Discover a City of Outstanding Universal Value

Registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004, the port city of El Jadida is located on Morocco’s Atlantic coastline. With the region being a protectorate of Portugal since 1486, the Portuguese took control of the site in 1502 to use as stopover point on the trade route between Portugal and India. They eventually abandoned the city, then known as Mazagan, in 1769, leaving their indelible mark on the fortified city’s history, infrastructure and architecture. In recommending El Jadida for World Heritage status, UNESCO noted that it bears witness to the exchange of influences between Moroccan and European cultures for the period of the 16th to the 18th centuries, making the city of “outstanding universal value”.

Lying approximately 90 km south-west of Casablanca on a beautiful natural bay, the Mazagan fortress dominates the shoreline, with the more modern parts of the city spreading out inland. The first building constructed by the Portuguese was a citadel designed by notable Portuguese architects Diogo and Francisco de Arruda. The citadel was extended into a fortification in 1541, overseen by engineers and architects from Portugal (João Ribeiro), Spain (Juan Castillo) and Italy (Benedetto da Ravenna).

Urban development of Mazagan was rapid and, as is the case with many developing settlements, religious buildings featured prominently in the town planning. By the end of the 16th century, Mazagan was home to four sizable churches and several chapels. Today, visitors can view two religious buildings dating back to the Portuguese occupation – the 16th century chapel of St Sebastian and the parish church of Our Lady of the Assumption. While a 19th century mosque is located in front of the Church of the Assumption, on the edge of the city square.

Upon the signing of a peace treaty with Sultan Sidi Mohamed Ben ‘Abdallah in 1769, the Portuguese had no choice but to leave the city via the Seagate of the fortification, leaving their belongings behind. As a parting shot, they set explosives at the citadel’s main entrance, and when the Moroccans forced the gate open it exploded, resulting in numerous casualties. The explosion destroyed a large section of the main rampart and the Governor’s Bastion. The city remained desolate for almost five decades before, in the mid-19th century, Sultan Moulay ‘Aberrahman ordered the rebuilding of the shattered fortification and the construction of a mosque. At this time the city was renamed El Jadida, meaning ‘The New’ – and remains as such today.

Picture attribution: Vysotsky (Wikimedia Commons)