Larache.. An Andalusian Port on the Atlantic Ocean

Larache.. An Andalusian Port on the Atlantic Ocean

Photos: Sulaiman Haider

Having passed Tangier and Asilah, heading south to the city of Larache, the first thing we experienced as we stopped along Morocco s Atlantic waters was the sweet taste of sugar.

We stopped at a fruiterer s to buy yellow watermelons, which everyone who has been there recommended us to taste. A gentle breeze in bright sunshine stirred tree leaves, as if the rustle of which were ledgendary female soothsayers repeating some phrases echoes back by the salt ocean water and the valley freshwater lake. The phrases were about Larache, its history and its yellow watermelons, which left a sweet taste in our mouths as we were getting ready to continue our journey. Saying goodbye to the seller we asked him: Is the city as sweet as its fruit?

We were not the only people who asked that question, for this area was crossed over thousands of years by those who left their visible mark there. That was the scene when we arrived at the first historical site on our visit to the Moroccan city of Larache, an Andalusian port on the Atlantic.

Our guide said: Every site you will visit reveals a chapter of the city s long history. All civilizations were here. On this site you ll discover that the Phoenician sea masters founded Lexus, Larche s predecessor and on the way they founded Carthage (in Tunisia), Annaba, Gigil and Axium in Algeria, Ceuta and Mellila in Morocco, and Malaga and Albira in Spain.

The site was chosen by the Phoenicians for its easy access to the Atlantic through a river, as the enclosed topographical map shows. After the Phoenicians the region was invaded by the Romans, who founded a number of ancient Moroccan cities, like Temuda (Tetouan), Lili (in Fez area) and Tangies (Tangier).

I looked at the plaque put up at the archoeological site of the buried Phoenician city, which is 3 km from Larache on a mound at the northern end of the city on the bank of Lucus river: (Lexus Archaeological Site Restoration Project. Owner: Ministry of Culture, Tangier / Tetouan District. Architecture: Catherine Almurabit. Project cost: 800,000000 dirhams).

Beyond the iron fence we saw the ancient city s walls buried under dust and grass hiding the secrets of that site which could be revealed on a forthcoming journey! Cactus, wild green grass, old forest trees and a number of guards, were all waiting with us. The plaque didn t specify a time for the start of or a schedule for the visit!

Rosy dreams didn t seem to continue. Before going into the city and on its fringes there were many unplanned buildings on another mound with a variety and contrast of colours reflecting the diversity of its population, who come from rural and mountainous areas, and some coming back home from Europe. Each community has its own lifestyle, which threatens its residents to lack homogeneity, or as we will find out in our conversations with them.

Al-Arabi with Al-Arabi

We had appointments with some of Larache s prominent figures as well as interviews by chance, one of which was with the researcher Al-Arabi Almisbahi, director of historical buildings there. We met him at an archaeological site at the foot the old city s kasbah overlooking the port.

As we were looking at the restoration work in progress we wanted to enquire about plans for the revival of that multi-civilization architecture. As Al-Arabi said, the project was designed to set up a centre for joint effort in the area of heritage preservation and development involving the people of Larche as part of an overall development plan. To that end, more than eight theoretical and practical workshops were organized. The projects are funded by the National Human Development Program, Barcelona-based Medi-terranean Research and Studies Organization (SIRIM) in association with Barcelona Municipality. We looked t detailed maps of the Grand Palace city before visiting its schools which are shown in purple, mosques (orange), zaouias and mausoleums (green), shopping malls (blue), tourist sites (gold) and traditional houses (pink).

Another project at Larache is designed to develop the ancient Alqibibat fort on the sea and convert it into a hotel by a private company. The project is part of a series of projects to rehabilitate traditional buildings and turn them into tourist attractions not only as hotels but also as cafés and traditional industry units. All parties concerned are involved in this development endeavour: the government, individuals and foreign residents with their views and connections with sponsors. That led the Municipality and NGOs to encourage investment in heritage preservation in support of the city s socio-economic movement and similar projects which receive public and legal support. Almisbahi rules out any negative effect of tourism on Larache s history and heritage, but on the contrary these projects are an element of local development.

