One of Morocco’s most important archeological sites, the “Château de Mer” or Palace of the Sea, is threatened with collapse owing to a combination of natural and man-made conditions.
The Palace of the Sea, also called in Arabic Qasr al-Bahr, is a fort on the Atlantic built in 1508 by the Portuguese in the city of Safi in Western Morocco. In 1924, the fort was the classified by the French occupation as Morocco’s first archeological site owing to its historic importance.
For five centuries, the castle has been exposed to ocean waves that kept eroding the stone cliff on which it was built. Now Qasr al-Bahr is in danger of collapse.
According to Abul Qassem al-Shibri, head of the Moroccan Portuguese Studies Center, erosion has surpassed the site in which the fort is located and extended to the main street and part of the old city.
“When the tide in high, water spatters from a well in the fort’s courtyard and could travel for a distance of 20 meters,” he told Al Arabiya.
“Even the iron barricades placed around the fort six meters away from that well keep shaking during this time.”
Shibri explained that the walls of the fort have been subjected to several restoration attempts, following the appearance of cracks as a result of the collapse of part of the northern tower.
“However, the same cracks appear again which means that the fort is about to collapse. The cliff on which it was built can no longer stand the impact of the waves.”
Shibri attributes part of the current situation to the construction of the Safi Port pier in 1930.
“Concrete barriers were built to redirect the waves in a way that allows the ship to set anchor smoothly. The waves then started beating against the cliff on which the fort is built.”
Another damage, he added, was done by the phosphate-loaded train that passes near the fort on its way to the industrial port.
“The train causes tremors in the fort as well as in the old city next to it.”
Shibri stressed that the fort needs to be rescued before it is too late and explained that this requires a set of procedures.
“The marine fishing port and the industrial pot need to be relocated to another place on the city shore so that the waves can go back to their normal direction. Concrete barriers also need to be built around the fort.”
Owing to the hefty cost of this project, Shibri suggested the construction of an amusement port in the place of the industrial port to generate an alternative income and promote tourism.
“This will make up for the losses incurred by demolishing the old port and the cost of building the new one.”
Moroccan Minister of Culture Mohamed Amin al-Subeihi said that the decision to implement this project is not, like many believe, up to the Ministry of Culture.
“This project involves the ministers of planning, industry, tourism, finance, municipalities, and others,” he told Al Arabiya.
Other relevant bodies, he added, have to take part in preparing the necessary studies for the implementation of the project.
“We cannot afford to lose an invaluable historic site like this one,” he concluded.