This five-hundred-kilometer stretch of Atlantic coastline takes in Morocco’s urban heartland and accounts for the brink of a fifth of the country’s total population. It’s an astonishingly recent growth along what was, until the French Protectorate, a neglected strip of coast. The region is dominated by the country’s elegant, orderly administrative capital, Rabat; and therefore the dynamic commercial capital, Casablanca. Keep heading south, and you’ll encounter some delightfully low-key coastal resorts, including El Jadida, Oualidia, and Essaouira. this is often the foremost Europeanized part of Morocco, where you’ll see middle-class people especially wearing Western-style clothes and leading what appear on the surface to be quite European lifestyles.
The fertile plains inland from Rabat (designated Maroc Utile, or “Useful Morocco”, by the French) are occupied and cultivated since Paleolithic times, with Neolithic settlements on the coast to the south, notably at present-day Temara and Skhirat, but today it’s French and post-colonial influences that dominate within the main coastal cities. Don’t attend Casa – as Casablanca is popularly known – expecting some exotic movie location; it’s a contemporary city that appears considerably like Marseilles, the French seaport on which it had been modeled. Rabat, too, which the French developed as capital in situ of the old imperial centers of Fez and Marrakesh, looks markedly European, with its cafés and boulevards.
If you’re on a primary trip to Morocco, Rabat is a perfect place to urge to grips with the country. Its Westernized streets make a simple cultural shift and it’s a superb transport hub, well connected by train with Tangier, Fez and Marrakesh. Casa is probably more interesting after you’ve spent a short time within the country, when you’ll appreciate both its differences and its fundamentally Moroccan character.
Along the coast are an outsized number of beaches, but this being the Atlantic instead of the Mediterranean, tides and currents are often strong. Surfing may be a popular sport along the coast and Essaouira is Morocco’s prime resort for windsurfing.
Despite its strategic site at the mouth of the good Oum er Rbia River, AZEMMOUR has always been a backwater, and sees fewer tourists than the other Moroccan coastal town, making it a quiet, rather sedate place to go to , and maybe stay in one among the riads in its whitewashed clifftop Medina.
Once in town, getting your bearings is pretty straightforward. The town lies between the N1 Casablanca–El Jadida highway and therefore the El Jadida coastal road, and red petits taxis constantly ply the route between the 2 roads. the most thoroughfare is Avenue Mohammed V, which results in a busy, grassed square, Place du Souk, with the Medina straight ahead.
The Portuguese remained in Azemmour long enough to create a circuit of walls, directly above the banks of the river and dramatically extended by the white Medina. the simplest view of all this – and it’s impressive – is from across the river, on the answer of town towards Casablanca.
To look around the Medina, make your thanks to Place du Souk, on the landward side of the ramparts, where you’ll see a sixteenth-century gate with an unusual, European-style, Roman arch . Through it extends the old kasbah – largely in ruins but safe enough to go to . If you wait around, the local gardien will probably arrive, open things up and show you round; if he doesn’t happen , you would possibly find him by asking at the cafés overlooking Place du Souk. Once inside the ruins, you’ll follow the parapet wall around the ramparts, with views of the river and therefore the gardens, including henna orchards, along its edge. Also here is Dar el Baroud (The House of Powder), an outsized tower built over the ruins of an old gunpowder store; note also the ruined Gothic window.
The old Mellah – Azzemour had a considerable Jewish population until the 1960s – lies beyond the kasbah at the northern end of the Medina. Here, beside ramparts overlooking the Oum er Rbia, is that the old town synagogue which remains well maintained and visited occasionally by practising Jews from Casablanca and El Jadida. It’s cared for by an area family and you’ll – for alittle donation – look inside to ascertain the tomb of Rabbi Abrahim Moul Niss, a shrine for Jewish pilgrims and therefore the focus of an August moussem.
The river currents at Azemmour are notoriously dangerous, but there’s a pleasant stretch of beach half an hour’s walk or a petit taxi ride (5dh) through the eucalyptus trees beyond the town. If you pass road, it’s signposted to the “Balnéaire du Haouzia”, alittle complex of company holiday cabins occupying a part of the sands.
For birdwatchers, the scrub dunes round the mouth of the river should prove rewarding territory.
The coast from Rabat to Casa
Between Rabat and Casablanca lies variety of sandy beaches, fashionable locals from both cities, especially during the summer holiday months. Apartment complexes are steadily taking up large tracts of the coastline here, supplying an increasing demand for city workers willing to commute.
Thirteen kilometres south of Rabat, the town of Temara is notable primarily for its small kasbah, which dates from Moulay Ismail’s reign during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. However, most visitors come here for it’s beach, Temara Plage, 4km west of town. Packed in summer and deserted for the remainder of the year, it’s a pleasing if slightly wild stretch of golden sand; the ocean here offers the odd wave for surfers but only confident swimmers should venture out past the breakers.
Coup on the coast
The Royal Palace at Skhirat Plage, between Rabat and Mohammedia, was the location of a coup attempt by Moroccan generals during King Hassan II’s birthday celebrations in July 1971. The coup was mounted employing a force of Berber cadets, who took over the palace, imprisoned the king and killed variety of his guests. it had been thwarted by the apparently accidental shooting of the cadets’ leader, General Mohammed Medbuh, and by the strength of personality of Hassan, who reasserted control over his captors. Among the guests who survived was Malcolm Forbes. The palace still stands, though it’s understandably fallen from royal favour.
The coastal port city of SAFI, halfway between El Jadida and Essaouira, with an old Medina in its centre, walled and turreted by the Portuguese, features a strong industrial-artisan tradition, with an entire quarter dedicated to pottery workshops. These have a virtual monopoly on the green, heavily glazed roof tiles used on palaces and mosques, also as providing Morocco’s main pottery exports, within the sort of bowls, plates and garden pots.
Safi has two main squares, Place de l’Indépendance, just south of the Medina, and Place Mohammed V on the upper ground within the Ville Nouvelle (also referred to as the Plateau).
And the sardines?
Safi’s famed sardines are caught within the deeper waters of the Atlantic, from Boujdour within the south to Safi within the north. There are around five hundred 18- to 20-metre wooden trawlers within the town fleet and you’ll still see them being made within the boatyards at Safi, Essaouira and Agadir. The fleet lands 350,000 tonnes of sardines annually (seventy percent of the country’s total seafood catch) and most of them are canned in Safi. Increasingly, those caught further south are landed at the closest port and delivered to Safi in refrigerated trucks. Most of the tins get sold abroad – Morocco being the world’s largest exporter of sardines.
Though now essentially a suburb of Rabat, SALÉ was the pre-eminent of the 2 throughout the center Ages, from the decline of the Almohads to the pirate republic of Bou Regreg. Under the Merenids, as a port of some stature, it had been endowed with monuments like its superb Medersa Bou Inan.
In the twentieth century, after the French made Rabat their capital and Casablanca their main port, Salé became a touch of a backwater. the first Ville Nouvelle was just alittle area round the bus terminal and therefore the northern gates, but recent developments have changed this, with a serious project, Bou Regreg Marina, now taking shape on the riverbank. For the foremost part, Salé still looks and feels very different from Rabat, particularly within its medieval walls, where the souks and life remain surprisingly traditional.