North Africa

This text was originally written by the coordinator of the respective volume for the print edition as an introduction to the geographic area in question; the possibility of updating it was left to each author’s discretion. It should be interpreted together with the general introductory text from the respective volume.
The construction of the Portuguese presence in the Maghreb

It seems fair to say that Portugal, in broad terms, and Portuguese historiography in particular have devoted more attention to the history of the Portuguese presence in Morocco than to its still visitable material remains. This is why we care less than we should about the fate of these tangible witnesses.

Perhaps that helps to explain why, for the study of the Portuguese in Morocco, we still use a significant part of the bibliography produced in the early decades of the 20th century. It is not surprising then that the work of Pierre de Cénival continues to be unsurpassed; or the study that Vitorino Magalhães Godinho later devoted to the analysis of the social and economic situation of the Atlantic north of Africa. However in recent years certain theses in collaboration with historians and research teams from the Mahgreb have contributed to the opening of some interesting and promising lines of study. This is the case, for example, of a recent project coordinated by Maria Augusta Lima Cruz, which brought together researchers from both Portugal and Morocco. In the same way other studies have shown that in Spanish and even Moroccan records there are many sources of the utmost importance that need to be inventoried and studied, and which will undoubtedly broach new issues.

As can be seen there is still much work ahead. In several of the entries in this inventory we can see the lacunae, both great and small, that still exist and represent research and study that still needs to be undertaken. Meknes is a good example. According to documents from the archive, in the 18th century the Portuguese quartered there must have formed an organized community which occupied a neighourhood – or perhaps simply a street – in the city. But little or nothing is actually known of this. There are many other examples such as the following two from opposite ends of Morocco. We know almost nothing about the construction of the fortified structures controlled by the Portuguese on the Moroccan coast facing the Mediterranean and we have only the vaguest perception that the region must have had an important network of forts and lookout towers which, in the early 16th century, answered to the rule of the king of Portugal. But to the south, in the city of Safi, apart from the identification of some of the structures within the walls nothing is known about the fortresses and lookout towers that were certainly part of the city’s defensive system even though one of them is actually listed by Moroccan authorities.

A concern with the heritage reflects, after all, the acknowledgment of the importance that the presence in North Africa had for Portugal. It is to be noted that in some if not most places that presence was short-lived and apparently of small social and political impact. Safi, a city in the Doukkala region which still displays an imposing cluster of fortified structures was under Portuguese rule for a short period between 1508 and 1541; Azemmour was ruled by the Portuguese between 1513 when it was conquered by the duke of Braganza, and 1541; that same year, the Portuguese lost Agadir, which they had controlled since 1505. Mogador, present day Essaouira, was under Portuguese rule for only four years between 1506 and 1510. And Tetuan saw an extremely short Portuguese presence with the siege in 1514.

In other cities, the Portuguese presence lasted longer. Ksar Shgir, presently in ruins, was seized in 1458 and abandoned in 1550; that same year, the Portuguese also left Asilah, which they had conquered in 1471. One of the places in which the Portuguese presence lasted longest was Ceuta, the first market town to be conquered in northern Africa (1415) and which passed to the Spanish crown in 1640. Tangier also maintained a long-lasting connection to Portugal, as it was conquered in 1471 and abandoned when it formed part of the dowry of Catherine of Braganza when she married the English King Charles II. Finally, El Jadida saw the longest period of Portuguese presence, its first fortified works of Portuguese construction dating from 1514 and only abandoned 1769 on the orders of the Marquis of Pombal, who transferred it to Brazil!

This list of the Portuguese presence is important for two reasons. First, it is aimed at helping towards an understanding of the reasons for the abandonment of many of the Moroccan settlements at a very specific period of the 16th century. Second, it enables us to question the imbalance between these short-lived and almost sporadic periods of the Portuguese crown’s dominion and the impact which can still be seen of the Portuguese presence.

The truth is that the Portuguese presence in North Africa can be better understood by looking at a political map from the late 15th century. To the north, facing the kingdom of Fes with which Portugal alternated policies of peaceful trade and war, the Portuguese kingdom had conquered an ensemble of markets and had built fortresses with the vague purpose of a definitive conquest of infidel territories at the same time as helping to control the navigation routes, ensuring strategic access between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, and guaranteeing bases for the launch of a violent policy of privateering. Further south, the kingdom of Morocco, centred in Marrakesh, was a permanent competitor in the trade for the products that entered and left the Atlantic ports and was a relatively remote enemy of the Christians. At the same time these southern cities, which were also fortified by the Portuguese, were part of a real structure of support to navigation along the African coast. Moreover, many of the Portuguese options were limited by the rivalry first with Castile and later with Spain, always nourished, as will be seen, by somewhat hazy agreements and treaties.

The second aspect hinges on the discussion about which way the expansion was going. It is known that immediately after the conquest of Ceuta the need to mobilize a great number of resources to preserve this presence in the Maghreb sparked opposition and protest. This generalized perception led Prince Pedro to launch the famous accusation that Ceuta was a drain of people and money. With the arrival of the Portuguese in India it soon became clear that the situation was worsening and the kingdom could only with difficulty maintain a simultaneous presence in the Indian Ocean, Brazil, Africa and Morocco.

An argument soon arose in the kingdom about whether Portugal should choose to remain in India and Brazil at the expense of Morocco or, on the contrary, opt for a closer and more controllable overseas presence. It was King João III who began a series of consultations among the noblemen in the kingdom about the abandonment of certain settlements, particularly Safi and Azemmour. These consultations took place in two particular periods: first between 1529 and 1530, and later on, they dragged on from 1534 to 1541.

One of the most interesting aspects of their answers relates to the kind of argument used to justify Portugal’s continued presence in Morocco, or not. It is certain that everyone understood the threats that were hanging over the two settlements and it is also true that everyone recognized the significant expense that the fortresses represented. But many people also recalled the obligations of the struggle against the infidel, the duty to maintain the conquered lands under Christian rule and the “disservice” to God that any abandonment would embody.