I was pleased to know how the kingdom supports traditional industries and handicrafts when I saw a colour advertisement covering a quarter of a page of a daily newspaper published by the ministry in charge of traditional industries inviting applications for the top prize in decoration, furniture, jewellery and clothes.

I met Almisbahi in Dar Almakhazin square, the building with a minaret which was the residence of the official representative of the authority since the 15th century. It was the military authority HQ during the Spanish protectorate in the early 20th century. It was rebuit in the17th century during the reign of the Alawi Sultan Ismail to reaffirm its position as the residence of the representative of the central authority. The building and its ancillary units formed an administrative and military complex at the kasbah, the city s old residential area during the Watasi era, in 1741, which moved the city from its Phoenician location in Lexus to its present one, following the evacuation of the Lexus population. According to some theories, that was due to shortage of water in the old location, which brought about that demographic and geographic change in the 15th century as the present location is famous for its springs. The small souq at the kasbah has been attracting visitors since the 18th century. The Alawi Sultan Sidi Muhammad bin Abdullah founded the souq, the Grand Mosque, a traditional school (became a hotel later) and other facilities to turn Larache into a major port on the Atlantic.

The Grand Palace s features

We said goodbye to Almisbahi at a place erroneously called the Jewish Tower . The tower, which overlooks the sea, was built during the first Spanish protectorate in the 17th century, after 1610, which witnessed the occupation of Larache on the sea to be the main entrance to the city. According to oral narratives, the wrong name was due to common belief that a physician of a Jewish origin took care of Sultan Alsaadi during the famous Wadi Almakhain Battle in the 16th century and lived in that tower.

Buildings in the old city are largely influenced by Western architectural styles dating back to the period of the first Spanish protectorate in the 17th century, giving the city its special urban development mark.

With a few exceptions, the Grand Palace s zaouias and mausoleums, including, doors, domes, columns and walls, are noticeably white and green. This applies to the zaouias of Sidi Qassim bin Zubair, Altijania, Fatima Alandalusia, Albadawia Alnasseria, and mousoleums of Sidi Bughlib, Sidi Belabbas and Lala Fatima bin Ahmad (d. AH1050). Hotels and restored baths, such as Alattarin and Altawd hotels and Hammam (bath) Sidi Maimoun are blue. Some baths are in need of extensive restoration, but houses, schools and souqs are in a better condition, due to individual initiatives which preserved them for decades. Among these are Souq Sebta, Dar Aldabagh, Darsat Sidi Buhamad and the Cultural Centre. The sites which received the most attention are mosques, including those of Abu Hadid, Alsuwaiqa, Sidi Mansour, Asayeda (with these beautiful mashrabias (oriels), arches and white walls).

The port by day and at night

According to the 2004 census, the population of Larache is 472, 386, and as its area is 450 km2 (out of the total area of the region being 2782 km2), and population density is 2303/km2. The city is bounded east by Chafchaon, south by Kenitra, north by Tetouan, Tangier and Asilah, and west by the Atlantic, with a 56-km waterfront. The port and its beach make the city s inhabitants closely connected with fishing and related activities. That s why visiting the port was a must.

The small port was quiet in the early morning with young men mending nets following a fishing trip. A small box of fish was awaiting a buyer who missed the early morning markets. Boats were coming into the port to dock there with their owners following a difficult catch of fish. But faces were not cheerful, with an expression of some sort of pain. Boats were primitive to some extent, mostly old. Tens of sailors were on board the big boat waiting for the day s compass which determines the location of the fishing.

Heaps of nets need clever magicians to untie them before starting the trip. Other sailors were putting the catch of fish in boxes with crushed ice to keep the fish fresh. The captain has to ensure that all his men pass the entrance to the port which the Spanish called the lion s mouth because of the huge waves that can capsize the boat.

Boats lock in the port at night and sailors carry boxes of fish to Lukha , the National Fishing Office, where many complaints are heard against the office, fishermen and boat owners and about the dangers of the port and ocean waters.

