El Jadida and the Portuguese Cistern

Our driver from Marrakech couldn’t quite hide his surprise when we confirmed that El Jadida was our destination. He explained that El Jadida is a common summer holiday spot for Moroccans, not foreign tourists like us.

Clearly we aren’t Moroccans. What put El Jadida, a port town on the Atlantic coast of Morocco about 100 km from Casablanca, on our itinerary was the the old Portuguese fortress of Mazagan.

Built in the 16th century, Lonely Planet calls Mazagan the “only compelling reason” to visit El Jadida. With less than 24 hours in town, we barely left the fortress walls so I can’t comment on the rest of El Jadida, but Mazagan is a UNSECO World Heritage site, our third for this trip, and worth a visit.

We had a great time wandering the old Portuguese town’s narrow streets, walking along the top of the fortress bullwarks, and visiting the cistern.

Interestingly, the cistern seems to lead to some pretty strong opinions on both ends of the spectrum. When I looked it up on Trip Advisor during our drive to El Jadida I was amused to find that the reviews ranged from “Like visiting someone’s basement” to “If this place does not stir you, your heart is dead”.

Located in the geometric centre of town, the cistern features 25 thick stone columns and was able to hold thousands of barrels of drinking water. I don’t know that my heart was stirred but it was definitely better than your average basement, with the lighting making for some really interesting pictures.

A heavenly hotel

The other highlight of our brief time in El Jadida was staying at L’Iglesia and eating in their restaurant which had delicious food. A 19th century Spanish church converted into a boutique hotel with 14 rooms, L’Iglesia was featured in CONDE NAST Traveler list of best new hotels in 2013 and it’s easy to see why.

One last hiccup

The only downside of the hotel was that it didn’t have air conditioning. As a result we left our windows open to cool the room which normally might not have been a big deal except for two things. First, they were taking down some tents from a wedding that had been held in the courtyard next to the hotel long after we wanted to be asleep. Second, with an early flight out of Casablanca we had to be up in in our taxi at 5:00 am. The two combined to make for limited sleep in our beautiful hotel room.

Despite this, we managed to get up in time and pile ourselves into the taxi. Everything was smooth sailing until about 10 km from the airport where our car got a flat tire. I can’t say that I was heartbroken when the driver turned down my offer of help to change the tire in the pitch black on a narrow shoulder of the highway with cars and trucks flying by.

Fortunately, he made quick work of the change and we were soon back on our way to the airport.

There we managed to check our bags and carefully wrapped-up rugs and headed to the plane, sad to see the end of another great trip, but happy to be heading home.

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