The need to use this argument in itself showed that the crown was tending gradually towards a decision to withdraw, a decision rooted in the world crisis that was strongly affecting the kingdom. The social and political fractures around the kingdom on this issue are however not completely clear. The Portuguese Parliament of 1562, for example, voted against the abandonment of the settlements of Africa, even if it required the closure of the Estudos Gerais (University)!

It is natural that the real motives behind the departure from many Moroccan regions cannot be narrowed down to one simple reason, even if it is obvious that the global financial crisis was a pressure on Portuguese withdrawal and the increasing expense of maintaining the trading depot of Andalucia which supplied many of the trading posts. It is obvious that the king’s awareness of the frailty of the available resources for controlling all the territories also contributed. Also, Portugal was discovering other resources from across its empire which were less risky and realized that it was losing forever part of those it had once controlled. This is the case of the slave trade and plunder, both of which were associated with the privateering activities and piracy on the Mediterranean and the western coast of Africa which had enabled the country, in the 15th century, to become the great market of supply of Europe.

Despite the fact that the decision to abandon these territories was taken and carried out, with the Pope himself supporting that decision in the bull Licet apostolicae sedis, it should not be thought that this was a closed case. With King Sebastião, surrounded by a court that supported his ambition to conquer Morocco, the issue of the legitimacy and rightness of the previous policy was brought back into focus. Not even the disaster of Ksar el-Kebir discouraged supporters for the maintenance of Morocco, though the arguments might have changed. In the early 17th century, in the final scene of the Dialogos do Soldado Pratico, Diogo do Couto, through the words of an experienced soldier, explained to his readers how the kingdom was divided over the subject. The scene starts with the words: “I will begin, sirs, with the reasons that are given to explain why it is better to conquer Africa than India”.

He then sets forth arguments which essentially consist of a comparison between the advantages and riches of the two regions. In Morocco, he starts by describing the abundance of cereals, “fruit and cattle” and the rich mines of precious and other metals. But then he recalls the huge difficulties of conquest and the general weakness of the military situation, including people’s lack of training and the nobility’s inability to avoid the previous losses of territory. He then launches on a description of the advantages of India, starting with spices, and going on to include all the goods traded by the Portuguese for their benefit, and the places in which the Portuguese crown had an active presence. In this comparison, the idea is developed that such an adventure could not have been undertaken for nothing. Besides, it was clear that Islam and its interests were better combated in India. The opportunity that the Portuguese had could only be a gift of God impossible to refuse. It is certain that the personal interest of Couto himself regarding Indian affairs determined the form his arguments took; however this work is a good mirror of the debate that took place in Portuguese society throughout the 16th century and which extended well into the following century.

It is obvious that, with the passage of time and the consolidation of the kingdom of Morocco, the wish and opportunity to return there were gradually abandoned. The contacts were not lost however, neither in peacetime when trade was promoted and embassies exchanged, nor during periods of war and violence, nourished by exchanges of prisoners and the great ceremonies put on for their reception. Certain important vestiges of their presence remained however; the rich built heritage to be found everywhere, but also in certain scattered social links, probably originating from the Portuguese who settled in several cities. Perhaps even more interesting is the relaxed way in which the Moroccans have been catching on to this heritage, preserving and appreciating it.

This presence in Morocco had distinct purposes and developments, depending on the time and place. It is noticeable how the logic of occupation of the settlements of the Strait, which represented Portugal’s first conquests outside its own kingdom, was not the same as that further south, more related to maritime expansion and trade. Therefore, each deserves a separate analysis; the articles in this volume are organized separately: first, those connected to the policy of control of the Strait of Gibraltar, which to a great extent represented the connection to the Mediterranean and traditional foreign policies from the end of the Middle Ages; second, texts related to the Atlantic coast, which are the harbinger of other kinds of objectives that connect to Portuguese expansion.

Filipe Themudo Barata

The Strait of Gibraltar

The extreme west of the Iberian Peninsula, squeezed between the mountain ranges and the sea, cannot be contextualized and understood in historical terms unless associated with the African coasts that border it. From prehistory, on both sides of the Strait, the same megalithic civilization developed, continued by Roman and Visigothic Tingitania, by the caliphate of Cordoba and then by the Almoravid and Almohad dynasties. It is only in modern times, with the formation of fortress Europe, that the geo-historical entity of the two neighbouring Algarves have been separated by the arm of the sea that had previously united them. On each side of the Strait, from Sagres to Safi, along the beaches and ports of this vast gulf sheltered from the north winds known as the “Mar das Éguas” (Sea of the Mares), cultures were not very different. Before Romanization, besides the constant and uninterrupted exchange of fishing expertise, there seem to have been other analogies, in rural mountains in the south of the peninsula and the Rif of North Africa. Besides similarities of form, size and usage, rural dwellings used the same decorative language and construction technique, indicators of an ancient and uninterrupted cultural symbiosis. There are also suggestive parallels in the ornamental morphology of ceramics, in the geometric weave of the basketry, in the empreita (a long strip made of esparto grass) and in the weaving of wool and linen. These are deeply rooted factors and attitudes on both sides of the Strait and ones which, contrary to what has been systematically claimed, are not the result of the dislocation of a people who, in 711, are said to have followed a hypothetical group of Arabs and Berbers led by Tarik.

There is a persistence, especially in more conservative mountainous regions far from urban centres, of striking elements of continuity, resistant to the gradual acculturation spread first by Rome and later by Islam.

On the other hand, the fertile coastal plains with their harbours and converging trade routes are open to all the influences and pressures of innovation. The urban centres of the former Baetica, Lusitania and Tingitania, turning their backs on the scenic magnificence of the Roman Empire and being naturally integrated into a network of trade complicities, were the first to open to modernity, to new techniques, new artifacts and new ideas, converting these coastlines into an unequalled center of western Mediterranean civilization.

