If you missed day one in Salé, check it out here!
Rain had cleared. Deep blue sky shone over Salé Medina. Having had such a wonderful welcome to Morocco yesterday, we were so excited to see what the capital had to offer! I was also excited to find some interesting food for my 25th birthday, which I did, but not where I expected. You’ll see.
Walking to the tram stop, a man passed with his wife and little boy. Less than a minute after exchanging ‘bonjours,’ he invited us for tea. We were seated by his sleeping mother. It was an honour, but when we told him how kind he was, he just replied ‘no, I’m Moroccan.’ We learned how to properly serve Moroccan tea – pour from an arm’s length above, then tip it back into the pot a few times before pouring again. It’s an art!
As we sipped our (delicious) tea, we talked about family, learning languages, England and Morocco’s unemployment rate. It was extremely difficult to find work in Salé. But I agreed with our host when he said he didn't have much physically, yet was rich in his heart. To him, it was just Moroccan hospitality, but coming from standoffish England, we were overcome by his kindness. It was the best birthday present I could’ve asked for!
The Rabat-Salé Tramway was cheap at just 6dh (£0.50) per ride. Trams were modern, clean and frequent. It was a quick walk from the Place 16 Novembre tram stop to the Hassan Tower complex.
The first building you'll see when you enter the complex is the western pavilion of the Mausoleum of Mohammed V. This was built to be a museum for the Alaouite dynasty.
Between the pavilion and the mausoleum itself is the Hassan Mosque. Like all other mosques in Morocco (except that one in Casablanca), non-Muslims aren't allowed inside at all. I was only allowed in if I wanted to pray or use the toilet. Tourists were allowed to take photos at the door though.
I would have loved to pray in one of these beautiful mosques, but I was scared of somehow getting in trouble with my nonexistent Darija and forgotten high school French!
There was a cute fountain to take photos of before we got to the mausoleum.
The mausoleum was free to enter and absolutely worth checking out just to marvel at the architecture. It was designed not only to honour Mohammed V but to embody Moroccan identity using traditional crafts, like the sebka (motif) carved into the walls. There was a Quran reader there when we arrived.
There were nice views from the mausoleum as well.
Hassan Tower is the incomplete sandstone minaret of an incomplete mosque, which would have been the largest in the western Muslim world if it had been completed in 1199 when construction stopped. It's 140 ft tall, but was intended to be at least 210 ft tall. The origin of the name is uncertain.
The walls and 348 columns around the tower would have formed the mosque if it had been completed. Their irregular heights unfortunately contributed to the stall in construction. The site was also hit hard by the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, but it was recovered and preserved by Moroccan and French archeologists in the early 1900s.
We walked on from there to Rabat Medina (the old town), which was easy to spot by its ochre walls.
As soon as we stepped in to the medina, there were colourful stalls selling everything from food to lamps to clothing wherever we looked.
A djellaba is a long robe traditionally worn in the Maghreb, called a tadjellabit in the Atlas Mountains and a qeššaba in parts of Algeria. They're either impossible to find or prohibitively expensive in the UK, so I picked out one blue and one black one from a shop selling them at very reasonable prices. Haggling isn't necessary in Rabat – you probably can if you want to, but the prices were set in all but one of the shops we visited. I was glad for that!
When my mum sat down for a rest on a step, a random stranger offered her a sheep skin to sit on so she was more comfortable. Seriously, we've met some very kind Americans, but Moroccan people are on another level and like our host earlier told us, they don't do it just to be kind – they do it because they're Moroccan.
We got some delicious Syrian sweeties from a lovely man whose granddaughter was also named Maria. Apparently his brother ran a restaurant in London. If only the readily available desserts in England were this good...
While we were outside of the medina for a while, we looked for any old café offering vegetarian options. We spotted a few places recommended by other travellers, but they were either closed or didn't offer anything I could eat. The place we eventually chose had no name and looked a bit grotty, but seriously – I wish it had a name (or I at least remembered where it was) so I could recommend it! I wouldn't touch most things with eggs elsewhere, but I went for an egg tajine just because it was there and it was the best thing I ate in Morocco (which is saying something). In fact, it was one of the best things I've ever eaten on my travels, rivalled only by manakish in Beirut and some pumpkin soup I had in Bologna. Even the pizza my mum ordered was delicious. We did splash out at a more upmarket restaurant the next day for my official birthday meal and it was great, but it had nothing on The Tajine. I have to find this place again when I go back to Rabat!
Lights started to come on as the sun set, giving the medina a totally different feel. We passed another pretty mosque.
Finally, we took the tram back to our riad in Salé to rest our tired feet. Day 3 will feature an even more colourful side of Rabat Medina!