Long confined to the status of an administrative city, Morocco’s capital dreams of becoming an international city of culture and knowledge. In the minds of Casablanca’s residents, Rabat is a city where nothing happens, living according to a monotone rhythm that rubs off on its inhabitants who have the reputation of being boors. In return, in the minds of Rabatis, Casablancans are stressed and hot-headed to the point of lacking good manners. Some clichés are deeply rooted in popular memory, which has always associated the administrative capital with order and slowness, and the economic capital of Casablanca with turbulence and disorder.
But all of that is soon going to change with the transformations occurring in the two cities. If Casablanca hopes to reclaim its urban cleanliness by eradicating slums and other pockets of poverty, then Rabat wants to create an image of itself as a cultural city. As an imperial city classified by UNESCO as part of humanity’s world heritage, the administrative capital is also a city that breathes easy: 20m² of green space per inhabitant, which is double what is recommended by the World Health Organization.
It already has many cultural assets, such as the Grande Bibliothèque Nationale library, the Mohammed-V Theater, and the Bab Rouah exposition hall, not to mention the Mawazine Festival that attracts 2.6 million spectators.King Mohammed VI is thinking on a grand scale, and wants to make the city of his Alawite ancestors an international cultural capital following the examples of Paris, Rome, and London. On top of everything, the five-year plan includes a 9.43 billion dirham (835 million euros) contribution from the Wessal Capital investment fund in order to finance the “Rabat City of Light” project. Could it be a reference to Paris? “No, “light” should be understood as knowledge, influence, and discovery,” explains Abderrafie Zouiten, General Director of the Moroccan National Tourist Office, or OMNT. Morocco is holding onto its unique characteristics, which it wants to showcase while also incorporating cultural and touristic development. It is in this capacity that the director of the ONMT has already started to promote this (future) destination abroad.
The cultural consecration of Rabat is the result of an exceptionally well-organized transformation. Placed under the supervision of the king, the capital of Morocco has always been directed in a strict fashion. The real estate lobby was not able to do as much damage there as in Casablanca. The gardens were preserved, and the rural exodus with its share of slums was handled better. This allowed construction work on urban transportation to be successfully undertaken, such as the tramway or the large Hassan-II Bridge, which joined Rabat with its twin city Salé, considered to be a commuter town until then.
A 2,000 Seat Grand Theater
The five-year plan includes the construction of a 2,000 seat Grand Theater, designed by the famed Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, as well as a Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, which will open its doors this September driven by the President of the National Foundation of Museums, Mehdi Qotbi. A Museum of Archaeology and Earth Sciences that will house the oldest dinosaur ever discovered is also planned. “All these projects will be accompanied by signing agreements with international museums,” says Zouiten. We can bet that in a few years, the image of the boorish Rabati will be nothing more than an old memory, even for Casablancans.
Has a city in your country or geographical area been successful in reinventing its image to the outside world? How was it accomplished?
Original article, originally published in French, here.
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