The port cities of Ceuta and Tangier started to develop through the direct influx from al-Andalus which, based on the prestige of the Cordoba caliphate, had consolidated itself as an undeniable pole of attraction for the whole region. The crossing of the Mar das Éguas, connecting Faro to Asilah, or the Alboran Sea, joining Almeria to Oran, became easier and faster than travelling by land or awaiting a favourable wind to round Cape Saint Vincent. A small cargo vessel would take two days to sail from Lisbon to Safi but only one day if it sailed from Faro. It is also worth remembering that the same cargo from the hold of this boat would have taken four of five days on the backs of several hundred mules to reach Beja from Lisbon.

By the end of the period of the Old World the endemic lack of wood that was being felt across the eastern Mediterranean led shipbuilders – before they started to go up the Sado and Tagus rivers in search of pine and oak – to harvest the cedars on the slopes of the Rif and the chestnuts in the hills of Silves where the woods still flourished in the damp breezes off the Atlantic. Even now in the Monchique hills can be found residual tracts of chestnut with their slender shoots so sought-after for masts and even some decaying trunks of ancient oaks, which are none other than the remnants of a forest which had supplied the shipyards of Silves and Lagos for centuries and later on for the first adventures of the 15th century expansion.

If after the Reconquest, across the windward region of the Algarve, the mountain communities supplied live cattle for shipping and the slaughterhouses of the coast, the valley farmers produced figs and raisins for export and the artisans and fishermen supplied the urban markets, why should not beams of cork and oak have furnished the shipyards of the coast where the vessels known as fustas and taridas went about their businesses of fishing and piracy?

If this was the case, we can take it that the ports of Silves, Lagos or Sagres and, on the other side of the Strait, Ceuta and Tangier, must have been home to the best and most advanced elite of carpenters, shipwrights and seamen. From time immemorial, passing from generation to generation, the fishermen and sailors of this wide gulf where the Mediterranean ends were learning to dominate the adverse winds and the treacherous waves of the Tenebrous Sea (the Atlantic Ocean).

It is not surely by chance that the first evidence of the word barca appears on an inscription found in the Algarve and dating back to the 3rd century AC.

Besides the uninterrupted contacts between Malaga and Tangier, Sagres and Genoa or Tavira and Saleh, fast sailing ships that sat higher in the water began to cross the cold waters of the northern seas in the early 14th century, carrying salt, wine and dried fruit from the Algarve.

Here too, in the sheltered coves of the Algarve coast, and certainly during the medieval Islamic period, a major synthesis of forms of rigging and techniques of naval construction of the Old World must have taken place with a technology more adapted to Atlantic navigation and the rough seas of the north. This is the case of the axial rudder (leme de cadaste or temao) which became widespread from the 14th century onwards, replacing the long lateral oar. The word leme supposedly originates in the region of the Bay of Biscay. As the term cadaste seems to be a Mozarab word from the south of Portugal, the joining of these two terms and the increasingly widespread use of the leme de cadaste supposedly began in the region of the Strait or even on the coasts of the Algarve. At the same time, or slightly earlier, around the middle of the 12th century, the Atlantic winds in these regions meant that there were significant adaptations in the way sails were rigged. This is the case of the mixed rigging in which the classical round sail is combined with the latin sail, still known as the laterina and which, hailing from from the Red Sea and the Nile, had started to be adopted in the 6th century AC by other sailing vessels and even by the Byzantine dromon itself which, despite this innovation, retained its oar. Older vessels connected to Mediterranean trade dating back at least to the 11th and 12th centuries such as the tarida, the fusta and the carraca traversed the the same waters than the agile little catraios and barineis of the fishermen and pirates of the Strait of Gibraltar. It is within this context that, in the mid-15th century, the caravel appears. This small vessel with a single poop and a long boom resting on a forward-leaning foremast in the Mediterranean tradition would open the routes to the west, being quickly adopted for the transport of goods and most especially for the privateering wars. High in the water and with a tall poop, besides offering a greater resistance to ocean waves it enabled an effective mounting and use of cannon. Unlike Biscay and Hanseatic shipbuilding, in which the framework or skeleton of the ship is adjusted to a pre-fabricated hull and planked clinker style with scale-like overlapping boards, the caravel follows all the ship-building traditions of the south. The hull is smooth, made up of fitted boards directly bolted to a pre-fabricated reinforced framework.

Nor must it be forgotten that since the days of the Roman Empire the Algarve coast and the Strait region generally had one of the largest concentrations of fish salting industries and that it was in their waters that the most sophisticated techniques of trawling and netting accounted for their huge catches of tuna and plaice. It is these men of the sea, these fishermen who experts in the erratic currents of the Strait and battered by the low, treacherous waves of the Levant, besides the supply of fish to the cities, the transport of people and goods and the sustenance of smuggling, soon outfitted the first vessels of the privateers.

Privateering, as well as piracy both great and small, had always been common and was regarded as a simple commercial activity whether involved in the exchange of merchandise or the slave trade. However once the wars of plunder of the Reconquest were over in Portugal, the victorious aristocracy and especially its second sons, disdainful of the profits based on commercial activity, considered the “honorable thefts” provided by privateering which resembled ordinary military exploits, to be a way of acquiring wealth that accorded with their higher status. As the raiding and distribution of lands in the Alentejo and Andalucia ended, the wars of privateering and overseas territorial conquest were starting.

