Rabat and Salé

Rabat & Sale guide book:

Sights   Infrastructure   Walks

Rabat is the capital of Morocco. It is located on the south bank of Bou Regreg river. Salé is satellite city of Rabat and it is located on the opposite riverbank. Population of both cities is more than 2,5 million people.

Rabat is more neat and well-maintained. Citizens of Salé have a higher level of unemployment. That’s why people of Salé tend to migrate to Rabat. In 2011 to decrease this migration a new bridge over Bou Regreg river with a high speed tram line was open.

In the evening
Tram near the walls of medina de Rabat

Every city owns a medina. Medina of Rabat is more spacious and it’s hard to get lost there. Medina of Salé has more curvy streets and looks more authentic and non-touristic.

The airport of capital is located in Salé.

History of Rabat and Salé

Due to their location, histories of both cities have much in common. The first settlement  appeared on the south river bank in 3 century BC.

Foundation of Salé was started by Ifranids in 1030 AD with construction of grand mosque of Salé to the north of Bou Regreg river.

View to Sale from Mohammed V mausoleum

In 1146 Abd Al Mu’min (from Almohad dynasty) decided to turn a small fortification on the top of the south river bank to a fortress. That’s how Rabat appeared on a map. The heyday of Rabat came during the reign of Yaqub Al Mansour – caliph moved the capital from Marrakesh to Rabat and began the construction of the world’s largest mosque. After the death of Yaqub Al Mansour both cities began to decline. In 1248 Marinid sultan Abu Yahya ibn Abd al-Haqq moved the capital to Fes.

In 1260 nephew of sultan Abu Yusuf Yaqub had rebelled against his uncle and asked Alfonso X (king of Castile and Leon) for assistance. It led to the bloodiest massacre of the city – Sale was raided and remained 2 weeks under occupation of Castilians. 3 000 citizens were taken into slavery and many were killed, as they were preparing to celebrate Eid al-Fitr and were not ready to fight back. Sultan Abu Yusuf Yaqub had freed Sale and constructed Bab El-Mrissa gate as a symbol of victory.

City view
Walls of Rabat fortress

The life in both cities continued to fade away. In the beginning of 16th century only 100 houses were inhabited. But in 1609 the king of Spain Philip III began to expel Moriscos (former Muslims) from his country. He supposed them to become traitors. Many of expelled Moriscos settled down in Rabat.

Republic of pirates

In the beginning of 17th century Barbary pirates started to use ports of Rabat and Salé for attacks on merchant vessels. In 1627 cities formed a republic under control of pirates. This republic became so well protected, that the Alaouites couldn’t conquer it until 1818.

But even after the end of republic pirates continued to use ports. In 1829 after the Austrian ship had been lost after corsair attack, Austria shelled Rabat in reply. Worldwide Morocco was associated with a pirates’ state.


This glory brought only problems. In April of 1851 French cargo ship had drowned in the sea by Salé, but some goods were saved and put into storage. That time Moroccans were starving several years due to drought and bad harvest as the result. The next day hundreds of people robbed the storage. The escalation of this conflict led to bombardment of Salé in November.

Mausoleum of Mohammed V

French protectorate and independence of Morocco

After the establishment of protectorate sultan Moulay Yusef agreed to move the capital to Rabat. (The situation in Fes was unstable – too many rebels). City was in need of new administrative sector. Ville Nouvelle was designed by French architect Henri Prost.

That time Sale turned into the mainstay of independence activists. Well, what place could be closer to Rabat? In Sale were held first demonstrations against French invasion. After they had succeeded in their attempts and Morocco had gained independence, Mohammed V decided not to move the capital.

Fountain by the walls of Rabat medina
Andalusian garden in Rabat
In Rabat


Take Rabat & Sale map with you – just click the star and it will be saved in your Google account. Any locations in this region that I will add later will appear on your map.

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