There is a common complaint about the hazards of catching fish, the blue gold, not only because of the huge waves but also because of the lack of safety in worn-out boats. There is another frequent complaint about sailors share in the valve of the trip catch (only 300 dirhams out of approx. 80,000). But the real danger to fishing is the use of intense light to attract fish, which results in the loss of 400 boxes of small fish to catch just a single box of fish, causing a huge long-term loss, in addition to a lot of unemployment for weeks.

On the other hand, the economic situation is better, particularly in the Lucus river basin plain, one of Morocco s main agricultural regions with a total area of 256,000 hectares, 47,300 of which is arable land. There is a variety of farm production there, and the Lucus area accounts for 80% of the national production of strawberry, 7% of vegetables, 15% of sugar, 7% of oil, 8% of milk and 10% of honey.

In Tahrin Square

The city centre s Tahrir square is a pleasure to see, thanks to its beautiful style of architecture, which, according to our guide, replicates Andalusian architecture, from Almeria, Cordova, Granada, etc.

The square looks like an Andalusian postcard sent to the people of Larache. However, the buildings are in a pressing need of repair, and, strangely enough, this new Moresque style is threatened with collapse, and one such building has actually been demolished and was replaced with a high-rise ugly one, hiding the sea.

We sat in the square with some of the city s notables, on top of whom was Professor AbduIlah Aswadqa, president of Abdul Samad Alkanafawi Society, which incidentally organized the first season of drama and folklore festival. Everyone was also talking about the performance given by a Spanish flamenco troupe the night before, once more Andalusian influence on literature, art and life. One night, churro was served on the table with tea, coffee and juices. ( Churro is thin, long tick of light biscuit, different from the round one found in other Moroccan cities). We talked about the square and life. We were given a number of Arabic and Spanish books as a present. We met the professor again on his home balcony overlooking the Atlantic, and once more at Almoetmid bin Abbad school, where Muhammad Shukri was taught and which the professor shared in rebuilding. The professor was honoured at an annual ceremony to honour the school s distinguished graduates.

At home, the professor talked about Alkanafawi (1928-1967), who studied in Larache, Tangier and Rabat and later, with Altaher and Aziz, founded the first professional drama troupe, called the Moroccan Theatrical Troupe by Prince Alhassan on 3 February 1956.In the same year he became director of the troupe at the Sarah Bernhardt International Drama Festival in Paris. He held a number of positions and wrote a number of books, the most interesting of which is a collection of 485 popular sayings imparting the accumulated wisdom of generations in the local vernacular and their translation into French published by the society. Examples: He who plants a thorn will walk barefoot on it , What used to be near has become far (reference to poor eyesight), What used to be far has become near (reference to death), and Two has become three (reference to the two feet plus the walking stick at old age).

We crossed the city s supermarket which consists of greengrocers and fish and meat shops. Its foundation stone was laid in 1924 during the second Spanish protectorate by engineer Nadal and construction work was started with external alterations by Orzais, local works engineer, a year later and was completed in 1928.

A historical review

During our talk, many references were made to the Spanish protectorate. It is appropriate to review the region s contemporary history prior to the country s independence in 1956 in order to explain the city s urban and linguistic diversity. I bought Arabic and Spanish books and listened to popular stories which affirm that Larache is an Andalusian port on the Atlantic.

To begin with, we know that Spain began occupying the Rif region under its 1904 agreement with France. Sharif Ahmad Alrasouli (of Orwa tribe) revolted against the sultan and kidnapped the American consul and his family. Sultan Abdul Hafiz later appointed him governor of the Gaballa in Rif and facilitated the landing of Spanish forces at Larache port in September 1911, in an attempt to gain Spanish recognition of his rule of the place and become the sultan s agent in the are within their sphere of influence, but he was disappointed as the sultan appointed a relative at Tetouan in 1913, and the Spanish occupied Asilah then Tetouan in the same year. During World War I the Spanish held a truce with Alrasouli in 1915 and he remained as a governor of the Gaballa .

