Rabat – Overlooking the mouth of the Bouregreg river, perched on the foothills of the Kasbah of the Oudayas, Rabat’s historic Moorish Cafe is presently replaced by construction workers toiling under the heat of the July sun over a dusty vacant lot. Developers recently razed the historical cafe with plans to rebuild it “identically.”
While the project managers claim that the rehabilitation of the cafe was necessary to prevent it from ruin and improve its appearance, Oudaya residents have responded with concern and frustration over the demolition. Many have taken to social media to express disinterest in the renovation project and anger over a lack of transparency with the local community.
Moorish Cafe in Rabat
“Nobody came to ask residents of Oudaya for their opinions on the project. We did not have a voice in the matter,” Najib, a local resident who lives just meters away from the site, told Morocco World News.
Rachid, another nearby resident, expressed a similar opinion: “The situation represents that there is no communication between the ministry, stakeholders involved, and the residents.” He added, “We have seen no posting about the budget for this renovation, their exact plans, or anything.”
Rachid noted that the Kasbah, including the cafe, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. “In a historic site like this, there needs to be communication with the local community and all of those impacted.” He questioned whether or not the UN agency was involved in the decision making process.
Other local residents share fears that the newly renovated cafe will come with higher price tags and threaten the community with the rippling effects of gentrification.
“It needs restoration, yes. But not to be totally broken down — especially with cement and other materials so unlike the ones originally used to build the space,” said Najib.
He hopes that the renovations underway will at least make the space more accessible to people with disabilities, while preserving the cafe’s historic authenticity and charm.
The rehabilitation project comes after the government’s launch of a development project in May 2019, which includes the rebuilding of Rabat’s ancient medina and the development of public squares and other old buildings.
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The history of the Kasbah of the Oudayas and the origins of Rabat’s Moorish Cafe
Dating back to the 10th century, historians believe that the walls sectioning off the Kasbah of the Oudayas once marked the founding structures of Rabat. The capital city’s ramparts preserve a long history of Amazigh, Moorish, and Andalusian influence and memories.
The northern or upper parts of the Kasbah were built by the Almohad caliphate, a North African Amazigh (Berber) Muslim movement from the 12th century.
In the early 1600’s, King Phillip III of Spain decreed the expulsion of thousands of Muslims and Moorish people from the country. Many of them sought refuge in Morocco, settling in the Kasbah of the Oudayas and later branching out to Rabat’s medina and its neighboring city, Sale.
It was in the 18th century when the Moors came to occupy the Kasbah that the lower parts of the Kasbah, including the Moorish Cafe and Andalusian Gardens, emerged.
Since then, the cafe, defined by its green and white zelliges and its breathtaking view, has been a popular hangout for locals and tourists to enjoy tea and sweets.