Visit Morocco: Mausoleum of Mohammed V

Two kings and a prince were laid to rest in the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, and although Rabat, Morocco’s capitol city, has so much to offer, this remains one of my favorite places to visit. Just knowing what this dynasty means to Morocco creates a unique atmosphere; you can feel the presence of royalty and historical significance when you step inside.

It took nine years and over 400 men to complete this extravagant monument in honor of one of Morocco’s most important leaders. Every inch of the structure, from the perimeter gate to the brass installations, is carved with intricate precision. It is a true testament to Morocco’s distinguished style.

On either side of the entry are signature Moroccan fountains. Vibrantly colored mosaics behind porcelain pools of water display the attention to detail that Moroccan architecture does so well.

When King Hassan II commissioned the mausoleum’s construction for his father, Mohammed V, in 1962, he positioned it inside Yacoub Al Mansour Square, where Abu Yusuf Yaqub al-Mansur’s unfinished mosque and minaret (later named Hassan Tower) sat, incomplete, for nearly 800 years.

hassan Tower and the unfinished masjid

Construction on Hassan Tower began in 1191 and halted abruptly in 1199 when al-Mansur died. At only 144 feet, the tower never reached al-Mansur’s goal, but it remains an important monument in Moroccan history.

Minaret’s serve a purpose. They are connected to mosques and used for the adhan (call for prayer). Like the tower, the mosque was never completed. Today, 348 columns still stand where the mosque would have been, directly across from the mausoleum.

If you are familiar with the minaret of Kaoutoubia Mosque in Marrakesh (photos here in Visit Morocco: Marrakesh), you’ll recognize the design of Hassan Tower. Although, it never came to fruition, it would have been significantly taller and wider than the minaret of Kaoutoubia.

The tomb of kings

Sultan Mohammed V was king of Morocco from 1927 to 1953 and again from 1957 to 1961. He played a vital role in gaining Morocco’s independence in 1956, removing them from French colonial rule.

The French appointed Mohammed in 1927, assuming he would be a compliant puppet leader. He proved to be difficult when he actively pushed Moroccan nationalist sentiments and policy during his leadership; they exiled him in 1953. He returned in 1957 to rule over a free, autonomous Morocco.

When Mohammed’s son, Hassan II, began construction on his father’s mausoleum, he wanted to create an elaborate space that allowed for Moroccan’s to visit his tomb; it was always meant to be more than a grave.

The tomb itself is square. Beautiful Moroccan doors and arches allow entrance from every side, and young men dressed in uniforms reminicient of The Queen’s Guard at Buckingham Palace stand alert at every entrance.

You enter onto a 360° balcony overlooking the tombs of Mohammed V, his son King Hassan II, and Prince Abdullah, Hassan’s son. Mohammed is placed in the middle, directly under the stunning, domed ceiling. Their coffins are surprisingly understated.

A masjid for kings

Beside the King’s final resting place is a mosque. Just days before our visit, we saw news footage of the current king praying inside with his court. Rabat is the home of kings, and Morocco’s current king proudly displays a chart tracing his lineage from the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), Islam’s beloved prophet, in the square.

Entrance to the mosque next to the mausoleum (feat. my husband)

I never stepped foot inside the mosque. I watched as tourists and Moroccans alike lined up to take photos in front of the giant brass doors with traditional arches and carvings to match the mausoleums. If there is one thing I learned for sure, it’s that Moroccans know how to lay the dead to rest in style.

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Visit Morocco: Marrakech

We stepped off of the train in Marrakech, carried our luggage through the station and out the front doors where a kind man named Abul Qadir, who knew every stretch of road in the city, greeted us with a smile and said “mrehba” (welcome). My husband’s brother had asked him to chauffeur us around during our stay.

In his minivan, which I think came off the assembly line the same year I was born, we flew through the narrow streets of the medina (the old part of the city). The realization that a 1985 minivan was speeding down brick roads built nearly 1000 years ago didn’t really hit me at the time. We were just trying to get to our riad (traditional Moroccan house).

Marrakech is special. They call it the Red City because it is just that. The medina is built out of red clay and looks something like the streets of Agrabah. We go back every time we’re in Morocco, and I think you’ll see why…

Jemaa el-Fnaa and the Medina

If you’ve considered traveling to Marrakech, Jemaa el-Fnaa is probably the reason. In essence, it is a marketplace, but in reality, it’s so much more.