In the same way it is the crown itself, without great moral or religious pretexts, that promoted and nourished the first privateering wars against the Moors. King Diniz, in a contract of 1317 with the Genoan Manuel Pessanha, mentions the men that he calls “my privateers” on an equal footing with the seamen of the royal fleet. And one of the clauses of the above contract authorizes Pessanha to devote himself to privateering activities while he himself receives a fifth of the booty. In 1433 King Duarte granted a donation letter to Prince Pedro which records his aim of “arming some ships for privateering on the strait”. Through a grant of 1450 King Afonso V gave part of the sumptuous booty seized to the queen. These organized and officially-sanctioned acts of piracy in the Strait reached such proportions that in the Portuguese Parliament in 1446 the agents of Tavira, representing the Algarve-based traders, accused the Portuguese privateering ships of giving “signs that they were arming against the Moors, rather than following the expected route, when they are meant to be loading they go along this coast of the Algarve and that of Castile, out of the river mouths and from one port to another, awaiting ships”. On their masters’ orders, or on their own initiative, these privateers went, quoting Zurara: some along the coast of Grenada, others crossing the Levantine sea, until they had taken great plunder from the infidels. According to the records of the maritime authority of Valencia, about 15.8% of captures in their area are attributed to Portuguese privateers. In 1454, Algarve pirates were recorded as having committed raids in the port of Alicante, along with accounts of their activities around the Balearics, along the entire coast of the Levant and naturally in the ports of the Maghreb.

Ship-owners, gentlemen and nobles of Lisbon and Algarve led by Prince Henry who since 1443 had the right to the fifth of the booty participated and promoted the privateering war which was convulsing the Strait, particularly the traffic between Morocco and the kingdom of Grenada. According to Magalhães Godinho, the voyages following the conquest of Ceuta and planned by Prince Henry were no other than adventures of plunder which Zurara would later whitewash into attempts to round Cape Boujdour. It is in fact easy to prove the acts committed by the seamen in their plundering raids along the coast of the kingdom of Grenada and the coasts of North Africa. These seamen – privateers who served the prince, a certain Gonçalo Pacheco, a Mafaldo and a Lançarote – were, according to Zurara, able and competent men in the arts of piracy.

Besides the supply of goods from the trade itself, privateering was particularly lucrative in the supply of labour for the galleys and the trading of other slaves in the markets of Lagos, Seville and Algiers. Pirates and privateers had always favoured the type of raid that involved the boarding of ships and incursions on land. From the middle of the 15th century until 1505 over 150,000 slaves had entered Portugal, the majority in the latter years coming from the Gulf of Guinea. At the same time, though the monopoly was in the hands of the Portuguese, the black slave trade was to attract other protagonists and maintain a close relationship with piracy.

The heyday of the Maghreb corsair in the early 16th century, was boosted by the arrival of Moorish refugees who had been expelled from the Iberian Peninsula. When these were forced to choose between conversion and exile a large number, especially stonemasons, cabinet makers and coppersmiths from the cities, chose to flee to the other side of the Strait. Later on this influx was fed with a new wave of exiles from Grenada. According to the most recent data around 40,000 refugees settled in Morocco, amongst which the youngest and most vigorous must surely have augmented the ranks of the corsairs and the industries of war.

These privateers of Iberian origin quartered in Maghreb ports such as Oran, Tetuan or Saleh, besides their natural sense of vengeance, were drawn to the plunder of the rich booty which was starting to come from the Indies. Shipments of gold, silver and spices, of slave oarsmen for war galleys and especially of high ransom payments were the key to an economic system that used privateering as the main mechanism for profit. The surprise factor, the speed of the vessels as well as the low cost of these undertakings, explained, among other reasons, the number of captures and the exceptional profits made from these raids.

It is not easy to know the number of ships captured during three centuries of war on the Strait. It must have been in its hundreds. Amaro Dias, for example, a Portuguese renegade condemned by the Inquisition in Malaga on the 18th of April, 1655, before being executed stated that, in less than ten years, he had captured 2,500 people from Iberian beaches. When the captives were taken, after being deprived of all their belongings, they were assessed according to age, sex, activity and physical appearance in order to determine the price of the ransom. Over 11,000 Portuguese captives must have been held to ransom in Fes, Ceuta, Melilla and Ksar el-Kebir between the 15th and the 17th centuries.

Neither smuggling on either side of the Strait nor any sort of business, legal or illegal ever suffered interruption, even when it would appear that battles, conquests and defeats might have made the circulation of goods and relations difficult or even impossible. For example, the troubled history of the occupation and abandonment of the Portuguese settlements on the Moroccan coast did not interfere in any way in these activities of illegal trade and smuggling.

From the mid-sixteenth century onwards, the administration of the crown, experiencing difficulties in placing the products brought from India and Brazil in any European country, made contracts with traders and smugglers working in Morocco. For example, Duarte Álvares, a Christian convert, noble of the royal house and administrator of duty on textiles from Lisbon, was one of the major traders involved in the north African smuggling trade. Vicente Lourenço, born in Portimão, started to travel in 1545 and settled in Taroudant in the south of Morocco, where he ran a family network, presided over by his brother who had meanwhile converted to Islam. Later, as a successful merchant, he was accused by the Inquisition of “trading goods prohibited in Morocco” but obtained the king’s pardon. Pedro Martins, a knight of the royal house, had a residence in Asilah. He had a son in Seville and another on the Barbary coast. He smuggled for 20 years in Morocco and he was supposedly the king’s goldsmith in Fes. He also traded with Taroudant, where he was a weapons dealer. Many other small and medium traders, including numerous converts with family networks in Flanders and the Barbary coast, and open to business in Taroudant, Marrakesh and Fes, where some owned lands and sugar mills, ended up by benefitting from royal protection and escaping the meshes of the Inquisition.