As Alrasouli was in contact with the Germans during the war, Spain changed its policy to appease France and invaded the Gaballa area and occupied Chafchaon in October 1920 following heavy losses. But Alrasouli preferred to deal with the Spanish and be subject to Muhammad bin Abdul Karim Alkhatabi, who expelled the Spanish and arrested him in 1925. Alkhatabi started his resistance against the Spanish in the Rif region and defeated them at Ibrin in 1921, which encouraged him to attack other Spanish positions and thus extended his influence over the people and became chief of Wariaghel tribe after his father s death in1920.

On 22 November 1912, France signed an agreement with Spain to partition Morocco. The area within Spain s sphere of influence in terms of legal status was divided into two parts: the first included Ceuta, Mellilah and Ifni south with full Spanish sovereignty; the second covered northern Morocco from the Algerian border to a point to the south of Larache port, where Spain exerted its influence under the treaty of protection between France and the sultan, who is subject to the French Residency and is represented by an agent in Tetouan subject to Spanish administration. Under the agreement, Tangier was made a neutral zone, then international in December 1923. Accordingly, Morocco was divided into four regions in terms of legal status. In the French protectorate region the Resident-General divided Morocco into three agencies: Almakhzan, which retained its old character; new Sharifi, the people s technical affairs of which were managed by Moroccan intellectuals; the General Residency, in control of the country s foreign, defence and public security policy. Only three Moroccans remained in the cabinet: the prime minister, most of whose powers were rested with the protectorate secretary-general; Justice Minister, whose real powers over religious courts and institutes were exercised by the Sharifi administration s Justice Section, whereas the Justice department was purely French; the Awqaf Minister, whose real powers were in the hands of a French official in the Sharifi administration. Meanwhile, the departments of agriculture, finance, public works, post and industry were under direct French control, and French directors were appointed to oversee pashas and provincial governors.

Foreign influences

Under the above administration, French farm settlers, professionals and businessmen flocked to Morocco. Though Resident-General Leoti didn t encourage immigration, the area owned by French settlers during his term of office amounted to 400,000 hectares. The door was wide open to immigrants and settlers later, and Algeria s settlers exploited the Malwiya plain in the east and many old settlers occupied Chawia plain. In April 1919 the General Residency allowed type exploitation of tribes, uncultivated land for a nominal rent. The land owned by Europeans in the 1940s amounted to about a million hectares using the majority of irrigation water, which was extremely detrimental to national agriculture. In addition, French capitalist companies were engaged in phosphate, iron, manganese, lead, cobalt, copper and other metal mining.

Wadi Almakhazin Battle, the Hittin of the Muslim West

Of all old and modern history, the people of Larache proudly remember Wadi Almakhazin Battle. After Portugal s occupation of Ceuta, a parallel Crusade under Vatican patronage was launched and included Portuguese, Spanish, Italian and German invaders. A battle, later named the Three Kings Battle, took place by Wadi Almakhazin river, near the Grand Palace city.

The then Moroccan Sultan Abu Marwan Abdul Malik Almoetasim Bellah Alsaadi and his brother Abulqassim Ahmad Almansour braced themselves for the invaders who were eager to exploit African wealth, particularly as Henry, the Portuguese governor of Ceuta, heard about gold mines in Ghana. Young King Sebastean of Portugal wanted to play a political and religious role to remove the legacy of his father John III as a weak person, which led to Portugal s withdrawals from many regions. He mustered a 12,000-strong army, and the Italians and Germans contributed 3,000 troops each. In addition to other troops, the Pope sent 4,000 soldiers, 1,500 horses, 12,000 guns and mobilized a thousand ships to carry all those troops to Aladwa, in spite of his cousin Philip II s warning not to invade Morocco.

The Crusade ships sailed from Lisbon, stopped at Lacus for a few days, then headed to Cadiz where they stopped for a week, and anchored at Tangier, where Sebastian met his ally Almutawakil and stayed there for one day and then joined his army which moved to Asilah. As researcher Nasser bin Muhammad Alahmad wrote, One war cry rumbled throughout Morocco: Advance towards Wadi Almakhazin for jihad for he casue of God . Amutawakil advised Sebastian to march forward to occupy Tetouan, Larache and the Palace.

