El Jadida is a strategically-located port city on the Atlantic coast of Morocco that was controlled by Portugal from the early 1500’s until 1769.
One of the first things that the Portuguese did there was build an underground warehouse (or possibly an armory). It was converted into a cistern in the sixteenth century.
The cistern is especially famous for the dramatic reflections on the thin layer of water that covers the floor. The large skylight on the roof projects a strong beam of light when the sun is in the right location, which makes the entire scene into a photographer’s dream.
A number of films have been shot in the cistern, the most famous of which is Orson Welles’ Othello.
We visited the cistern on one of the last days of our Moroccan sojourn. After several days in the Saharan Desert, it was a great relief to me to be able to breathe air that wasn’t filled with sand.
I have been in the famous cistern in Istanbul, Turkey and was curious to see how this one compared. Since the one in Istanbul is one of the largest (approximately ten times the size of this one) and most well-known cisterns in the world, I really didn’t expect much in El Jadida.
Knowing that it would be a low light scene, our group all took their tripods with them. When we got to the entrance, the “entry hall” was very small and had just a few posters with the history on them — not very impressive. Then, we were told that tripods were not allowed! What!! We got the caretaker to allow us to take two tripods with us and I had one of them. Intending to share with anyone else who wanted it, I expectantly entered the cistern.
It was definitely more interesting and dramatic than I had expected and I was practically salivating in anticipation of the fabulous shots that I was going to get. The shaft of light was lighting the space beautifully and there was just barely enough water on the floor to make for a good shot. More water would have been nice, but you get what you get.
From the start, I knew that this was going to be a black and white shoot because there was very little color and the lighting was so spectacular. We had our Moroccan guide with us, who was wearing a jellaba, the traditional hooded robe of Morocco. We got him to pose in the shaft of light to try to bring a subject into the shot. Although it was a good idea, I ultimately discarded all of the photos with him in them because it was just a bit too fake and obviously posed. Plus, the cistern is interesting enough without a subject.
This is one of the shots that I got from this shoot. I’m not really sure what I expected and have to admit that I was a bit disappointed with my shots when I first looked at them, but this one has really grown on me.