The road from Essaouira to El Jadida, with stops in Safi and Azemmour – Morocco

17 Jun

The road from Essaouira to El Jadida

Short Description. I left Essaouira and had to go through a storm near the Atlantic. In Safi, the sky unclouded though, and I explored the medina, the Kechla kasbah, and Colinne de Potiers. For lunch I stopped in the lagoon of Oualidia and in the evening, I arrived in El Jadida.

Long Description

The sky was still cloudy and the forecasts were pretty uncertain. I had arrived at the Atlantic during the fall when the rains began after six months of dryness. If I had made the circuit through Morocco in the opposite direction, I would have first explored the Atlantic coast until the rains started, then the Sahara desert when the temperatures would have lowered a bit. I had to deal, though, with temperatures of 40 Celsius degrees in the desert and often rains alongside the Atlantic Ocean.

I had felt like a princess at Riad Salmiya Dune and regretted that I had to leave. From Essaouira, I headed north along the road parallel to the ocean. The sky was cloudy and it rained from time to time. In the more exposed places, the wind blew violently though. At one point, it rained heavily and the wind blew so powerfully that I had to stop on the right side of the road. I waited for the storm to pass while the squall of wind strongly shook my car. The thick clouds passed and I could see clear sky coming from the sea. Seagulls had gathered on the sandy beach I photographed from the car. I passed several rural settlements surrounded by agricultural plots of land, then went parallel to the crops cultivated alongside the ocean, near the beach.

The old medina in Safi

The old medina in Safi

In Safi, the weather cleared and I parked on a street near Kechla, the former kasbah in the old city. When I tried to move the car to the parking lot of the kasbah, I couldn’t unlock the steering wheel because I had deliberately turned the wheels to prevent the car from being lifted for irregular parking. I was ready to ask for help, when I suddenly managed to unlock the steering wheel, moved the car, and went to visit the kasbah.

Even though it was closed, the guard allowed me to explore Kechla, a kasbah with massive walls, ramps, bastions, shooting platforms, a mosque, and abandoned living quarters, including the National Ceramics Museum (also closed). As a thank you, I gave some money to the man who guarded the kasbah and the parking lot (where only my car stood). This is how you build up your relationships in Morocco, with some money.

The old medina in Safi - the Portugese Cathedral

The old medina in Safi – the Portugese Cathedral

Safi had one of Morocco’s largest modern ports, but it still held the signs since the old city was an important port for the trans-Saharan trade between Marrakesh and Guinea. Bab Lamaasa was the main entrance gate to the fortified medina, a gate that emerged on the backdrop of the medina’s white and blue dwellings. The main, winding street – Rue du Souq, ran right through the middle of the medina and several souqs (jewelry, clothes, food) branched from it a bit farther. I turned right onto Passage el-Bouiba that led to the Portuguese Cathedral. The Cathedral was rather a massive brick bell-tower that remained unfinished after the Portuguese fled from the city. Near the cathedral, a man on a bicycle stopped and asked me where I came from and then wished me a pleasant visit.

Near the alleys that bordered the fortifications, I exited the medina through Bab Chaba, a gate near which locals sold pottery. Across the road, Colline des Potiers spread over an entire hill covered with pottery workshops and colorful ceramics. On the reddish or white houses, the potters glued ceramic pieces and created a colorful design. Piles of tajine pots stood in the street and here and there, one could notice earth ovens for burning ceramics. A kid painted some freshly baked vases directly in the street.

Safi - Colline des Potiers

Safi – Colline des Potiers

After I left Safi, I stopped in the lagoon of Oualidia on my way to El Jadida. I went directly to the restaurant Maison de L´Ostrea II that featured fish specialties and an oyster farm. I ordered an oyster soup, delicious and expensive, however not hearty at all. So I rushed into a grilled fish platter to appease my hunger. Despite the pricey bill, I had lunch looking outside at the calm and green lagoon – a peaceful scenery after the terrible morning storm. A sandy beach stretched behind the lagoon, then one could sea the sea bordered by agricultural plots of land neatly cultivated. I would have liked to visit the oyster farm but all waiters spoke Arabic and only little French, so we didn’t understand each other at all.

Oualidia Lagoon - pricey lunch with fish delicacies

Oualidia Lagoon – pricey lunch with fish delicacies

Green plots of land cultivated in between the lagoon and the ocean bordered the road to El Jadida. In the evening, I arrived in El Jadida and went directly to the room I booked at Dar Aboulanwar. It was a modern villa set outside the historical center, where I received a large and quiet room, just as I had requested.