In this whole mosaic of interests, half-hidden but parallel – away from acts of conquest and military occupation, and therefore uninvolved in the military exploits of conquerors – smugglers and renegades have always been relegated to a secondary role and shamefully dealt with by official historiography. They were however the principal actors on this maritime stage and who, for several centuries, united, as much as separated, two continents, two religions and, finally, a single culture. Renegades were converted emigrants or former slaves who had been set free after they publicly repudiated their religion and adopted Muslim law and faith. Certain of the emigrants simply abandoned their beliefs in order to obtain the protection of authorities and exercise piracy freely. On the other hand many captives converted to Islam in order to escape humiliation and violence, thereby expecting to improve their living conditions. In 1530, Ahmad al Arussi – Alcaide of Ksar el-Kebir – entrusted one of his caravels to the Portuguese renegade João Vaz Maio, born in Tavira, to participate in the privateering war. Under his rule, a whole fleet of vessels manned by Moroccans and Turks organized several sacking expeditions to the Algarve and western Andalucia. Very roughly documented, little is known about the number of renegades. However in the late 16th century, the population of Algiers had 100,000 inhabitants and 25,000 Christian slaves and nearly 9,000 renegades, a number that is close to the data included in a Spanish report of 1568 which mentions, for the same city, around 10,000 converts. During the 16th century, there was a constant growth in the number of renegades, who considered Muslim society more open and tolerant than that of Europe, then decimated by religious wars and oppressed by the henchmen of the Inquisition. The numbers are conclusive. In Algiers alone, captives diminished from 25,000 to 8,000 and, conversely, those who decided to change their faith nearly doubled: from 6,000 to 10,200. These new Muslims were often experts in the forging of cannon, in the construction of fortresses and in the command of pirate ships. It is symptomatic that 24 galleons headed by renegades from several European countries including Spain and Portugal were, in 1588, anchored in the port of Algiers, next to 11 huge Turkish ships. These were the leading figures in the great battles that ensued from the chasing and boarding of the heavy galleons hailing from Mexico or the East Indies.

The conquest of the city of Ceuta and the massacre that followed marked forever the spirit and the practice of the conquest and occupation of the Moroccan coast. Going against the peace-making tradition of the last stage of occupation of the Algarve and even of a certain religious permissiveness initially practised by the victors of the Reconquest, this bellicose spirit is the product of a recently ennobled bourgeoisie in the aftermath of the 1383-1385 revolution anxious to prove their military ability. These were young men of recent lineage, disinherited second sons, who were not ashamed to connect military acts of conquest and gentlemanly honour to the acquisition of filthy lucre, to acts of contraband with the enemy and even to the most shameless trade in slaves. Any attempt at direct dealing or simple contact with the people of the conquered cities was always second to tactical concerns related to territorial occupation, to a frenetic defensive logic when faced with an enemy attributed with malign and diabolical designs. In the case of cities that were densely populated at the time of conquest such as Ceuta and Azemmour, Portuguese military strategists undertook a tightening of the part of the city within the walls by building a wall known as an atalho, which traversed the whole settlement. Within the new complex thus created, all the houses were demolished and the population massacred or expelled. This violence from the start affected contact with native populations, making unviable all the policies initiated by the royal house to establish areas of Moors of peace (Muslims who paid tribute to and recognized the suzerainty of Portugal). The African settlements, increasingly isolated and focused on themselves and dependent on external supply, gradually adopted exclusively military characteristics, turning their backs on the surrounding territory and increasingly centred on the control of the sea trade that came from the Gulf of Guinea or from India. Each year, their isolation became more evident, interrupted only by violent raids led by impetuous young noblemen aspiring to be knights in armour, and which inevitably led to the destruction of crops, the theft of cattle, and the capture of slaves. Because of this the surrounding populations gradually developed a natural hostility and a desire for vengeance. However contact and relations with Moroccan people not only continued but was also apparently consolidated during these years of the Portuguese military presence. And all of this had absolutely nothing to do with the settlements of the Atlantic coast.

Still surviving in Portugal as a popular tradition is the always positive image of the mouras encantadas (enchanted Moorish women) and the idea that anything that is old, any prestigious ruin, dates back to “the period of the Moors”; likewise in Moroccan tradition, even in the hinterland, anything solidly built from the past is the work of the Portuguese! Curiously enough, on both sides of the Strait, this popular wisdom has a basis in truth. In al-Andalus over five centuries wars and military campaigns were clearly residual in comparison with the long periods of peace which showed great creativity in terms of the confrontation between religions, the symbiosis of cultures and forms and techniques of construction. In Morocco, the Portuguese presence that fed the popular imagination was certainly not that of the uncontrolled brutality of the young nobles testing their bravery on the peasants and shepherds of the fields of Sus and Doukkala. The great actors in this movement towards mutual knowledge, promoters of a clear cultural closeness, agents and architects of a common material and nonmaterial heritage that reign in the Moroccan imagination were undoubtedly the traders and smugglers, the fishermen and men of the sea, the refugees and the persecuted who found shelter on the other side, and above all the thousands of converts or renegades who were incorporated into Muslim culture, contributing decisively to eventual dialogue and a significant cultural proximity.

