Sale: Morocco’s discrete tourism attraction on the Atlantic coast

The enclosure of Sale’s ancient medina is formed by fortified walls, ramparts and bastions that were classified historical monuments in 1914.
Sunday 22/04/2018
Tourists visit Borj Edoumoue (Bastion of Tears) in the city  of Sale. (Saad Guerraoui)
Tourists visit Borj Edoumoue (Bastion of Tears) in the city of Sale. (Saad Guerraoui)

SALE - Sale, the long-forgotten neighbour of Morocco’s capital, Rabat, is a dormant touristic city with an impressive diversity of historic treasures. Separated from Rabat by the Bou Regreg River, the historic city of Sale is awash with monuments and shrines.

The enclosure of Sale’s ancient medina is formed by fortified walls, ramparts and bastions that were classified historical monuments in 1914. One of the medina’s main gates is Bab Lamrissa, also known as Bab Mellah, which leads to the quarter in which Moroccan Jews used to live. Very few Jews still live in the medina like in all mellahs of Morocco’s ancient cities.

The medina sounded quiet with a handful of foreign tourists roaming the streets. As I walked down the alleyways, I was shocked by the number of decaying houses that desperately needed restoration.

However, as soon as I approached Sebta Street, I stumbled upon the traditional character of its old shops and souks as the colours of fresh fruit and vegetables, olives and spices adorned the bustling street.

The smell of freshly baked Moroccan pancakes, also called msemen, was so irresistible that I stopped for a quick bite before visiting the city’s famous souks.

Souk Lakbir, which used to be a market of Christian slaves, is specialised in the sale of traditional fabrics and clothes, such as slippers and djellabas. Souk Al-Ghazal is the largest square in the city. It is an auction market where people sell used clothes and trade coloured wool.

Sale is famous for its iconic Great Mosque, the third largest mosque in Morocco after Hassan II mosque in Casablanca and Al Qaraouiyine in Fez, and the second oldest mosque, after Al Qaraouiyine.

 

The main door of the iconic Great Mosque in Sale.       (Saad Guerraoui)
The main door of the iconic Great Mosque in Sale. (Saad Guerraoui)

I felt the architectural grandeur of the Almohads when I entered the 11th-century mosque. The symmetrical white arches fill the prayer hall with bronze chandeliers lighting its high ceiling.

Among Sale’s most important mausoleums is Sidi Abdellah Ben Hassoun. Female worshippers sitting by the saint’s grave were praying for God to alleviate their worries and problems.

Medersa des Merinides is a stone’s throw from the Great Mosque. Its Kufic and ceramic polychrome writings besides carvings on the cedar wooden ceiling make it one of the wonders of the monuments of the Merinid era thanks to its architectural perfection.

Many shrines in Sale, such as Sidi Ahmed al-Tijani Zawiya, opposite the Great Mosque, served as centres for religious education and prayers. The shrines reflect Morocco’s long attachment to the spirituality of Islam.

My visit to the medina ended at Borj Edoumoue (Bastion of Tears), a 5-minute walk from the Great Mosque. This military bastion is one of the main ramparts of the walled medina. Overlooking the Atlantic, Borj Edoumoue’s rusted iron cannons are an example of authorities’ negligence of the country’s priceless history.

I had the bastion for myself for 15 minutes before a German couple turned up for a quick visit for 10 dirhams each (about $1). The bastion offers a beautiful view over the ancient medina of Rabat.

A prison, built under the bastion by fearsome Sale pirates used to be filled with slaves who were sold in North African markets. It reminds us of a city that was renowned for being an international hub of piracy, looting and slavery for centuries.

I headed to Souk El Oulja, almost a 10-minute drive from Bab Mrissa. Surprisingly, very few tourists were roaming the complex, which is famous for Morocco’s finest handicrafts, including pottery and wrought iron.

Pottery on display at Souk El Oulja in Sale.    (Saad Guerraoui)
Pottery on display at Souk El Oulja in Sale. (Saad Guerraoui)

Mosaic garden tables and chairs, vases, jewellery, plates and palm leaf bags are on display. Visitors are spoiled for choice in the dozen shops. They also can watch blacksmiths and potters craft original works. However, some shops clearly display “No photography” signs.

Unfortunately, tourism seems to be dead in Sale, which is full of cultural and architectural assets and historical monuments. Hopefully, the Rabat-Sale Marina and the construction of Africa’s tallest skyscraper on the banks of the Bou Regreg will boost tourism in the neglected city.

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