Qantara Qantara

Sqala of the port of Essaouira

  • Name : Sqala of the port of Essaouira
  • Place : Essaouira, Morocco
  • Construction date/period : Eighteenth century
  • Construction materials : ashlar
  • Dimensions : 140m x 150m
  • Inscriptions :

    On the central arch, in cursive Moroccan script (maghribī): ‘door of the port’

The sqala of the port[1] is divided into two parts: the first part rests on a bridge whose arcades are composed of five semi-circular arches. The central arch bears a similar inscription to the one on the keystone of Bāb al-Bahr. The second part extends from north to south towards the sea. Its platform, which overlooks the city, has four lower floors accessed by a stairway. These lower floors used to house twenty arms shops, and were also used as an arsenal for making boats and other accessories for maritime activities.

The port sqala differs from the other sqala—its two large bastions are each flanked by four turrets. In its north-west extremity, on the side flanking the sea, a third, circular bastion completes the port’s defensive system. This last construction has a cistern reinforced with lookout towers that face the island. Freestone is the main material used to construct the sqala: there is no evidence of the use of revetment or plaster in any part of the construction.

The main characteristic of the sqala in the port of Essaouira is its association with the city’s defensive system, which was European in design, conceived by the French architect Théodore Cornut. He was commissioned by the Alaouite sultan Sayyidī Muhammad ibn ‘Abdallāh (reigned 1757–1790), and the architect designed a unique building in Moroccan military architecture. The urban network and large axes of the port of Essaouira resemble the major European ports, like those constructed by Vauban. But in the details of its construction and its architectural characteristics, it is an original Moroccan creation. The tower of the port, flanked by four turrets, immediately echoes the Torre de Belém in Lisbon because of the sturdiness of its construction materials, its shape and position within the fortifications for defending the city port, and its sea front. An example that’s similarly close to the famous Lisbon tower is the Portuguese tower in the city of Azila in Morocco. The long avenues with their lines of canons are elements that are very similar to those of another Portuguese city: Porto. The latter has a number of stylistic affinities with the city created from many parts by Sayyidī Muhammad ibn ‘Abdallāh. The sovereign strived to fortify the entire Moroccan coast to counter the attacks of European boats; at the time, privateering was the main maritime activity. The captives and renegades at the service of the courts of the ‘southern shore’ greatly influenced local military architecture, as they brought with them modern techniques of architecture and siege warfare. The major ports of Morocco, such as Tangiers, Azila, Larache, Mahdiyya, Rabat, Azemmour, Mazagan, Essaouira, and Tarfaya (Santa Cruz del Mar Pequeña) are all examples of this European influence on Moroccan soil.


[1] This is where Orson Welles filmed several scenes of his famous film Othello.


Kafas, S., Les fortifications et l’architecture militaire du Maroc au temps des Saadiens (XVIe-XVIIe siècles), doctoral thesis on Islamic Archaeology, Institut national des sciences de l'archéologie et du patrimoine, Rabat, 2004.

Marçais, G., L’architecture musulmane d’Occident, Paris, 1954, Arts et Métiers Graphiques.

Ricard, P., Le Maroc (Les guides bleus), Paris, 1950.

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