The Portuguese City of Mazagan (El Jadida) is a port city on the Atlantic coast that was seized in 1502 and subsequently ruled by the Portuguese until 1769. It has been acknowledged for its interchange of influences between European and Moroccan cultures.
The Portuguese built a citadel here in 1514 and enlarged it into a fortification in 1541. They also constructed 4 churches within the fortification. The remaining buildings from the Portuguese period are the cistern and the Manueline Church of the Assumption.
After the departure of the Portuguese, the city remained uninhabited until the mid-19th century.
Map of MazaganLoad map
The Portuguese City of Mazagan turned out the biggest positive surprise of my short Moroccan coastal trip in January 2023. The site has been rated by others as of the least interest among Morocco's WHS, but just looking at the site’s intrinsic qualities and OUV, I believe this is not fair. Yes, I understand it is small and takes an hour at most to explore. But:
- It is really old. It dates from the very early stages of the explorations of the Portuguese outside Europe (1514). Among the many Portuguese colonial forts around the world, this one is the second oldest that is still intact. The only older one is Elmina Castle in Ghana (part of the Gold Coast Forts WHS).
- It has barely changed since. Elmina was heavily used by the Dutch and British in the 17th-19th centuries, while Mazagan was abandoned after the Portuguese left in 1769. The fortress town, therefore, has kept its original layout, some buildings, and the ramparts. Only the residential buildings of the Moroccans that settled here from the mid-19th century on, are additions, as well as an entrance gate built during the French protectorate.
- It has kept the church buildings intact. The 16th-century Portuguese Church of the Assumption still holds the primary position in town. OK, the Moroccans that took over and renamed the town El Jadida turned a higher watchtower into the minaret of their mosque. But they didn’t destroy the churches.
I visited Mazagan as a stop-over between Casablanca and Essaouira, arriving by train. At the ‘modern’ double entrance gate to the fortress, my attention was drawn to the trilingual WHS plaque, as I had read in Clyde’s review that it was upside down. I didn’t see anything wrong with it at first until Clyde (after I consulted him) pointed out that although they have repainted the text and the logos in black, the UNESCO logo still is on its head… But, hey, at least they have a plaque, something that has been lacking during my WH travels the past months in Brazil, Gran Canaria, and Morocco.
Mazagan has a main street to the right from the entrance with some souvenir stalls, but you certainly needn’t come here for the shopping or the bustling medina life. It’s more interesting to climb up to the ramparts, which can be accessed on either side of the town. The walkway is wide and you can access several bastions and have good overviews of the enclosed town with its (church) towers.
Unfortunately, I found the Portuguese cistern that other reviewers named as their highlight of Mazagan closed. A big lock kept the door shut and there was a sign in English saying that it ‘may be closed for restorations’. It did not open up while I was there, and also not when a bigger tour group arrived. The Church of the Assumption is now in use as a cinema. You can have a look around and an information panel tells about its original use. The 19th-century Mosque lies to the back of it and has an interestingly shaped, pentagonal minaret.
Mazagan has some graffiti here and there, the living conditions in the old houses may not be great and there is a large field of rubble just in front of the only boutique hotel of the town. But the streets and ramparts are clean, safe and pleasant to walk. I finished my visit with lunch at La Capitainerie restaurant (an offspring of the Iglesia boutique hotel in a nearby street) to see what the interior of one of the more fancy buildings looks like.
Getting there and away on public transport. There is a direct train every 2 hours from Casablanca to El Jadida. The railway station is some 5km away from the Cité Portugaise, but there are plenty of petit taxis waiting to take you there. The ride costs 18 dirhams and probably will be a shared one as common in Morocco. To leave, there is a ramshackle bus station (Gare Routière) which lies an easy 1.5km walk from the WHS. I travelled from there to Essaouira with CTM, which has a comfortable bus every 4 hours. You need to pre-book this one online, as it fills up (it’s just a stretch of the popular Casablanca – Agadir route). More basic and slower buses to Essaouira leave from that bus station more frequently. There is also a new bus station near the railway station, but it seems to be not in use (yet).
Read more from Els Slots here.
I visited this WHS in April 2018. Just as Essaouira was formerly known as Mogador, El Jadida was known as Mazagan. Both fortified towns are along the Atlantic coast and both have their own charm even though El Jadida is definitely smaller and lacks the medina atmosphere.
Apart from wandering in the few streets with bilingual names and alphabets in Portuguese and Arabic, the only three things to do here are walking on the fortified walls with a very picturesque view (photo - best time is in the morning), visiting the underground cistern and visiting the Manueline Church of the Assumption.
El Jadida in a way is quite similar to the Three Cities or Mdina in Malta and the Cittadella in Victoria/Rabat, Gozo. Next to the entrance gate is a tower-like monument with the UNESCO WHS inscription plaque. As a little trivia, the UNESCO symbol on the plaque is upside down!
All in all El Jadida is a worthwhile half day trip from Rabat and you can easily stop half way to take in Casablanca too. La Capitainerie is a hidden gem of a restaurant within a former church/chapel and their hummus, calamari dish and/or seafood tajine alone are worth the visit!
This old Portuguese fortified town is quite small and it doesn't take too long to walk through it and get a sense of the place. It's quite interesting in the way it was designed and the historical significance in indisputable. There are some nice views from the walls but, other than that, there's not a whole lot to see.
There were not many visitors at all when I came and I guess it's not the most popular place in the country. In fact, I didn't bother staying the night here and got the train up to Rabat afterwards (although that did get me in quite late).
Read more from Michael Turtle here.
I travelled to El Jadida by train from Casablanca-Voyageurs, then took a petit taxi to visit the Portuguese city.
This was very compact area contained within walls and bastions. The connections to Portugal were limited however to an underground cistern and the Church of the Assumption.
The portuguese city is old that's why it's in ruins. El Jadida is full of really great people both in 2001 and 2004 when I went. Everywhere life is bustling and everyone is ready to roll out the red carpet for visitors. The beach Sidi Bouzid is beautiful and worthy of its fame. El Jadida is more than just the Old City. The cafes are quaint and the food is good. Now that it's been so built-up it's well worth a stop. Essaouira was freezing in September due to the wind. El Jadida was and will be my favorite and if you're looking for the real Morocco, not shopping centers in Casa or touristy games in Marrakech then I recommend El Jadida.
Nothing has changed in El-Jadida recently. I was in January 2009 and the conditions in old medina are appaling. Litter everwhere, old Portugese churches are closed, many houses are ruined, mosques are closed for non-muslims as usual. Despite that it is worth visiting - walls are strong and well preserved, Portugese cistern is a "must" to see and really interesting. The most impressing view of Mazagan is from the pier in fishing port, especially in the early morning of sunshine day - recommended.
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At Bureau Session; redefinition of the proposed area and name change
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