Last night, after we had arrived in El-Jadida and checked into our hotel, we took a walk on Blvd. Mohammad V (perhaps the most common name for the main street of cities and towns throughout Morocco), with our only goal to have a nice, long walk after a full day of driving, and a look at the downtown while we tried to find a place to eat a light supper. The boulevard was packed with young Moroccan boys and girls, all out styling and profiling, looking to see and be seen.
We did see much of the downtown at night, and it looked a bit grimy and rundown, with many closed storefronts, broken sidewalks, and dark stretches. We managed to find a nice French cafe, where we had a plate of crudités, a plate of frites, toast with some very good chevre, and crepes with nutella for dessert. A bit on the heavy side, so we did some more walking before we returned to our hotel!
After last night’s less-than-inspiring walk, we didn’t know what to expect this morning, as we headed out for a day of walking around El-Jadida, especially its medina, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The day was sunny and warm, perfect for touring, and also perfect for photographing, since the Moroccan sun casts beautiful shadows, and also results in an astoundingly blue sky.
The medina is also known as the Portuguese city, as the Portuguese controlled what they called “Mazagan” from 1506 to 1769. The name “El-Jadida,” which means “The New,” was given to the city after it was taken from the Portuguese and resettled in the nineteenth century, largely with Jews from elsewhere in Morocco. We entered the medina, which has impressively thick walls and ramparts, complete with cannons, and we could immediately see why this is a World Heritage site – with its white and pastel colored buildings, mostly in tones of blue, yellow, reds, and sepias, this place is extremely photogenic! It photographs much better than it looks in person, in fact, as the trash that is liberally strewn about in places doesn’t show up much in the pictures, and the buildings that are crumbling look majestic against the blue, blue sky.
We were invited in to see a community bakery oven, located in a hollowed out space in the ramparts, just above the waterline. Local people were coming in and out frequently, either dropping off their dough to be baked, or picking up their finished breads, cookies and pastries, which all looked fantastic. Our host gave us a cookie each to taste, still warm from the oven, and they tasted just as good as they looked! We offered to buy a bread, but he told us we couldn’t as everything there belonged to local families, so we just gave him a donation instead.
This old Portuguese city has a central street with several shops for the tourists who come and visit, but life just a bit farther inside the medina is for the local people only. This is still a living, breathing community, with a ton of wash hung out to dry all over the streets (I wonder, is Sunday laundry day here? It seems like everyone has done their wash today!), kids playing football in many places, women sitting outside in the warm sun, chatting to each other or their children; in other words, living their lives as I imagine they always have.
We visited the Portuguese Cistern, a centrally-located huge subterranean vault with a large circular opening above ground that captured the rainwater and stored it for the community’s use. Although it is no longer in service, it’s quite beautiful to see, with an inch or so of water reflecting the architectural features of the vaulted ceilings.
After we had walked around most of the medina, and around a stretch of the impressive walls and ramparts, we left and crossed the street to see the large street market that is held every day here. There were men and boys sharpening knives and cleavers, using foot-power to run old sharpening wheels, fruits, vegetables, and meat on offer, and every kind of retail good imaginable, all for sale. The market streets were absolutely packed with people, closing off the road for traffic, making it a slow-go for the occasional truck or car trying to get through. There wasn’t anything much for tourists to buy, so Tali was a bit out of the norm, but warmly received, when she bought a couple of plastic shower curtains for us to use as substitute bubble wrap for our trip home, in just a few days.
This surprisingly rich sightseeing day was, in a way, a great way to conclude our tour of Morocco, as our six-plus weeks here have been full of similar days of unexpected beauty, warm and rich interactions with people we have met along the way, and lots of pleasant surprises. We have thoroughly enjoyed our trip here, and the wandering we have been able to do through much of the country, allowing our instincts to guide us from place to place.