Azemmour (or ‘Al-Zemmouri’), which derives its name from a Berber word for ‘wild olive tree’, is a small city located approximately 3 kilometres from the sea, on the left bank of the river ‘Oum er-Rbia’. Azemmour is a very ancient settlement and has experienced the presence of the ‘Carthaginians’ and ‘Romans’, which travelled to trade with the local Berbers.
By the 12th century, the town had become a centre of Islamic culture. Around the 15th century, the Republic of Azemmour was composed of a patchwork of tribes and ‘shaykhdoms’. For a short period (between 1513 – 1541), Azemmour was under control by the Portuguese. Azemmour was the last big Portuguese conquest in the ‘Maghreb’. The Portuguese reorganise and refortify the city, thereby irreversibly mark the town’s image, dimension, and limits (Coreia, 2014). This process of ‘downsizing’ was carried out in all Portuguese controlled cities in the Maghreb, for the purpose of a better military sustainability. Therefore, they also adapt some of the pre-existing towers (from the Islamitic-Arab period) and reinforcing the walls with bastions (Correia, 2014).
Sarmento (2009) argues that in tourism literature and promotion, there is a recurrent idea that the Portuguese built Azammour, as if nothing exists before the 16th century. However, as stated by Correia (2013), the morphological characterization of the medina components suggests three phases of evolution. The first one was during the ‘Almohaden’ dynasty, which contained a large round perimeter encircling which is nowadays is an extended portion of the extramural town. A second Islamic phase reduced the former surface to a rectangle, known today as medina or the historical heart of Azemmour. The third phase is one of its thinnest layers, which shaped the medina in its current form. The Portuguese decided to keep only its northern sector, transforming Azemmour into a castle/town (due to its small urban size) which today corresponds to the Kasbah/Mellah neighborhood.
Today, the reflection of the town’s massive white ramparts in the ‘Oum er Rbia’ river is one of Morocco’s more picturesque landmarks. The walls surround the labyrinthine medina, as well as the 500-year-old ruins of a Portuguese garrison. Despite its strategic site along the ‘Oum er Rbia’ river, Azemmour has always been a backwater, and sees fewer tourists than any other Moroccan coastal town, making it a quiet, rather sedate place to visit.
Azemmour is part of the tourism region ‘Centre Atlantique‘ of Morocco.