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Thursday, 14 April 2016 03:00 PM

The Chellah Rabat

The Chellah

The Chellah is a walled ruin of a town that lies in a short walk from the current medina of Rabat, south of the Ville Nouvelle. Designated a World heritage Site in 2012, it is the most popular tourist attraction in Rabat and houses both Roman ruins and a medieval Muslim necropolis. Abandoned in 1154 and damaged further by the Lisbon earthquake in 1755 it is an overgrown and atmospheric site adorned by storks’ nests, and a fascinating place to meander around.

History

The Chellah sits on the banks of the Bou Regreg (now around 2km from the Atlantic) and was built by the Romans in around 40 AD (it was the Roman town – Sala Colonia, or Sala), although being a natural port it may have previously been a site occupied by the Phoenicians or Carthaginians as early as the 3rd century BC.

It was one of the two main Roman naval ports on the Atlantic (the other being Mogador) and lay on one of the two Roman roads in Morocco that led down from near modern Tangier (the other heading towards Fez and Volubilis). It contained a principal Roman way (the Decumanus Maximus), a temple (to Jupiter), a forum and a triumphal arch.

The Romans lost control of the town in around 250 AD and it was abandoned in 1154 when the inhabitants moved to Salé (on the Atlantic, across the river from modern Rabat city). From then the Almohad dynasty (which ruled until the early 13th century) used it as a cemetery (necropolis) and in the 14th century the Marinid dynasty added the defensive wall and towers (that we now see at around 6m high – a defence against Spanish attack), a mosque, a medersa (Islamic theological school), further tombs, the main gate and other monuments

Current Site

The town is now a crumbling set of ruins with an impressive wall set in a dramatic position looking down on the river. It is overgrown with shrubs, flowers and trees (including olive and fig) and is home to a colony of storks that nest on the top of the ruins – making it even more photogenic and, in spring, quite noisy with mating pairs.

There is a small entrance fee payable and is a place to take time to wander around, especially as the sun starts to dip and the changing light brings the ruins to life.

The site is littered with Roman (Italian) marble columns and statues, often with Latin inscriptions, and stone aqueducts that serviced the site for centuries, but a good guide book is recommended (I cannot vouch for the locals who offer their services as guides) as the ruins merge and it takes some concentration to identify the most important elements of the site.

Try to find the Arc de Triomphe, the forum, the Temple of Jupiter and Pool of the Nymph, the minaret of the mosque (the tallest structure and topped by a stork’s nest), which lies near the tomb of one of the greatest Merenid rulers, Abou el Hassan and the medersa with mihrab (prayer niche) and students’ cells still visible.