the city a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The best expression of this one-of-a-kind juxtaposition is the Kasbah of the Udayas, with its quiet alleyways protected from the lively alleyways just beyond the wall. It’s a jewel worth taking in one sip at a time.
Tour operators may try to rush you through Rabat, but I really recommend planning to take your time so you can really get a feel for this wonderfully unique place.
Much love to all! See you in the next post!
Coordinates: 34°03′ N -6°83′ W (see location)
Size: 12 acres (5 hectares) approx.
Entrance fee: There is no entrance fee. No need to hire a guide if you do your research. There are unofficial guides at the entrance if you want to hire one though. The most you should pay is 30 dirhams.
Where to eat: The only option within the walls of the Kasbah is tea with sweets and pastries at the café Maure. Although along the beach in front of the fortress there is a variety of seafood restaurants.
If you want to know more about the city, check out our Rabat tourism guide.