Then Abdul Malik asked his brother Ahmad Almansour, his deputy at Fez and its environs, to get ready for fighting with his soldiers and asked him later to provide for the army s food supplies. Accordingly Abdul Malik led an army of the people of Marrakech and southern Morocco and Ahmad led an army of the people of Fez and its environs, and the two armies met at the Grand Castle station. The Portuguese had a 13,000 strong army provided with the necessary equipment, thousands of horses and over forty guns, in addition to 300-600 of Almutawakil s men. The Moroccan army led by Abdul Malik consisted of 40,000 fighters with more horses than his enemy s, but with forty three guns only.

Abdul Malik made the Grand Palace his HQ, and appointed soldiers to watch enemy movements. Then he wrote to Sebastian: To come to you I went through sixteen stages. Can you go through just a single stage to meet me? Sebastian s men and Almutawakil advised him to stay in Assilah to be in touch with provisions, equipment and the sea, but out of his eagerness for war and vanity, he ignored the advice and marched to the Grand Palace and saw the Moroccan vanguard at the northern side of Wadi Almakhazin moving towards his army. Sebastian s army crossed the bridge and encamped off the Moroccan army. To complete his plan, Abdul Malik ordered Ahmad to blow up the bridge, the only access to the Wadi.

On the morning of 30 Jumada II AH986 (4 August 1578), heavy fire was exchanged, raging the battle. In spite of his failing health on his way from Marrakech and the Grand Palace, Abdul Malik repulsed the first attack himself, but he retired due to declining health, and died soon after, putting his forefinger on his mouth, as a signal to keep the matter secret until victory. Almansour s vanguard attacked the Portuguese rearguard, set fire to their gunpowder and faced their archers. The force of the shock stunned the Portuguese, some of whom were killed and the others ran away heading for the Wadi Almakhazin river bridge which had already been blown up. They drowned, were captured or killed, and Sebastian himself and thousands of his soldiers were killed. Almutawakil, the symbol of treason, drowned in the river and his body was found floating on the surface of the water.

The battle lasted four and three quarter hours, and following the victory, Ahmad Almansour was recognized as sultan by his people, and he wrote to Ottoman Sultan Murad Khan III in Constantinople and all neighbouring Muslim kingdoms informing them of the defeat of the Crusade Portuguese invasion of Morocco. He received emissaries from many countries who offered their congratulations. The Ottoman sultan also sent an envoy carrying a present. Envoys continued to arrive, including one from the king of France. The battle was called the Battle of Three Kings because three kings were killed during it in different circumstances: King Sebastian, the traitor Almutawakil and Abdul Malik, who was martyred and his faith, wisdom and bravery became a story with epic proportions. As Hittin was a symbol of victory against the Crusaders in the Muslim east, so was the battle at Wadi Almakhazin.

A balcony on the Atlantic

In front of a café called as above, as if describing Larache itself, our guide took us to Alqibibat fort (in reference in Arabic to its small domes) lying on the old sentry base overlooking the Atlantic and Lucus river near Alqibibat area in the old city, and is one of he city s landmarks. Sultan Ahmad Almansour had ordered the building of two new forts in the16th century.This fort was built on the site of Alnasr castle, which was built in the Middle Ages. The fort s building style followed the then Italian style and was designed by an Italian prisoner-of-war, so I heard! The fort had different names and was a civilian hospital during the Spanish rule, but was neglected afterwards and only ruins remain. As the archaeologist we first met at the beginning of the journey said, it is hoped that the fort will become a hotel.

