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It takes only four hours and half to reach Agadir from Casablanca. Except for the last stretch, the road is straight like an arrow and the scenery on both sides is pretty awesome. Before the highway was opened to traffic in the summer of 2010, travelers were forced to take the long arduous route south cutting through the plains of Dukkala and then either follow on the coastal road along the cities of El Jadida, Safi and Essaouira, or take the more rural trajectory through Chemaia, Chichaoua, Imintanoute and Argana. Either of the itineraries would take over seven hours of careful driving along narrow winding paths with occasional sharp curves.

Agadir from North west

Agadir from North west

Agadir, the jewel of the Sus-Masa region, lies at the bottom of a chain of green cliffs bordered from the west by sea. In the early 16th century, the Portuguese who had established a number of posts along the Atlantic coast of Morocco built a new citadel by the name of Santa Cruz de Aguer and erected a fort for its protection on the site of what is now the Agadir marina.

A View from the Hotel

A View from the Hotel

In 1541, Santa Cruz was recaptured by the Saadi sultan, Mohamed Cheickh. It became one of the principal ports during the glorious reign of Ahmad Al Mansour (1578-1603), but slowly lost its splendor during the chaotic period of his successors. By the 1630s Agadir has fallen under the authority of a Susi chieftain named Abu Hassaun Semlali (alias Marabout Sidi Ali ben Moussa and Bou Dmiaa). Abu Hassun was virtually the absolute ruler of the south of Morocco still nominally under the reign of the Saadi sultan Mohamed Cheick Esseghir (1636–1655). When two Dutch ships, Erasmus and De Maecht were shipwrecked on the Atlantic coast near Agadir, the Dutch authorities were compelled to send Ambassador Antoine De Liedekerke to negotiate the ransom of some 72 captives directly with Abu Hassun who was based in the town of Illigh some 150 kilometers away. The details of this embassy were recorded by the Dutch artist, Adriaen Matham who accompanied the ambassador. In his journal Mathan notes that

On June 2 (1641), the Ambassador again went  and agreed with the brother of the marabout that all slaves, both of the first and the second shipwrecked vessels, would be released provided that the Ambassador, in addition to the presents already made, would pay the Marabout the sum of two thousand ducats. The brother of Marabout would himself fetch here in Santa Cruz within six or seven days all the slaves of the two vessels to the number of seventy-two.

In order not to lose time, the said brother set out immediately to Iligh to implement the contract. By the same agreement, the ambassador also redeemed from bondage an old French slave who was here for at least forty years.

Source : “Journal d’Adriaen Matham 1 septembre 1640 – 12 novembre 1641,” Les sources inédites de l’histoire du Maroc. Comte de Henri Castries, Première série, Dynastie Saadienne. Tome IV, archives et bibliothèques des Pays-Bas (Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1913) 599.

 

Michiel de Ruyter, Dutch Admiral

Michiel de Ruyter, Dutch Admiral

In subsequent years the famous Dutch Admiral Michiel de Ruyter who was still a young enterprising trader made frequents visits to the port of Santa Cruz on board the Salamander and occasionally took the land journey to Illigh to meet the marabout Abu Hassun. In exchange of animals’ skins, amber, wax, and ostrich feathers, De Ruyter traded tobacco, iron, muskets and cloth and seems to have made considerable fortune of these commercial transactions.[1]

According to the Moroccan Historian Mohamed Khalid Ennaciri, Abu Hassun died in 1659 and was succeeded by his son Abu Abdellah Mohamed who ruled Sus region until 1670 when the Alawite prince Sultan Mawlay Rachid brought the Sus tribes under submission. For several decades afterwards Agadir assumed a significant role as a thriving port and a market of the trans-Sahara commodities especially during the long reign of Mawlay Ismail, and was known as Bab Soudan (the Gate of Soudan).[2] In the late 18th century, however, Agadir’s commercial importance diminished as the newly built city of Essaouira became the principal port of the country. Sultan Mohamed ben Abdellah had ordered Jewish merchants to establish quarters in Essaouira and offered tax incentives to boost trade in the new port.[3]

We next hear of Agadir in international chronicles in 1911 when the German warship the SMS Panther arrived in the bay with the declared goal of protecting German subjects. The German step, in fact, was part of a struggle over securing interests in Morocco following the notorious Franco-British entente cordiale. The German Kaiser had landed in Tangier in 1905 as a gesture of protest against the new pact made between the two major imperial powers France and Britain. The deployment of the SMS Panther was a powerful reminder that Germany was still expecting its share of the booty. By the end of 1911 French territorial concessions in Equatorial Africa helped appease German grievances and gave the French a free hand over Morocco.