Snake charmers, live percussionists, friendly monkeys in red vests (think Abu from Aladdin), handmade leather bags, traditional kaftans and shoes, ornate lamps, and so much more. You can catch a horse and buggy ride around the square and stop to buy jewelry made by local women.

There’s food and fresh juice and candy and spices….anything you could imagine. The sights and smells of the square are magical.

The market square is on the edge of the medina, where the streets are narrow and made of brick. That’s where you find most of the shops. They’re lined up, one after another, along the windy streets, branching out for miles like tributaries, all leading to the square.

You’ve likely seen the photos from influencers on social media: a beautiful woman in a flowing dress and a large hat stands in the middle of a small shop, surrounded by glowing Moroccan lamps. That’s Marrakech.

Fun fact: The vendors hate it. Many of them have posted signs prohibiting cameras in their shops. It makes for a fantastic photo op, though.

If You Don’t Stay in a Riad, You Don’t Experience Marrakech

In Marrakech, where you stay should be just as important as your sightseeing plans. There are hotels, but absolutely nothing beats the riad experience. Each time that I’ve booked a stay in Marrakech, I’ve stayed in the medina, but there are benefits to staying in the seclusion outside the city as well.

Blue Majorelle Gardens in Marrakech

Airbnb has everything you need. Whether your group is big or small, there is not only a riad for you but a chance to chose from options.

What makes riads so special is the architectural design. They all have an open patio in the center of the space, typically with an open roof and a water feature. The bedrooms are on the second floor, where a 360° terrace overlooks the patio. Natural light fills the entire space, and weather is not a concern because Marrakech is beautiful year round.

Don’t worry, every room has air conditioning, and everything is made of traditional tile and clay to keep cool in the warmer months. Here a couple of my favorite riads in the old medina (click the links to see the posts on Airbnb):

Riad Moor

In 2018, my husband and I stayed in Riad Moor with a group of nine people. It’s perfectly located in the traditional streets of the medina and just a short walk to the Jemaa el-Fnaa square. Every bedroom, and there were five, had an en-suite bathroom. One bedroom was even located on the beautiful rooftop.

Stepping out the front door put you directly on the streets of medina. We walked around the corner to get snacks at the shops and bakeries. We had pizza and sandwiches at a small restaurant around the corner. It was a perfect stay.

Giuliano’s Riad

I laid my head in Giuliano’s riad the first time I went to Marrakech in 2017. This time we were in a small group of three, and this was the perfect place to stay. We were there in June, and the dark clay room was the perfect temperature.

At night, by the light of the lanterns, we sat on the patio, listened to the water moving through the fountain, had kefta made in a tajine and listened to the sounds of the streets outside. Located in the medina, it has all the benefits of being in the heart of Marrakech.

The Atlas Mountains

Credit Paul Macallan

Roughly 30-45 minutes outside of the city, you can visit the Atlas Mountains. You can ride camels along paths in the lower hills (not my thing…I’m afraid of heights). Clear streams flow through low valleys where you can stop to eat at tables set up in the water. That’s where we spent one afternoon in 2017.

The stream passed over our feet as we ate beef and potatoes cooked in a tajine over fire. Truthfully, it was the best meal I had there. Later we sipped coffee under a bedouin-style tent next to the water and even napped there for a moment.

Cooking with a Tajine
Photo by Mayeur Pascal on Unsplash

That’s Marrakech…beauty everywhere you look and a warmth coming from the people that you won’t experience anywhere else. Everyday was just a one brand new adventure after another. It’s another spot that should be on every bucket list…

Join Me for Part 4: Casablanca…

Masjid Hassan II

Yes, it’s that Casablanca…like the movie. One of the greatest experiences in my life was the night I stepped into the Masjid Hassan II, the largest mosque in Africa. Subscribe to follow along with this series and learn more about Morocco…

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Visit Morocco: Kénitra

When I say that Morocco is where my heart is, I’m referring specifically to Kénitra. It’s part of a region consisting of three cities called Rabat-Salé-Kénitra. An easy 30-minute train ride will take you between the three, and a first class ticket is only 24 USD.

