Rabat: Timeless attractions... and a modern golf course

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RABAT, Morocco -- Royal Air Maroc's transatlantic flight from New York to Morocco touches down in Casablanca, but Rabat is not far from the airport.

The nation's capital, Rabat is home to foreign embassies and the residence of the new King Mohammed VI.

Actually, Morocco is a country of capitals: Fes, Meknes and Marrakesh all have fulfilled that function at some time in their history; today all four are the country's primary destinations and are collectively known as the Imperial Cities.

Some prefer to start Moroccan tours in Rabat.

The French made it the capital during the country's four decades as a protectorate, and following independence in 1956, it retained its status, housing the royal palace and the ministerial buildings in the new part of the city.

Rabat's most dramatic site, indeed its signature, is the Tour Hassan, built of rosy copper sandstone (like so much of Morocco); it has a minaret that soars 144 feet above 200 columns of a mosque that was never completed.

Some eight centuries separate it from the other massive building on this esplanade above new Rabat -- the mosque that houses the mausoleum of Mohammed V, hero of the transition to independence.

The city's most beautiful panorama is the broad estuary with the whitewashed town of Sale on one side and the casbahs of Rabat on the other; the ferry fare between the two sides is the equivalent of 10 cents.

Other must-see sites include the Museum of Moroccan Arts, housed in a 17th century palace and famed for its collection of Berber jewelry, musical instruments and manuscripts.

Another essential is the Casbah Chellah, originally a Roman city; the site is littered with Roman ruins and saints' tombs crowned by nesting storks.

Alongside one of the tombs is a stone pool, where childless women come and feed hard-boiled eggs to the slithery eels swimming in the water, in the hope that this magical rite will bring them a son or daughter.

Friday is the Islamic Sunday to the Moslem citizens of Morocco and the day for visitors to be in Chellah to see the women dressed in their colorful best.

For those interested in Morocco's ancient past, the Archaeology Museum is the country's best.

Agents with golf-playing clients should note that the Royal Dar es Salaam Golf Club, a 45-hole complex designed by Robert Trent Jones, is a 15-minute drive from central Rabat.

Top accommodations are provided by the Rabat Hilton, the Farah Sofitel and La Tour Hassan.

For additional information, contact the Moroccan National Tourist Office in New York at (212) 557-2520.

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