Starting from the early 1930s when the population of Agadir was barely 3000 souls including Muslims, Jews and Europeans,[4] the city grew steadily as an urban commercial center and outlet for the rich agricultural produce of the Sus-Masa valleys and oases. Despite the economic crisis already affecting international economy then, considerable investment in infrastructure made by the colonial authorities paved the way for the city to become a tourist resort boasting some of the most pleasant beaches and hotels in the colony.

Agadir On 29 February 1960 around midnight Agadir was struck by a devastating earthquake which in matters of seconds turned the quiet city into massive rubble and desolate ruins.

The earthquake measured 6.25 on the Richter scale; the death toll exceeded 12 thousand souls and a similar number was counted among injured.[5] The figures are astounding since the entire population of Agadir was estimated around 33000 citizens.

For Newly independent Moroccan authorities dealing with a catastrophe of this magnitude was a challenge they were hardly prepared for. The scale of the disaster and plight of those afflicted homeless survivors inspired the Moroccan writer Mohamed Khair-Eddine, native of the neighboring village of Tafraout living then in France to write his novel Agadir (1967).

Mohamed Kair-eddine, Agadir (1967)

Today Agadir is up on its feet again attracting tourists both Moroccans and foreigners by thousands. The mild weather, the sandy beaches, the remarkable chain of hotels, restaurants, leisure clubs and sport centers make it a busy destination all year round. The touristic zone in particular is a town apart with its own festive ambience. The pleasant promenade along the beach especially at sunset can be very relaxing.

Havana CarThere are scores of colorful restaurants, cafes and shops on the right. If you keep walking the marina will be on your left shielded by gorgeous residential buildings.

Agadir Marina

The smooth drift of time between the hotel and the beach cafes and restaurants can breed pleasant, addictive inertia. There are far more real and diverse vistas of human life beyond this tourist sanctuary. I drove up north to Taghazout some 20 kms along the coast. The village is a mishmash of houses clustered at the foot of a bushy hill. The road is narrow and overcrowded with parked cars, pedestrians and peddlers. The recent floods have left their marks on the village. Dust filled the air and the margins of the roads were littered with leftovers. Even here tourists were at home munching their grilled skewers and sipping mint tea.

20150125_134208The most redeeming attraction of the village though is its long sandy beach ideal for swimmers and surfers. All the villages and towns I visited around Agadir and far to the south are popular among surfers. There are hosts of local surfing clubs and visitors came from beyond to enjoy the superb winds and rough waves.

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The view of the mountains and the sea south of Taghazout beach is simply beautiful. No wonder the place is infested by dozens of touring motorhomes occupied mostly by aging couples in search of inexpensive holidays and a lot of sunshine. In almost every picturesque hill or valley overlooking the sea, you will see them comfortably lodged not to say taking full possession of the place as to make any passerby feel as if intruding upon their private space.

Motorhomes

 

After two splendid days in Agadir, it was time to hit the road toward Tiznit….

 

 

[1] For more details See my chapter The Dutch in Barbary during De Ruyter’s Time” De Ruyter: Dutch Admiral eds. J R Bruijn, R P va Reine and RVH Westerflier (Rotterdam: Karwansaray Publishers, 2011) 57-76.

[2] James Richardson, Travels in Morocco ( London: Charles J. Skeet, 1860), 260-61.

[3] Daniel Schroeter, Merchants of Essaouira: Urban Society and Imperialism in Southwestern Morocco (Cambridge: CUP, 2009) 13.

[4] William A. Hoisington “The Selling of Agadir: French Business Promotion in Morocco in the 1930s,” The International Journal of African Historical Studies, Vol. 18, No. 2 (1985), p. 315.

[5] David Ritchieand Alexander E. Gates, Encyclopedia of Earthquakes and Volcanoes (New York: Facts on File, 2001) 2.

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