El Jadida, sixty-three miles south of Casablanca, was held by the Portuguese for 250 years commencing in the 16th century - they called it 'Mazagan', and built the fortified and moated medina adjoining the harbour.
In 1769, when the Portuguese left, the town was burnt down, and it was re-named El Jadida, meaning 'The New', having been reconstructed by Sultan Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdallah in 1815.Traces of the towns Portuguese past remain today in its lanes and ramparts, and most notably in its remarkable underground cistern - pillared and vaulted like a church crypt, illuminated by eerie shafts of sunlight, and flooded with a few inches of water to conjure the reflection - an astonishing setting used by Orson Welles in his version of Othello. During the summer months, city-dwellers from Casablanca and Marrakech flock to its 16km stretch of sandy beach that is, for many people, the focal point of El Jadida. Lined by an elegant promenade, and dotted with lively cafes, the beach lunges far into the distance.
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