Photo by Kristan Jennings

Mehdya Beach

When you take the road from the city to Mehdya Beach, there’s a place along the road, just atop a hill where you can see miles of shoreline. It appears in the blink of an eye, and if you catch it just around sunset, it feels like the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen. Sunsets are special in North Africa, and the beach is the best place to be.

The shorelines in Kénitra border the Atlantic Ocean, and the seasons are similar to those of the southern states here in the U.S. Summer is hot, and winter has a chill but is never unpleasant. The beach is open year-round, and that’s where you’ll find the best dining options.

My official Moroccan wedding was in November 2017, one year after we were married in Columbus, Ohio. The night before the wedding, everyone went to the beach just before the sun went down. There was the slightest breeze in the air, and even in November, it was warm enough to step in the water.

The beach was empty save a man with three camels. For 10 USD/each, we rode camels down the shoreline and took some memorable photos before heading to a nearby restaurant for dinner.

Taxi Beach

Thirty minutes outside of the city you’ll find arguably one of the best beaches in Morocco, Taxi Beach.

Taxi Beach, Kénitra Morocco
Photo by Kristan Jennings

With miles of accessible shoreline and the widest beach berm I’ve ever seen, Taxi Beach is never too crowded. We didn’t have to travel far from the entrance to find an open area large enough to set up an umbrella, chairs, and snacks.

My husband and his friend kicked a soccer ball around the shoreline while I read a book under the umbrella, tea in hand (there’s always someone making it by fire and selling it on the beach).

His nephew built a sandcastle a few feet away. A vender selling large, Moroccan style donuts (much like French beignet) walked by several times. I ate two.

Speaking of eating…let’s talk about the seafood.

What Should You Eat?

Kénitra is best known for one thing: the seafood. The fish markets are plentiful year-round, and Mehdya Beach is home to the best restaurant in or around the city…Merzouga is a seafood haven with a stunning view of the Ocean.

The second floor at Merzouga is open air, designed to make the view and the fresh ocean breeze part of your experience. The food was phenomenal.

Our group ordered fresh fish platters with fries and Morocco’s famous bread. There were salads and a boat of sushi. Yes, I said boat. Twenty-four pieces of sushi made from fish caught on a dock not far down the road from where we sat. It was about one fourth what you might pay for the same in the U.S.

If, like me, you live for dessert, Kénitra has an amazing selection of bakeries. Cookies, cakes, pastries…whatever you like, you’ll find. Since you don’t have the luxury of my sisters-in-law baking mouthwatering treats for you, you’ll have to settle for one of many patisseries in the city.

I strongly recommended Patisserie Dadiben. I ate their chocolate creme donuts every night of Ramadan. Be sure to say “Salaam” to my sister-in-law, Miriam, when you drop by. Tell her Kristan sent you. 🙂

Just Along the River Front…

Just a couple of blocks from my husband’s neighborhood is the Sebou River. Along the bank is a beautiful sidewalk, typically not very busy but still lively. You’ll find cafe after cafe offering delicious food, coffee, tea, and juice on patios overlooking the river.

The cafes in Kénitra are extravagant in design. They are often named like clubs…Club Maamora, River Club…etc. A new one was in construction the last time I was there.

My favorite thing to do in Kenitra is take a walk along the river and sit in a cafe around sunset. The atmosphere is casual, peaceful, and relaxing. Something about the breeze from the water, the cozy surroundings, and the presence of people you love that makes everything in life come to center.

Where Should You Shop?

Morocco is known for the souk (market). If you follow along, I’ll take you through Jemaa el-Fna, the famous center for shopping in Marrakech. If you don’t know the name, you’d recognize the photos.

Kénitra, like every Moroccan city, has its own markets, which are essentially winding streets of small individual vendors selling everything from jewelry to traditional kaftans to olives and spices.

Vendor in Kénitra souk on John Kennedy Rue (street)
Photo by Kristan Jennings

Those stunning kaftans you find online or in America that say “Made in Morocco” are around every corner. Handmaid goods are a staple, and if you’ve never smelled Moroccan bread baked fresh, you haven’t lived.

Join Me for Part 3: Marrakech

Photo by Selina Bubendorfer on Unsplash

Jemaa el-Fna, luxurious and affordable riads in the old medina, olive orchards, and much, much more…

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