Protruding into the Atlantic Ocean at Cap de Mazagan, El Jadida is a port city with an unexpected European Renaissance accent.
The water is the ramparts of the Portuguese fortified city, built in the early 16th century and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
You can go underground along these walls and admire the fantastic cisterns in Portuguese Manuel style.
After experiencing the frenetic marina activity in the port and gazing at the Portuguese city from a mole, you can set your course for one of the many Atlantic beaches just minutes from the city.
Let’s explore the best things to do in El Jadida:
1. Cité Portugaise
Known as Mazagan, a fortified city in Portugal, founded in the early 16th century, it was eventually taken over by Sultan Mohammed ben Abdallah in 1769. The Portuguese city was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2004 for its well-preserved Renaissance layout, with forts, ramparts and atmospheric cisterns, all ready to explore.
The place is also intriguing for the way it was set up as a Moroccan town, with its minaret converted from its former watchtower.
We’ll discuss some of the standout features below, but one attraction to look for is the Church of the Assumption, which retains some Manuel Gothic decoration.
2. Portuguese Reservoir
If there is one thing to see throughout El-Jadida, it is the amazing underground reservoir of the Portuguese city.
This 34 x 34 meter space actually started out as a warehouse or armory before being remodeled.
The cistern has five rows of five columns supporting the elegant Manuel vault.
There is a layer of shallow water, illuminated by a beam of light from the circular opening above, and reflected in a diamond pattern on the ceiling.
By the 18th century, the reservoir had been forgotten, and was rediscovered in 1717 by a Jewish shopkeeper after removing a wall from his store.
In 1951, Orson Welles chose the Portuguese Pool as the filming location for his adaptation of the film Othello.
3. Mosquée De La Cité Portugaise
One of the city’s most fascinating sights is the mosque, which is located at the entrance and dates back to the resettlement of El Jadida in the early 19th century.
In 1879, on the orders of Sultan Hassan I, the city’s former five-pointed watchtower was converted into an unusual minaret.
This peculiar building with rounded edges is a sought-after photo opportunity and looks most impressive under the sky and the castle’s arches.
Unfortunately, as this is a functioning mosque, non-Muslims cannot enter.
A hallmark of the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the Portuguese city of the 19th century, three churches, a Masonic hall and a temple are not far from the mosque.
4. Plage El Haouzia
This dune-edged beach is still in El Jadida province, 15 km outside the town of Azemmour.
In 2019, Plage El Haouzia was the only Blue Flag beach in the region.
But beyond lifeguard supervision, facilities and top-notch hygiene, the reason for this trip is because of the sheer cinematic beauty of this stretch of Atlantic sandy coastline.
El Haouzia’s ocean is vibrant and the beach is one of the best in the province for surfing, windsurfing, kit surfing and surfing.
Not far away, battered by the waves is the disintegrated bow of a South Korean container ship that ran aground in the 1980s.
The sea at Plage El Haouzia is lively, and unless you’re in shallow water, it’s not suitable for casual bathing.
Outside the tourist season, there are also horseback riding activities on the beach.
5. Sidi Bowafi Lighthouse
The Sidi Bouafi lighthouse was built in 1916 and is located at the highest point of the city at an altitude of 65 meters, some distance from the water.
It remains an important navigational aid for ships sailing between Madeira, the Azores and the African continent or Europe.
The beacon emits a rotating white beam that flashes three times every five seconds and makes three revolutions per minute, with a visible range of 30 nautical miles.
At the foot of the lighthouse is the taxi stand for the town of Moulay Abdellah Amghar, which we will introduce later.
The lighthouse has no published opening hours, but if the doors are open, you can freely climb the 248 steps to the top for a full panoramic view of the city and coastline.
6. Marché Central d’El Jadida
El Jadida’s central market, located between Avenues Hassan ll and Avenue Mohammed Errafi, in a two-story building in the French protectorate, may have had better days.
You shouldn’t let peeling paint and missing tiles put you off, as the market is an unforgettable experience for the uninitiated, with fish, meat, fruit and vegetable stalls and some produce you won’t find anywhere else.
Lively haggling continues into the evening, and this is one of the only places you can buy alcohol in El Jadida.
There are small restaurants connected to the stalls, allowing you to choose your favorite fish for your meal.
7. Deauville Beach
El Jadida’s municipal beach stretches from the port in the west to the racecourse in the east, and takes its name from a chic resort in Normandy.
The name is apt, as in Deauville, when the tide recedes, this beach is absolutely vast, washed by low-rolling waves.
Whether you want to bathe so close to the port is another question, but this huge stretch of shelving sand is worth a visit.
Camel and horse rides are available, and you’ll find a small amusement park on the shore for the kids.
There is also a promenade around the bay, and most cafes are located at the western end.
8. Port Jadida
The fishing port next to the city is a commercial venue where you will experience the gritty, unfiltered taste of Moroccan urban working life.
As in any port, things start before dawn, with shoppers arriving on the trawlers with pots, plastic bags and baskets to haggle.
