Portuguese City of Mazagan (El Jadida)
Portuguese City Of Mazagan (El Jadida)
Cultural Morocco Arab States Region: Doukkala-abda, Province El Jadida

The Portuguese city of Mazagan, one of the early settlements of the Portuguese explorers in West Africa, on the route to India, illustrates the interchange of influences (well reflected in architecture, technology and town planning) between European and Moroccan cultures. It illustrates the realization of the Renaissance ideals integrated with Portuguese construction technology.

Mazagan is situated on the Atlantic coast, about 90 km south-west of Casablanca, and faces a natural bay of great beauty. The modern part of the city of El Jadida has developed around the landward side of the Mazagan fortress. Today the city is of great economic and tourist interest, situated as it is in a region rich in production, and also rich in heritage related to the Portuguese period.

The Portuguese first settled the site of Mazagan in 1502, after it had been a Portuguese protectorate since 1486. The only construction on the site was a tower called el-Brija. They decided in 1514 to build a citadel, designed by Francisco and Diogo de Arruda, who also worked on other fortifications in Moroccan medinas. In 1541, after the loss of Agadir, the citadel was enlarged into a fortification. The design was entrusted to a team of engineer-architects - the Portuguese João Ribeiro, the Spaniard Juan Castillo and the Italian Benedetto da Ravenna. Mazagan underwent rapid urban development, including the construction of religious ensembles, responding to the requirements of this period of religious confrontation. By the end of the century, there were four churches and several chapels within the fortification.

The design of the Fortress of Mazagan is a response to the development of modern artillery in the Renaissance. At the present time the fortification has four bastions: the Angel Bastion in the east, St Sebastian in the north, St Antoine in the west, and the Holy Ghost Bastion in the south. The fifth, the Governor's Bastion at the main entrance, is in ruins, having been destroyed by the Portuguese in 1769. The fort had three gates: the Sea Gate, forming a small port with the north-east rampart;the Bull Gate in the north-west rampart;and the main entrance with a double arch in the centre of the south rampart, originally connected to land via a drawbridge. During the French Protectorate the ditch was filled with earth and a new entrance gate opened leading to the main street, the Rua da Carreira and the Sea Gate. Along this street are the best-preserved historic buildings, including the Catholic Church of the Assumption and the cistern.

Two Portuguese religious ensembles are still preserved in the citadel. Our Lady of the Assumption is a parish church built in the 16th century;it has a rectangular plan, a single nave, a choir, a sacristy and a square bell tower. The second structure is the chapel of St Sebastian sited in the bastion of the same name.

The 19th-century mosque in front of the Church of the Assumption delimits the urban square, the Praça Terreiro, which opens towards the entrance of the city. The minaret is an adaptation of the old Torre de Rebate, originally part of the cistern, showing historical continuity. The design of the cistern building, also part of the ensemble, is attributed to João Castilho. It consists of an almost square plan, with three halls on the north, east and south sides, and four round towers: Torre da Cadea (of the prison) in the west, Torre de Rebate in the north, the Tower of the Storks in the east, and the ancient Arab tower of El-Brija in the south. There is also a partly underground central hall constructed with stone pillars and brick vaults in the Manueline manner. The waters are conducted to the cistern through a system of channels from the citadel. The terrace of the ensemble held the Residence of the Captain, a small hospital, and the small Church of the Misericordia, of which only the ruins of the bell tower remain.