Just one hour and 20 minutes’ drive south of Casablanca, Morocco, the port city of El Jadida sits quietly on the Atlantic coast. The former Portuguese fortress has since been rehabilitated and repurposed by Moroccans to suit their needs, which include communal baking.
Built by the Portuguese in the early 16th century, this former fortified colony (originally known as Mazagan) offered a stopping point for spice traders en route to India. Though Portugal abandoned the fortress in 1769, the city lay vacant until the middle of following century when the sultan ordered its rehabilitation. Muslims, Jews, and Christians repurposed the area as a multicultural commercial center. They renamed it El Jadida, or “The New.”
One of El Jadida’s new offerings for the community was its large oven. In traditional Moroccan society, community ovens are an integral part of neighborhoods. Though most homes have ovens, locals still leave baking (especially large, skillet-based breads) to a community oven attendant. Today, El Jadida’s fishermen, bakers, and homemakers bring flatbread dough, pizzas, meats, and fresh fish to the former Portuguese fortress. There, a pleasant operator fires up each dish in the queue.
From inside the sandy walls of the fortress, smoke floats up from the wood-fired oven and the view of the ocean is placid and calm. With no sign of Portuguese sailors or trade ships in sight, the only remnants of El Jadida’s past is in smell of spices wafting through the briny air.
Know Before You Go
El Jadida is one of Morocco's recent additions to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. The fortress also features a cistern where a scene in Orson Welles's Othello was filmed.