In the hustle and bustle of the seaside fish market, you can see fishermen and buyers noisily arguing over the prices of sardines, mackerel, cod and deep-sea fish.
If you’re a late riser, the port is active throughout the day as new trawlers and feluccas dock throughout the day to feed the city’s restaurants, open-air markets and supermarkets.
High season is a special time in the port, when sardines and other catches are grilled on charcoal by the water and served with salads and bread.
Surrounding the north side of the port is El Jadida Mole, which offers panoramic views of the port, the Portuguese city, and the lighthouse of Sidi Bouafi on the beach.
In the hinterland of El Jadida, usually near the douars, you will come across these peculiar dry stone structures, consisting of two cylinders, both widened at the bottom.
These are called Tazotas, and there are at least 450 of them in the region.
Many of these limestone buildings were abandoned, and some are still used as shelters for people and livestock.
They date back to the early 20th century, when nomadic populations were forced to remain sedentary in the early days of the French protectorate.
You can look up a map online to point out these structures, but if you’re in a hurry, you’ll see a few kilometers from El Jadida on the R318.
10. Château Rouge (Château Buisson)
This transplanted castle is a photo opportunity, and keep an eye out for photos as you pass Annassr Avenue, which runs along the rocky coastline north and west of the Portuguese city and port.
Château Rouge looks different from other buildings in the city.
Built in the style of a romantic castle, it was completed in the late 1920s by the merchant Mr. Buisson, complete with towers, battlements and mechanisms.
Originally from Auvergne, he presumably wanted to build himself a residence that reminded him of home.
The castle was not painted red until the 1960s, when it was sold to a Moroccan family.
Château Rouge is still private property, but worth taking pictures, especially because of the colorful gardens bursting from the walls.
11. Plage Sidi Bouzid
About 15 minutes on the way from the Portuguese city to Moulay Abdellah Amghar is the small seaside resort of Sidi Bouzid with a fantastic golden sand beach.
This is on a gently curved bay surrounded by high sand dunes with dark green vegetation.
One of the best things about Plage Sidi Bouzid is its westerly direction and the magical sunset over the bay.
One thing to keep in mind is that the beach is open to the full force of the Atlantic, so even in the middle of summer the waves are strong and cold.
If you need refreshment, there are many restaurants and coffee shops in the resort on the northern end of the bay.
12. Kasbah Boulaouane
Further afield, Boulaoune is in the southeast of El Jadida province, an hour’s drive from the city.
The reason to go this far is the awesome old fort, built on a bend in the Oum Er-Rbia river that looks like a movie set.
This Alaouite dynasty fortification was built in this important strategic location in the early 18th century.
In its irregular quadrilateral plan, the fort is partially in ruins, but almost all of its outer walls and towers are intact.
Above the gate is a frieze with the castle’s completion date and the name of the chief architect engraved on it.
Inside are mosques, cisterns, stables, warehouses and residential towers with ornately decorated signs.
An exciting detail is a secret passage leading from the east wall, which twists and turns to a river and a trough used to feed livestock when under siege.
13. Moulay Abdullah Amhar
10 kilometers along the coast, you can see the remains of a 12th-century city, destroyed in the 14th century, which contains two of Islam’s oldest minarets.
It is worth noting that despite the changes, the two buildings still stand and are now the minarets of the town’s zaouia (madrasah). Every August, it’s one of the most spectacular sights in the region, at the Moussem (Maghreb Festival), in honor of the religious leader Moulay Adbellah Amghar, named after the town.
The event, which drew up to 500,000 people, included a massive Quran reading, as well as a falconry show and a stunning equestrian exhibition (Fantasia).
14. Plage Sidi Abed
Continue along the coast from Moulay Abdellah Amghar and before long you will reach a beach that is almost completely isolated from the world.
The appeal of Plage Sidi Abed is the tranquility you find only a 40-minute drive from El Jadida.
Of course, you have to bring everything you need for a day in the sun on these remote pale sands.
There is no private area with umbrellas, but the good news is that you can rent tents or gazebos.
Afterwards, you can spend the afternoon bathing in the shallows, building sandcastles and strolling along the coast.
The next town east along the coast is Azemmour, which is in a great position above the left bank of the Oum Er-Rbia River, just before it enters the Atlantic Ocean.
In summer, you can take a river cruise for a small fee.
Azemmour had a brief Portuguese period in the first half of the 16th century, when Magellan later made his first circumnavigation.
The Medina bears traces of the ancient Portuguese walls, while the Kasbah was built on the ruins of a Portuguese fort, guarded by historic cannons.
The most striking relic from the Portuguese era is the old gunpowder magazine, known as the tower of Dar El Baroud.
In Mellah, the Jewish quarter of Medina, sits the shrine of Jewish saint Rabbi Abraham Mulnes, famous for healing the daughter of a French governor during the protectorate.
Although Azemmour’s Jewish community emigrated in the 20th century, his shrine is still revered and a festival is held every August.
Where to Stay: The best hotels in El Jadida, Morocco
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