We must bear in mind that, in the early 16th century, the prestige of Islamic civilization was still alive, revived again shortly afterwards with the expansion westward of the Ottoman Empire, the natural successor of the former Roman and Byzantine empires. This is a process of orientalization that crossed the Mediterranean and which, in the Iberian Peninsula, was accentuated by the discovery of the palatial splendour of the Alhambra in Grenada, recently unveiled to the conquerors. Moreover, by that time, and without any direct connection to the history of al-Andalus, Portugal experienced the development of an architectural style of Islamic mudejar inspiration – the Manueline – which in a sense confirms the fascination that this civilization sparked in the national imagination. Throughout the country, especially in the south, treatments of surfaces, parapets and pediments of Moorish inspiration appear in polychrome tiled courtyards and cloisters. This is the discovery of a culture of pleasure in opposition to the cold austerity of a Romanic-Gothic world that was already in decay but still predominant in ecclesiastical and aristocratic mentalities. It is not surprising that the adventurers with unpaid debts, those persecuted for not eating pork or for fasting on Saturdays, those accused of a crime of passion or honor, the young man in love with a married or unattainable woman, instead of languishing in the dungeons of the Inquisition, escaped to the other side of the Strait where, once they had converted to Islam, they found a welcome, decent treatment and often the satisfaction of the secret dream of having many beautiful women, in a fantasy of odalisques dancing in a cool and perfumed yard to the plangent sound of a lute. Who can fail to understand the attraction of an escape to Fes where they were welcomed with open arms as experts in fire-arms, cannon makers, acknowledged as the best experts of their time and who, often for trivial reasons, were accused and persecuted by the servants of the Inquisition! These were technicians who specialized in the forging of copper and tin for the production of high-quality bronze, needed for the manufacture of the most sophisticated weapons of the period. Who was it that produced, and even used, the firearms and cannon that decimated the splendid cavalry assembled by the most illustrious of the Portuguese aristocracy in Ksar el-Kebir? Who were the builders of fine stone bridges and fortresses in Italian and Portuguese style to be found in several places of Morocco where there had never been a military presence ruled by the Portuguese settlements at the coast? Until that time all the construction techniques used in Morocco for urban fortification preserved the Almohad and Merinad tradition of using widely spaced blocks of adobe. With the introduction of fire-arms and particularly with the new developments in artillery and ballistics, the methods of construction and the very shape of fortresses were radically altered. The use of techniques of construction of bastion-like fortresses, with oblique walls in the Italian and Portuguese styles begun in the second half of the 16th century.

As far as the men of the sea are concerned – fishermen, shipwrights and carpenters, traders and pirates –, the inhabitants of the Strait, it is difficult to attribute a single origin, language or religion to them. A tradition which still endures attributes to each fisherman or sailor a family on both sides of the sea. When the shifting winds changed course, when sudden waves cutting off the route home, there was no other reason but to stay, while waiting for the favorable northerly winds. All of these men, half Jews, half converts, half Christians or Muslims were also Majorcans, Algarvians or Berbers. They were the men who seized goods, captured prisoners and robbed and sacked the coasts of Asilah and Tavira. All of them spoke Arabic which was the international language at the time.

Finally, we must not forget that, in Morocco, apart from the inland peasants who were almost exclusively Berbers and Tuaregs, from the 16th century onwards most of the inhabitants of the main cities in the north, and particularly the elites, were of Iberian origin or had strong family ties with the other side of the Strait. Besides the constant movement of peoples during the empires of the Mahgreb of the 12th century there was the mass expulsion of Jews and Moors in the late 15th century and above all the thousands of inhabitants of Grenada and Alpujarras who moved to Fes, Saleh, Tetuan or Tangier in the 16th and 17th centuries. We must not forget that all the converts, who must have constituted the majority, when abjuring their faith lost forever any reference to their former Christian name. Sometimes there was an attempt to translate as when José becomes Iosif, but these cases were rare. Most of them wished to forget their past and fully integrate themselves into the new society. The cultural symbiosis had essentially been concluded and, in a certain way, the material and non-material heritage common to both sides of the Strait had been consolidated by the time the Portuguese troops invaded the Maghreb and started to build and inhabit their fortresses on the Atlantic coast.

Cláudio Torres

Portugal and the atlantic coast of Morocco

Simply by looking at a map showing areas of Portuguese presence in Morocco it is evident that it was made up partly of urban centres and partly of fortresses more to the south including El Jadida, Azemmour, Safi, Essaouira, Souira Qedima, Agadir and Massas. It is to these that we refer here. Regarding the built heritage, policies in the surrounding areas and even the evidence of what has survived it has to be acknowledged that generally the Portuguese Christian presence was surrounded by a hostile Muslim milieu: there are however certain specific situations that should be recognized.

While the conquest of the cities closest to the Strait of Gibraltar and the construction of their fortresses is linked to the traditional foreign policy centred on making connections with the Mediterranean and northern Europe, the continuation of the conquest southward obeys a logic that points to a reality that Portugal was helping to build: the European expansion in the Atlantic towards the Indian Ocean.

By the first half of the 15th century, in a process in which Prince Henry was the central political figure, started a gradual recognition of the western African coast with the rounding of the major capes, such as Nao, Boujdour (1434), Baldaia (1436) and Branco (1443), which, because of the navigational difficulties encountered, marked the rhythm of the voyages. The farther Portugal advanced south on the African coast, the more it felt the need to have ports of call, at least during the 15th century when the voyages to Guinea were still made relatively close to the coast. Having suitable ports where they could take on water, for example, was a valuable asset. This was the case of Anafé/Casablanca/Dar-el-Beida, in the north, and Safi, further south.

Among the settlements of this southern area, Safi served other functions and was already familiar to the Portuguese before its conquest. Magalhães Godinho, in the work describes in detail the resources that the Portuguese expected to find in Atlantic Morocco, presents a city rich in textiles where, since 1456, the Portuguese had been buying the famous alambeis and alquices which were essential goods for barter with the people of the Gulf of Guinea. Duarte Pacheco, when describing Safi, informs us that it was rich in meat, fish, wheat, horses, wax, and honey. For Portugal, this city was not only included in its logic of North African expansion but was also connected to the new reality that was gradually being built in the Atlantic.

But to understand the full meaning of the Portuguese presence in this region and the places that were occupied it is necessary to contextualize it in the relationship with Castile and to the areas of expansion of both kingdoms. The fact is that a large number of the settlements served as a kind of exchange currency in peninsular business. It is curious to note that, in broad terms, the relationship of Portugal and Castile in the Mediterranean was reasonably cooperative but that rivalry and competition were predominant in the Atlantic.

