Azemmour: Morocco’s city of artists

The Berber, Jewish, Muslim, Portuguese and Andalusian civilisations all left their marks in Azemmour.
Sunday 03/06/2018
A view of the walled town from the river bridge. (Saad Guerraoui)
A view of the walled town from the river bridge. (Saad Guerraoui)

AZEMMOUR - Beautifully nestled on a cliff overlooking Oum Errebia River, 3km from the estuary, Azemmour is a Moroccan jewel with a thousand-year history and heritage marked by several civilisations.

Late Moroccan King Hassan II said in a speech addressed to architects in 1986 that Azemmour was the perfect example of the national architectural heritage that must be preserved and taken as a model in contemporary architectural production.

The peaceful coastal town, which lies between Casablanca and El Jadida, is desperate for tourists to visit.

It took me one-and-a-half hours to reach Azemmour by train from Casablanca. As soon as I got off at the train station, I saw an unusual traffic of people, cars, coaches and carts.

It was Tuesday, a busy day of the week when people flock from villages surrounding Azemmour to shop at the Souk Tlat. Hundreds of tents had been erected in a huge open space behind the train station to sell all sorts of food and goods.

Loudspeakers could be heard hundreds of metres away as sellers promoted their merchandise. Among those who drew large crowds were sellers of medicinal herbs. Skilful in speaking, formidable in playing on people’s wants, the sellers looked more convincing than doctors to the popular classes since they have mastered their skills in souks across the country.

Some of the sellers were even more daring, proposing herbs to people with impotence, to fight the evil eye and the list goes on. My unplanned visit to the souk was well worth it.

As I headed to the old town, a 20-minute walk from the souk, I asked an old man for guidance. The octogenarian was pushing a two-wheeled cart full of firewood that he would sell to a traditional bakery for 100 dirhams ($11).

“This long walk to the medina needs company,” said Haj Ahmed who was as fit as a 30-year-old man, although wrinkles on his face worn by decades of hard labour reflected his age.

When we approached the medina, the towering ochre walled ramparts built by the Portuguese were being restored as part of a major rehabilitation and the cannons were still on the bastions. We parted our ways at Bab El Makhzen where my journey into history began.

The first thing that drew my attention in the medina was the large scale of houses in ruin as if it was bombarded.

A narrow street in the medina. (Saad Guerraoui)
A narrow street in the medina. (Saad Guerraoui)

As I walked further, I came across the Akwas art gallery, which exhibits Moroccan artists’ artworks.

Aziz Rahoul, the gallery’s curator said many Moroccan artists choose Akwas to show the “real work of Moroccan painters because there are some people who call themselves artists who sell anything in the town.”

Azemmour is called “the city of artists.” It gave birth to many contemporary artists, including Bouchaib Habbouli and Mohamed El Hani.

Large paintings adorned the old house’s white walls, a reminder that art and authenticity are intertwined.

The medina is home to several historic mosques and mausoleums, including the Moulay Bouchaib Erredad sanctuary dating to the Almoravid era. Kasbah Mosque is one of Azemmour’s oldest mosques that have been restored as part of the government’s programme to restore decaying mosques throughout the country.

The Berber, Jewish, Muslim, Portuguese and Andalusian civilisations all left their marks in Azemmour, giving the town a blend of rich heritage reflected by the various shapes of house doors.

A well-maintained old door is seen in the Moroccan city Azemmour.(Saad Guerraoui)
A well-maintained old door is seen in the Moroccan city Azemmour.(Saad Guerraoui)

Located at the northern end of the medina, the old Mellah hosts a well-maintained synagogue where Rabbi Abraham Moul Niss was buried.

After a long walk, I headed towards one of the river bank gates to feel the gentle breeze off Oum Errebia drying the sweat from the midday heat.

After a little rest, I walked to Oum Errebia River Bridge for a perfect view over the walled medina. I therefore understood why several artists choose Azemmour as their second home and a source of inspiration. The view is gobsmacking!

Boats can be hired for a ride down the river to give visitors a better view of the walled town. There are riads that offer captivating views over the river.

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