Portuguese Cistern


Useful Information

Location: Rue Mohammed al Hachmi Bahbah, El Jadida or al-Jadida. 90-km southwest of Casablanca.
(33.2566, -8.5024)
Open: All year daily 9-13, 15-18.
[2020]
Fee: Adults MAD 10, Children (-12) MAD 3.
[2020]
Classification: SubterraneaWater Supply
Light: natural light, bring torch
Dimension: L=35 m, W=34 m, Ar=1,100 m².
Guided tours: n/a
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography:
Address: Infos Tourisme El Jadida, Avenue mohamed VI, Numero 1, El Jadida 24000, Tel: +212-5233-52507. E-mail:
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

1506 city of Mazagan founded.
1541 armory transformed into a cistern.
1542 city fortified with walls.
1769 taken over by the Moroccans.
1916 rediscovered by a Jewish merchant when he knocked down a wall in his store.
2004 inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Description

The Portuguese Cistern is an ancient cistern that lies beneath the Fortress of Mazagan. During their Age of Discovery the Portuguese occupied this enclave for some 250 years, as a safe harbour on the way to India or America, and built the city of Mazagan with its fortress. But finally in 1769, the city was retaken by Moroccans and today it is named El Jadida. The fortress is now called Cité Portugaise, and the cistern below the fortress is called Citerne Portugaise (Portuguese Cistern).

The room was originally the armory of the castle. It was transformed into a cistern in 1541, because of the siege by the Arabs. It allowed the storage of rainwater during the siege. In the following year the city was fortified with a belt of thick walls and became a citadel. When the city was besieged by Sultan Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdallah and his troop of warriors, the Portuguese fled. But before their departure they destroyed the interior of the city. It was renamed أل مهضومة (Al Mahdouma) which means The Ruined in Arabic and was abandoned. I was renamed El Jadida (The New) in the second half of the 19th century, after it was repopulated by Jews who built a synagogue here. Many jews left the city in 1950 and muslims and catholics moved to the city, where the three big religions coexist in peace.

The cistern was built in the Portuguese Manueline style of late Gothic architecture. Typical are the elegant pointed arches. A small overflowing pool in the center of the cistern is responsible for thin layer of water on the floor. The chamber has a skylight or oculus in the center with a diameter of 1.5 m, which allows sunlight into the underground room. The result of water and a sunbeam are spooky reflections and shadow-play. The place is quite atmospheric, some would call it eerie, with its vaults and rows of columns.

This place was a filming location for several times. The most famous movie which was filmed here is definitely Othello from Orson Welles. the primary filming location for Othello was Essaouira, 250 km to the south on the Atlantic coast. The cistern was the location for the fight scene between Cassio and Roderigo.