I Fortifications and military revolution


Ana Lopes and Jorge Correia


On the left bank of the Oum er-Rbia, one of the major rivers of Morocco, Azemmour is around 3 kilometres inland from the mouth and is today a laid-back town. This city was the last big Portuguese conquest in the Maghreb, marking a strategic stage for the expansion of the Crown between the fifteenth and the sixteenth centuries (Map 1.1). The Portuguese presence here, which lasted from 1513 to 1542, would irreversibly influence the town’s image, dimension, and limits because of a drastic downsizing procedure undertaken. This technique was joined by important phases of military architecture experiments as its defences would play a key role in the early 1500s renovation that all the other Portuguese possessions in North Africa were witnessing.

This chapter aims to expose the key phases of the changes in military architecture that this short European presence introduced in this city in the first half of the sixteenth century. Such actions were central to the Military Revolution within the Portuguese’s overseas sphere, particularly an almost constant war effort in the Maghreb. One of the most interesting aspects for the analyses of the Portuguese fortifications in Azemmour is the degree of revision of pre-existing structures and the newly built defensive architectural elements. Azemmour’s works epitomize the laboratorial character of Portuguese military architecture interventions in new, coeval conquests, as pioneer models for full bastioned developments later in the century in the region or in revisions of obsolete defences in older Portuguese possessions in North Africa.

Indeed, this was a time to negotiate novel early modern winds of reform and atavistic late medieval affirmations of power, which were rather based on cavalry ways of making war. Given recent architectural surveys, a detailed analysis of drawn material and historic archival research, the argument in this chapter seeks

MAP 1.1 North Africa and Southern Iberia Peninsula

to evaluate the urban impact of the Portuguese presence and its military architectural achievements in Azemmour. Furthermore, it looks for interpretations that can position this case study as a central development between neuro and pyroballistic discussion in Portugal at the time.

Beyond morphological and typological analyses that convey a panorama of the physical metamorphosis, Azemmour is part of important cultural exchanges and the circulation of military knowledge, which is reflected in the work of Diogo and Francisco de Arruda. These master builders managed to bridge experiences in the metropolis and the Maghreb through an extensive network of interventions in fortifications and even international contacts.