Let us consider this issue in detail with reference to Pierre de Cénival. The debate between Portugal and Castile could be summed up as being connected to rights over the Canaries and the inheritance of old Tingitania, which had unclear boundaries. As an added complication, very ancient tradition made a strong connection between the Canaries and the adjacent coast of Africa because, from earliest times right up to the 15th century, peoples from the Canaries had been coming to Africa, including the region south of Boujdour, to capture slaves and this, according to the rules of the time, included a right to possession of the land itself. When the Portuguese took Ceuta in 1415 the problem worsened because the right of possession was reinforced by the political and religious legitimacy of the conquest. This might have been the reason why, in 1427 and 1428, Prince Henry, after the failure of all attempts to occupy the Canary Islands, acquired the eventual rights of succession from Maciot de Béthencourt, a nephew of the conqueror of the archipelago who had submitted to the suzerainty of the Castilian crown. To reinforce his still fragile rights Prince Henry turned his attention on the Pope.

Thus, on 8th January 1454, the Prince, in response to the attitude of the king of Castile who had granted the Canaries to the Duke of Medina Sidonia, obtained from Pope Nicholas V, the bull Romanus Pontifex, which gave the Portuguese the lands seized near Ceuta as well as the discoveries posterior to the rounding of Capes Boujdour and Nao, the latter being right opposite the Isle of Lanzarote. But the bull was not clear on the rights of the two kingdoms over the Atlantic coast, allowing Castile to claim that the dividing line passed through Cape Boujdour, whereas for Portugal it was Cape Nao, considerably further north. Because of this, even during the second half of the 15th century, Portugal managed to seize a number of Moroccan settlements while the usual raids continued from the Canaries.

One of the first serious changes to the situation came with the Treaty of Alcáçovas/ Toledo of 6th March 1480. This agreement, born from the political defeat of the ambitions of Afonso V to impose conditions on the Castilian crown, touched also on the Moroccan issue and required some concessions on the part of Portugal regarding Morocco. In effect, Portugal renounced the rights it claimed over the Canaries, although there was the acknowledgment of its right to continue conquests in Guinea and the possession of the islands discovered south of the Canaries; in addition, it maintained its rights of conquest over the kingdom of Fes. However once again the ambiguity of the texts of the agreements, particularly on the boundaries of the kingdom of Fes, meant that the conflicts continued and Portugal attempted to postpone or annul what had been agreed. It is a curious situation: Portugal and Castile wrangling over the boundaries of the kingdom of Fes, whereas for the interested parties, the African people and the king himself, there was no issue.

One of the precise aims of the Treaty of Tordesillas dated 7th June 1494 was to try and regulate the conflict over the limits of the kingdom of Fes. But, regarding the definition of the border there are reservations over the true intentions of both parties. This treaty decided upon the creation of a commission that would study the problem of the southern border of the kingdom of Fes, which was a way to postpone the resolution of the dispute and, as subsequent events seem to point, an attempt to try to gain territorial advantages. The issue was not limited to the demarcation of boundaries on the Atlantic coast, but also included a part facing the Mediterranean in which Portugal seems to have had a certain influence and a military presence. Here, the king of Spain said that the so-called kingdom of Velez was not included in the area of demarcation of the kingdom of Fes and therefore claimed control of the region between Caçaça and Melilla. In the Atlantic at the time there was a perception that the southern border of the kingdom of Fes was near Massa, although the precise location of the border was debatable. This fact enables us to understand the Portuguese interest in this locality and that must have been the objective of King Manuel when, on 11th January 1497, he agreed with the people of Massa that he would be their master and, in exchange, the Portuguese were authorized to build a fortress to lodge a commercial representative.

On the Castilian side nobody remained inactive either. Within the context of the situation before the agreement of Alcáçovas/Toledo, in 1477-1478, Diogo de Herrera, lord of the Canaries, presided over the construction of the fortress named Santa Cruz de Mar Pequeña, located south of Massa and north of Cape Nao. This fort therefore respected the Castilian interpretation of Pope Nicholas V’s bull, but led to an increased climate of insecurity for Portugal, which questioned the real intentions of Castile.

Over the course of time these kinds of long-lasting conflict were real headaches for the Portuguese crown, because the other side also attempted to respond with new often unexpected actions, forcing the king to mobilize resources and to keep a constant eye on the situation; this was the case of the bull Aeternis Regis, of 21st June 1481, by which the king of Castile managed to persuade the pope to grant the Castilians fishing rights south of Boujdour. At the time this papal bull represented a serious threat to the Portuguese, because it introduced a factor of disturbance in the contested interpretation of Nicholas V’s bull. Castilian pressure to force Portugal to give up its rights, or simply to respect the Castilian point of view, was constant. An example of this were the expeditions that they organized in 1483 against the Cape of Guer, a region accepted by both parties as Portuguese.

These acts of retaliation from one crown to the other were relentless. Probably in response to new challenges launched by Castile, King João II succeeded, on 3rd July 1486, in celebrating some treaties of vassalage with local tribes and to place Azemmour under Portuguese suzerainty. It was an endless process. After Tordesillas, in 1499, between the 15th and 23rd March, Lopo Sanchez de Valenzuela came to receive, in the region between the Canaries and the African coast, the submission of several tribes and townships on the coast including Tagaost (capital of the region of Cape Nao), Tamanar, Ifran and Ifni, and thus appeared to be preparing himself for a more consistent occupation. The following year, in 1500 Afonso de Lugo, governor of the Canaries, moved into Africa to begin occupation with the mission of building three forts: one near Cape Boujdour, another near Cape Nao and a third close to Tagaost. He began his work with the one planned for Cape Nao which was built of wood in record time and equipped with a moat that he called San Miguel de Saca (after Oued Asaka). In 1504 the same governor, after careful planning, took over the settlement of Agadir. This conquest represented an unsustainable threat for the local population and for Portugal because the seizure of this city was a direct attack to the rights of Portugal as Agadir was unquestionably in the region historically considered of Portuguese influence. This made it necessary to mobilize an army, in this case composed of the inhabitants of Massa and their Portuguese allies, which finally succeeded in expelling the Spanish from the city.