On another evening we had a new appointment with the professor at his home, a further Andalusian spirit, not only as regards the dinner, which contained palla , a famous Andalusian dish but also from the pleasure of listening to the talented guitarist Aladluni Saduqa, who played a mix of the music of songs by Adulkali, Um Kolthum, Abdel Wahab and Abdel Hlim Hafez, in addition to a variety of Spanish music.He last played Julio Iglesias Manuela : With nightfall and dreams, dark eyes turn to Manuela, my love

The gifted musician sang in Spanish and was admired by the entire audience. From the balcony on the Atlantic I looked at different people: young men coming back from Europe on a holiday to their home town, sailors on board of ships in search of their daily bread, flower-decorated cars carrying newly-wed with well-wishers cars following, churro sellers. It was a sweet noise, with seagulls hovering over Alqibitat fort. The picture was a mosaic of scenes, which best expresses Larache today, that Andalusian port on the Atlantic, which is trying to rejuvenate its architecture, preserve the story of its struggle and secure its inhabitants future.

(Translated by Dr Shaaban Afifi)


Ashraf Abul-Yazid


Young men in the small port mend their nets after a fishing tip .Boats come into the port to dock there with their owners, following a difficult catch of fish

Yellow watermelons feature prominently in the market. There is a variety of Larache village produce, with the Lucus area accounting for 80% of the national production of strawberry, 7% of vegetables,15% of sugar, 7% of oil, 8% of milk and 10% of honey

The archaeological site of a buried Phoenician city, 3 km from the northern entrance to Larache on a mound on the Lucus river

Map of Larache in northern Morocco. Numbers refer to the sites of: (1) Lexus (2), old Larache, (3) Lucus mouth, (4) Azib Alsalawi (5) Ancient Grand Palace City,(6) Ancient Jahjouka, (7) Wadi Almakhazin Dam Lake (8) Hajar Alnisr Castle and Sidi Almizwar mausoleum, (9) Rabat Tizrut engineering complex, (10) Sultan Abdul Salam bin Machich mausoleum, (11) Sultan Alyazid Palace, Alhisn, (12) Mizwara Almikalini, Arabaa Ayasha, (13) Wadi Almakhazin Battle,(14) Historical Aldimna castle, Bani Qarfat

Archaeological sites of the Grand Palace, restored by the National Human Development Initiative at Larache, Larche Culture Dept., UN Development Program, Barcelona-based Mediterranean Research and Studies Organization (SIRIM) and Barcelona Municipality. Schools are shown in purple; mosques (orange); zaouias and mausoleums (green); shopping malls (blue); tourist sites (gold); traditional houses (pink)

Erroneously called the "Jewish Tower”, this tower, which overlooks the sea,was built during he first Spanish protectorate in the 17th century, after 1610

A balcony in Dar Almakhzan square, a part of the building with a minaret which was the residence of the representative of the central authority in the city since the 15th century. It was rebuilt in the 17th century during the reign of the Alawi Sultan Ismail

Old kasbah architecture: roofed and shaded roads; open spaces, arches and flowers remind of Andalusian cities, and faces and clothes to Morocco

Larache, particularly the Grand Palace, abound with mausoleums, Mausoleum of Sidi Abdul Karim Alhashkuri Alsahrawi, who lived during the reign of Sultan Abdul Rahman bin Hisham (1822-1859) and settled at Larache since 1852

Alqibibat fort, located on the old sentry base overlooking the Atlantic and Lucus river, built on the site of the Middle Ages Alnasr castle

Andalusian–style buildings in Tahrir square and side streets some of which were restored, and the rest awaiting restoration

A hundred-year-old postcard showing the approximate location of the "Three Kings Battle”

Larache’s topography helped win the "Three Kings Battle,” Wadi Almakhazin

A small box of fish awaiting a buyer who missed the early morning markets

The teching staff at Almoetamid bin Abbad school (1952-1953)

Wrier Muhammad Shukri giving a speech at the school at the end of the 1962 season

Professor Abdul Ilah Aswadqah, Abdul Samad Alkanafawi Society President at the school last year

Al-Arabi Almisbahi, Historical Sites Director, Larache

Aladluni Saduqa, a talented guitar player, prepares to sing "Manuela”, Julio Iglesias’s masterpiece

An evening view of a side street between the Atlantic and the small market. Pedestrians enjoy the evening eating churro and cocoa beans (peanuts)

A historical mural painting in old kasbah streets. Sultan Almahdi square, named after the first caliph in the Spanish protectorate zone (1913-1925)

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