The Portuguese city of El Jadida

Short Description. I went all over the Portuguese city of El Jadida: the cistern, the ramps as well as Bastion de L ‘Ange and Bastion de Saint Sebastian. In the afternoon, I stopped in the medina with graffiti walls in Azemmour. I eventually arrived in Casablanca late in the afternoon.

Long Description

The Portuguese city of Mazagan was a small one, with a few streets surrounded by mighty fortification walls. It was listed as a UNESCO heritage site because it was one of the first fortified settlements of the Portuguese on their way to explore the route from West Africa to India. Besides, it was proof of the cultural exchange between Europeans and Moroccans in the XVIth to the XVIIth century. After the Portuguese left, the fortress was renamed El Jadida (‘the New’). Although many Jews came to live in the new city, they never had a Jewish quarter (mellah) like in other medinas.

El Jadida - the Portuguese city of Mazagan

El Jadida – the Portuguese city of Mazagan

Inside the fortifications, the Assumption Church in late Gothic style stood just opposite a mosque refurbished in a former lighthouse in al-Kanissa Square. The streets were wide enough for cars to get in, but pedestrians and a few shops predominated the alleys. Hotel Iglesia dominated a vast public space where nothing happened. It was only a parking lot and people only passed by. Houses in the old city had several floors and were painted in yellow, the same color as the fortifications.

In the basement of a house, I climbed down to an old water cistern, a former barracks where rainwater was collected through a roof opening. In the cistern, a thin layer of water reflected the vaulted ceiling of the cistern supported by 12 sturdy pillars. Near Porte de la Mer, a local bakery stood near the sea. Women brought the kneaded dough in the morning and came after the baked bread later in the afternoon. They knew which was their bread after the color or the pattern of the cloth in which they wrapped it.

El Jadida - the local bakery

El Jadida – the local bakery

An early example of Renaissance military architecture (adapted to the emergence of firearms), the Portuguese city was built as a fortified colony on the Atlantic coast at the beginning of the XVIth century. It featured cisterns, bastions, moats, and star-shaped ramparts. The section of the wall overlooking the sea connected the two most important bastions of the city (Bastion de L’Ange – Bastion de Saint Sebastian). The bastions overlooked the sea as well as the city and had shooting platforms with old cannons, ramps, and observation points. At the end of the ramparts, one could find the synagogue with a baroque facade. Vegetation and rubbish invaded many areas but for a curious eye, the architectural value was obvious.

El Jadida - the ancient cistern in the underground of a building

El Jadida – the ancient cistern in the underground of a building

Opposite to the Portuguese city, peddlers sold heaps of fruits and vegetables in the street. Clusters of figs and dates flooded the stalls, topped by huge pomegranates and flatbread. The elegant Avenue du Suez ran along the sea and the wide beach, both deserted though at that time of year. The boulevard had imposing modernist-style buildings and slender palm trees that flanked the lanes to the exit of the city.

A short stop in the medina of Azemmour

On the way to Casablanca, I stopped in the medina of Azemmour, popular for its artists who painted countless graffitis on the walls of the houses. The medina of Portuguese influence had fortification walls, whitewashed houses in different colors, and narrow winding alleys with suspended arches where locals dried clothes. However, the streets seemed pretty dirty, often pavementless, and many dwellings had exfoliated plaster. The fortifications in Place du Souk were impressive in size and even had modern amenities. The square was a bit deserted though, so I left quickly. Gates and colorful windows in the medina featured ingenious graffitis or frames decorated since the Portuguese times.

The old medina in Azemmour

The old medina in Azemmour

Mohammed Janati was weaving Berber shawls and carpets in his store in the medina. He opened his shop in Azzemour because the rent was lower than in Casablanca. When I entered his shop, he immediately asked his daughter to serve me a glass of tea. He was very proud his shop was listed in a guidebook about Morocco. He insisted that I return to stay in his big house. Also, he insisted on giving me a shawl (unclear whether for money or as a gift – typically Moroccan).

The old medina in Azemmour - Mohammed Janati in his Berber weaving shop

The old medina in Azemmour – Mohammed Janati in his Berber weaving shop

I left Azzemour and stopped the car in front of the medina, on the other side of the river. There, I enjoyed the fish leftovers from yesterday’s lunch in Oualidia. In Casablanca, I arrived at the peak hour of the afternoon but I somehow succeeded through the infernal traffic. You moved only if you dared to squeeze among other cars. At the traffic lights, beggars knocked on your car window and coursed you. Coco and her husband warmly welcomed me in their apartment. They were glad to finally meet me after talking so many times on the Internet.

If you want to read more about my trip through Morocco, here are all my Travel Diaries from Morocco (x21).

Have you been to El Jadiada or plan to go there? Leave a comment below this post and tell me what you liked in Morocco.

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