This clearly increasing Spanish pressure was of concern to King Manuel and he authorized João Lopes de Sequeira to build the Fort of Santa Cruz do Cabo de Guer (Agadir) in 1505 with the aim of protecting Agadir. In response further north in 1508, Fernando the Catholic ordered the occupation of the Peñon de Velez, under the pretext of trying to contain the advance of the pirates who were launching constant raids of pillage on the coasts of Andalucia.

It was clear to everyone that, with the deepening of these aggressive policies and actions, the two kingdoms were heading for war. It is in the context of a search for a peaceful solution that the Treaty of Sintra (1509) which attempted to put an end to the divergences between the two kingdoms can be understood. Apparently, only this treaty did indeed clarify matters and brought a degree of peace to the two kingdoms. An example of this is that Massa, which was not an essential point of the Portuguese presence on the African coast, soon ceased being mentioned in Portuguese sources. It is in this context that we understand the ephemeral nature of some of the settlements on the African coast and why the Portuguese did not attempt to recapture them after their loss.

The very real Luso-Castilian rivalry on the Atlantic is obvious. In Agadir, for example, the Portuguese were faced with the opposition of the Berber Cacima tribe, and the people of Agadir Larba were truly vassals of Castile. This was a common situation. It is not thus surprising that, in a letter of 28th September 1498 to the Queen Regent Leonor, Diogo Borges, back from Safi, confirmed that the city had a pro-Spanish party. One of the great reasons for the Portuguese crown to press so hard for the marriage between Jaime, the 4th duke of Braganza and the daughter of the 4th duke of Medina Sidonia, Leonor de Mendonza was because of the interest that this house had in North Africa and its consequent importance for the possessions in the south of Morocco and the influence on the policy of Castile.

An excessively rational construction should not be put upon the political behavior and analyses of the period. The idea that Portugal, an indisputably Christian kingdom, had the inalienable duty to fight the infidel limited the way in which everyone looked at events and made their choices. Moreover, if we add the practice of pillage as a source of profit for the Portuguese nobility, it can be understood that the more global policies of the kingdom for North Africa as much as relationships with local powers varied significantly in each settlement.

Let us start by observing some of the practices of the Portuguese nobility. Despite the paucity of existing data, everything indicates that in the Portuguese fortresses in Morocco on the Strait, especially in Ceuta, it was the house of Meneses and Noronha, counts of Vila Real, that had the most organized network of connections. However for the fortresses of the south it was the house of Braganza that not only organized and led the expedition that took over Azemmour in 1513 but also seems to have had some influence in the region. Here the rivalries between the captains of Safi and Azemmour were constant and led to contradictory policies with Moorish allies. In general there was a dominant practise of pillage and military raiding, combined with more ingenious political measures which brought local groups over to the Portuguese side. These groups and even the tribes that supported the Portuguese were for a short time known as the Moors of peace and this situation was also the result of internal rivalries. In the territory of Doukkala, for instance, several tribes divided the territory between Azemmour and north of Safi. The Abdas predominated on the east and south of Safi, while the Xiatimas dominated the region north of Essaouira. Still nowadays the region, officially known as Doukkala-Abda, takes its name from the tribe and which was so tenaciously opposed to the Portuguese. To obtain a brief perspective of the complexity of the issue, consider the example of the years following 1510. At that time Nuno Fernandes de Ataíde, captain of Safi and known as the “restless one”, began a series of victorious campaigns that led to a wide political control over the region, consolidated by the defeat of the armies of the king of Fes in 1514. His aggressive policy did not always have the support of the leader of the Moors of peace, an alcaide known as Bentafufa. The latter accompanied the captain of the settlement in many of its raids, helping him to create a vast area of regional alliances, and he was present at the Battle of the Alcaides, but, despite all of this, had such misunderstandings with the captain of Safi that he was sent back to Portugal.

On the death of the “restless one” in 1516, Bentafufa was again appointed the alcaide of Portugal’s Moorish allies with vast rights and grants, including the right to appoint tax collectors and raise the rents of the town of Cernu and other powers that seem to point to a policy that was less violent towards Muslims. He died in an ambush, at the hands of his archenemies, the Abdas, and his death meant a weakening of the Portuguese possibilities of consolidating a sustainable presence.

If those years saw the start of the increasing difficulties of the Portuguese it is worth remembering that, despite the significant impact that the arrival of Vasco de Gama in India had caused, as well as the frenetic ensuing events that required royal attention, there is no doubt that Doukkala and Enxovia, the two major regions in the south of Morocco, held a central role in the political concerns of King Manuel.

But the political winds were shifting. Since the early 16th century, the gradual rise of the Saadite dynasty, more Islamized and utterly opposed to the Portuguese presence, gradually exerted a pressure on Portugal that was increasingly hard to bear. The Moroccan settlements became increasingly a duty that required the use of ever greater financial resources, the mobilization of an ever greater number of armed men and was ever more complex and expensive to provision. What is more several of the functions formerly performed by these fortresses ceased to make sense. The textiles from Safi could easily be replaced by other products, navigation to the regions of Guinea and the south Atlantic was no longer made near the coast and, above all, many of the Portuguese elites were fascinated with the mirage of wealth that India and Brazil represented. The “moral” arguments which were invoked, despite being significant, were not sufficient to convince the Portuguese king. In 1525, the king of Portugal ordered the demolition of the castle of Aguz (Souira Qedima) and in 1541, the year when the Saadian shariffs of Sus took over Agadir, Azemmour and Safi were also abandoned permanently. By 1550 it was only over El Jadida that the Portuguese flag still flew. 

Filipe Themudo Barata