The Portuguese fortification of Mazagan, now part of the city of El Jadida, 90-km southwest of Casablanca, was built as a fortified colony on the Atlantic coast in the early 16th century. It was taken back in 1769. The fortification with its bastions and ramparts is an early example of Renaissance military design. The surviving buildings include the cistern and the Church of the Assumption, built in the Manueline style of late Gothic architecture. The City of Mazagan - one of the early settlements of the Portuguese explorers in West Africa on the route to India - is an outstanding example of the interchange of influences between European and Moroccan cultures, well reflected in architecture, technology, and town planning.
The Portuguese built this construction in 1514 in a Manueline Gothic style. First an arsenal, then an armoury, it was converted into a cistern after the citadel was enlarged in 1541. It was then constantly fed by fresh water so as to guarantee the town’s water supply in the event of a prolonged siege. Rediscovered by chance in 1916 when a shopkeeper was knocking down a wall to enlarge his shop, it has fascinated many artists as well as visitors. Orson Welles used it as a location for several scenes of his film Othello, released in 1952.
Entry into the old town is through a gateway that leads to Place Mohammed Ben Abdallah. The walls were originally fortified with five bastions but only four of these were rebuilt after the Portuguese had destroyed the town as they escaped Sidi Mohammed in 1769. The ramparts walk leads to the Bastion de l’Ange, which commands a panoramic view over the old town. The Saint Sebastian Bastion was once the seat of the Inquisition’s tribunal and the prison.
The main street leads to the sea gate (Porta de Mar) giving access to the rampart walk. This gate, now blocked in, once linked the town to the seaside. Halfway along the main street is the entrance to one of El Jadida’s most interesting sights: the Portuguese Cistern. The Mellah (Jewish Quarter) has a deserted air: most of the Jewish community emigrated to Israel in the early 1950s.