Larache

Bigger than Asilah, and rather less bijou, Larache is a relaxed, faded seaside town, with a good beach and not too many tourists. A halfway house between Spanish and Moroccan urban life, it is a sleepy sort of place, with views over the ocean and the Loukkos estuary, plus the evocatively named, 16th-century Château de la Cigogne, the Fortress of the Stork. It was at Larache that Jean Genet was to find a haven, writing his last novel here.

Background

Larache (El Arayis in Arabic) is named for the vine arbours of the Beni Arous, a local tribe. The area has one of the longest histories of human occupation in Morocco, going back to Phoenician, Carthaginian and Roman times at the settlement of nearby Lixus. Larache was occupied by the Spanish during 1610-1689 and as part of their Protectorate, from 1911. At that time, the harbour was added and the new town was developed. Larache became the principal port of the Spanish northern zone. Today, the town draws its livelihood from the agro-food industry and fishing, although it has lost its status as a major port. Revenues from migrant workers and the building industry are important, too. Tourism may get a boost here soon as a large resort complex is planned on the Atlantic beach north of the river.

Sights

On the very edge of the old town of Larache is a large piece of Renaissance military engineering, with the usual pointy bastions, dating from the 16th century. The isolated structure, now housing the local museum of antiquities, is the
Château de la Cigogne
.
Also called Castillo de las Cigueñas or Al Fath, the museum contains a small amount of material from Lixus.

The Avenue Mohammed V is the main street of the new town. At the eastern end, heading for the central plaza, there are the fortifications and then the post office on the right and the
Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Pilar
on the left. The circular
Place de la Libération
, with a fountain, is the heart of the town; the entrance to the médina, an arched gate, Bab el Khemis, is on the north side.

Exploring further, on the clifftop overlooking ocean and estuary, the 16th-century
Kebibat Fortress
was used by the Spanish as a hospital. Shamefully, it has been left to fall into ruin. The Spanish Consulate occupies a fine art deco building, and you will also easily locate the Neo-Moorish style central
market
, recognisable by its towers.

The médina is a poor quarter of steep and narrow streets and high walls best viewed from below or the north side of the estuary. Just inside is the Spanish-built market square. There are a number of souks, notably
Socco de la Alcaiceria
, the cloth market.

One final port of call in Larache is the tomb of writer
Jean Genet
(1910-1986) out in the old Christian cemetery near the lighthouse and prison. The cemetery has been cleaned up, part of the works currently being financed by the regional government of Andalusía. With the views over the ocean, Genet could hardly have chosen a better final resting place.

Excursion to Ancient Lixus

Located on a spectaular site on the right bank of the Oued Loukkos about 4 km from the sea, Ancient Lixus is the second most important Roman site in Morocco after Volubilis. Heathland butterflies and the occasional raptor are added bonuses of a visit to the site.

Tchemich Hill, on which the town is located, 50 m above sea level, was obviously an excellent location for defensive reasons and the views from here are beautiful, especially in the early evening, when the sun is going down over the meanders of the estuary. For some ancient writers Lixus was the location of the Garden of Hesperides, where Hercules harvested golden apples to gain his place on Mount Olympus. The first traces of settlement date from the seventh to sixth century BC and in pre-Roman inscriptions the future Lixus is referred to as Semes. The oldest evidence of building goes back to the fourth century BC. There was a seventh-century Phoenician and later a Carthaginian settlement here. Rome annexed the town in 40 BC. Coins with Latin and neo-Punic inscriptions suggest the inhabitants had a dual culture, as was the case in so much of Roman North Africa. The town became a colony under the Emperor Claudius I, when salt, olives and fish were the main exports. Eventually reaching an area of 62 ha, Lixus prospered until the late third century AD, in part because of its strategic position on the road from Tingis (Tangier) to Sala Colonia (Rabat). It remained active and was occupied until the fifth century AD and in Arabic historiography, re-emerges as Tohemmis. This remained a Muslim settlement until Larache was founded in the 14th century. Recent archaeological finds in the region will shed further light on the town's history.

Getting around the site

The easiest way up into the site is via the track near the gate, generally closed, at the north end of the garum (fish salting) basins behind the railings on the N1 (just nip around the railings). Head uphill to find the
amphitheatre
, excavated in 1964 and, with its its quality stonework, probably the most impressive ruin. Spectators would have been able to enjoy a play and superb views of the flood plain beyond at the same time. Just beyond the theatre is a small
bath comple
x. There are some mosaics still in situ in the hall area, although the central mosaic of Neptune has been removed. In the circular caldarium are traces of painted plaster. Clear evidence of demolition/rebuild can be seen from the column drums inserted into a wall. After the amphitheatre, either follow the track uphill to discover the remains of
apsed temple
(crumbling half-tower) or cut across left (west) and scramble up to visit the
acropolis
area. Look out for the impressive vaulted cisterns. It is possible to make out an oratory, a small open space with a stubby column in the middle and twin semicircular niches. The layout of the colonnaded
forum
can also be seen. Dominating the highest point of the site is a rectangular, vaulted chamber some 4 m high, probably a
cistern
for feeding the nearby bath complex.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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