The two most visited sites in Rabat, which are guarded at all times by elaborate royal guards and fez-stop security personnel, are located opposite each other along the magnificent Bou Regreg River.
The Hassan Tower (or Tour Hassan) and the Mausoleum of Mohamed V are two of the most mystical places in Morocco: one is an incomplete project of majestic proportions and the other stands as a masterpiece of modern Moroccan architecture, containing the great tombs of past kings.
Walk through the ruins of the columns and enter the ornamental grandeur of the exquisite mausoleum to discover a part of Moroccan history that will always remain incomplete.
An Unfinished Past
It was in the early twelfth century when the great Sultan Yacoub al Mansour ordered the construction of the Hassan Tower and its adjacent mosque in Rabat . Having already planned the creation of the emblematic Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech and the restoration of the old Kasbah Udayas , the Sultan moved on to another impressive project: the building of the world’s highest minaret and the largest mosque.
Construction began in 1195 with the intention of erecting a minaret that would reach 86 meters (260 feet) in height, and a mosque large enough to accommodate 20,000 worshippers. This great project was designed to be the centerpiece of the celebration of the Sultan’s victory over the Spanish Christians in Alarcos, but the Sultan’s death in 1199 led to a dramatic halt in construction that was never picked up later. What was left was a minaret 44 meters (145 feet) high and some 200 columns that would have supported the impressive projected mosque.
An earthquake in 1755 further damaged the incomplete site, knocking down some of the mosque’s central columns. Most of these, however, were restored and help portray the intended dimensions of the original project. The imposing minaret also survived the earthquake and dominates almost all the views of the magnificent city of Rabat.
A modern masterpiece
Just on the other side of these unfinished ruins stands the impressive Mausoleum of Mohammed V. Built in the 1950s and inaugurated six years after the death of Mohammed V in 1961, the structure is now considered a masterpiece of modern architecture of the Alouite dynasty. Its apparently smooth exterior with white walls and typical green tiled roof contrasts sharply with the elaborately decorated interior. The exquisite traditional Moroccan craftsmanship is one of the main features kept inside the walls of the mausoleum, with magnificent zellij mosaics rising from marble floors to a ceiling of hand-carved cedar wood and gold leaf.
Of course, the main feature of the mausoleum are the glorious tombs of King Mohammed V (the grandfather of the current king of Morocco) and his two sons. Located on the first floor of the mausoleum, the white carved onyx tombs are guarded by royal guards and security agents finished off with fez (that hat and not the city of Fez ) and can be admired from an interior balcony that surrounds them.
This magnificent site is open every day to all visitors and non-Muslims are welcome to enter the holy mausoleum and even the small mosque next door. The royal guards, who are mounted on horses and dressed in elaborate uniforms, are at the main entrance and are also usually open for photographs. Visitors are simply asked to dress respectfully and avoid coming between noon and 2 p.m., when the mausoleum closes for midday prayers at the mosque.
Origin of the mausoleum
Sultan Mohammed Ben Yusef, also known as King Mohammed V after independence, was a monarch much appreciated by the Moroccan people, among other things because he refused to apply the anti-Semitic laws of the French Vichy Regime, thus protecting some 400,000 Moroccan Jews.
The Sultan presides on November 18, 1955 on the esplanade of the famous Hassan Tower the Friday Prayer in which he officially announces the independence of the Moroccan kingdom. Since this site is highly symbolic for the Moroccans, once after the death of Mohammed V it was chosen as the site for the construction of the monument that will keep his remains.
Facts about the mausoleum
The mausoleum was built in the traditional Moroccan Arab-Muslim style on a surface of 1500 m². The facade of the building, built on a concrete frame, is covered with white Italian marble and topped with a pyramidal roof of green tiles, like the color of the star of the Moroccan coat of arms, symbol of the Alaouite dynasty. The interior walls are engraved with Koranic calligraphy and covered with traditional zellige (ornamentation based on pieces of colored tiles, similar to the Catalan trencadis). The dome is made of Atlas cedar wood carving and painted mahogany, and covered with a layer of gold. The sarcophagi of the sultan and his two sons (the first in the center and the other two in the corners), carved in blocks of white Pakistani onyx, are on a lower level, inaccessible to the visitor, who can only contemplate them through a wide opening-viewpoint on the entrance floor.
A Vietnamese architect carried out its design, combining traditional artistic techniques with a modern touch, and it took the work of four hundred men to build and finish this monument, which today constitutes a masterpiece both architecturally and historically. It is also worth noting that the Mausoleum of Mohammed V is one of the few Muslim holy sites that are open to the general public.
Visiting the mausoleum
If you go to Rabat, you should not miss visiting the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, undoubtedly one of the most beautiful in the world. It is not only an example of the architectural style of the Alaouite dynasty, but also the resting place of the three most significant members of the Moroccan royal family. In this sense it is a tomb, but at the same time it is a mosque, a place where locals and foreigners alike, pay tribute of respect to the memory of the venerable characters buried there and admire the beauty and details of the construction.