The “Tower of Hassan,” as the Sultan’s tower is called, rises from the plateau above old Rabat, overlooking the steep cliff that drops down to the last winding of the Bou-Regreg. Truncated at half its height, it stands on the edge of the cliff, a far-off beacon to travellers by land and sea. It is one of the world’s great monuments, so sufficient in strength and majesty that until one has seen its fellow, the Koutoubya of Marrakech, one wonders if the genius of the builder could have carried such perfect balance of massive wall-spaces and traceried openings to a triumphant completion.
Near the tower, the red-brown walls and huge piers of the mosque built at the same time stretch their roofless alignment beneath the sky. This mosque, before it was destroyed, must have been one of the finest monuments of Almohad architecture in Morocco: now, with its tumbled red masses of masonry and vast cisterns overhung by clumps of blue aloes, it still forms a ruin of Roman grandeur.
The Mosque, the Tower, the citadel of the Oudayas, and the mighty walls and towers of Chella, compose an architectural group as noble and complete as that of some mediaeval Tuscan city. All they need to make the comparison exact is that they should have been compactly massed on a steep hill, instead of lying scattered over the wide spaces between the promontory of the Oudayas and the hill-side of Chella.
The founder of Rabat, the great Yacoub-el-Mansour, called it, in memory of the battle of Alarcos, “The Camp of Victory” (Ribat-el-Path), and the monuments he bestowed on it justified the name in another sense, by giving it the beauty that lives when battles are forgotten.
VOLUBILIS, MOULAY IDRISS AND MEKNEZ
One day before sunrise we set out from Rabat for the ruins of Roman Volubilis.
From the ferry of the Bou-Regreg we looked backward on a last vision of orange ramparts under a night-blue sky sprinkled with stars; ahead, over gardens still deep in shadow, the walls of Sale were passing from drab to peach-colour in the eastern glow. Dawn is the romantic hour in Africa. Dirt and dilapidation disappear under a pearly haze, and a breeze from the sea blows away the memory of fetid markets and sordid heaps of humanity. At that hour the old Moroccan cities look like the ivory citadels in a Persian miniature, and the fat shopkeepers riding out to their vegetable-gardens like Princes sallying forth to rescue captive maidens.
Our way led along the highroad from Rabat to the modern port of Kenitra, near the ruins of the Phenician colony of Mehedyia. Just north of Kenitra we struck the trail, branching off eastward to a European village on the light railway between Rabat and Fez, and beyond the railway-sheds and flat-roofed stores the wilderness began, stretching away into clear distances bounded by the hills of the Rarb,[A] above which the sun was rising.