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El Jadida, Morocco

Portuguese Cistern of El Jadida

An eerie former warehouse turned cistern turned movie set.  

Before the seaside holiday village of El Jadida was retaken by Moroccans in 1769, the Portuguese occupied the area for some 250 years, ruling from their Fortress of Mazagan. The tiny area occupied by the fortress, now referred to as Cité Portugaise, contains several items of interest including ramparts, Christian churches, a synagogue, and a communal oven. But the gem of this jewel box is the atmospheric cistern, used by Orson Welles in his version of Othello.

Fans of Orson Welles might know that Essaouira, some 150 miles south of El Jadida (which means “The New” in Arabic) on the Atlantic coast, was the primary filming location for Othello. But the fight scene between Cassio and Roderigo takes place in the cistern of El Jadida. Built as warehouse and possibly used for a time as an armory, the dark and cavernous underground hall was later converted into a water reservoir.

In the center of the space is a small and overflowing pool that leaves much of the floor covered in a thin layer of water. Overhead is an oculus, open to the sky. The combination of the water on the floor and the light from the ceiling creates beautiful and spooky reflections and shadow-play. The vaulted ceiling, rows of columns and a lot of echoes complete the overall effect of eeriness.