The Empire of Morocco in Africa and its southern border as documented in the archives of 4 European countries

The Empire of Morocco in Africa and its southern border as documented in the archives of 4 European countries
The Empire of Morocco in Africa and its southern border as documented in the archives of 4 European countries

Let’s start by presenting three old maps of the world (See photo gallery). In the archives of European countries, the borders of the Kingdom of Morocco have been traced since the 15th century by successive geographers as extending to present-day Mauritania. The entire territorial part at the heart today of the artificial conflict with the eastern neighbor, namely the region of Boujdour and Laâyoune-Sakia El Hamra, and Es-Semara, appear in several plates as always falling under the Kingdom from Morocco. Thus the Genoese cartographer Bartolomeo Pareto published a world map in Italy in 1455 (“Portulan map representing the eastern facade of the North Atlantic Ocean, the Azores, the Canaries and the coasts of Ireland, Portugal and Morocco” , Archives of Portugal, facsimile at the BNF), where Morocco is well entrenched in its Saharan and Atlantic territory. On the map, we find the Moroccan territorial area of ​​Bugeder (Boujdour) extending well below the Canary Islands in Western Sahara and naturally part of the Kingdom.

In 1489, an anonymous geographer published navigation charts on Morocco in Portugal, later collected by a collector in “The Cornaro Atlas” which resurfaced in Europe in 2011 at the BNF. There we find, 35 years after that of Bartolomeo Pareto, the updated map of the first European explorers who approached the Moroccan Atlantic coast. The map shows, like the first, that all the territory on which Algeria is eyeing has never been other than Moroccan, and has always been strategically part of the Kingdom. We notice that the line of knowledge of geographers now falls lower inside Mauritania, the power of the Sultan extending more and more.

A third map, undoubtedly the most important, on the southern border shows that around the 17th century, Mauritania became definitively part of the Kingdom of Morocco (Anville Collection, Archives de France, early 1700s). Its author Jean-Baptiste d’Anville draws up the borders of the Kingdom of Morocco beyond Cap Blanc in Mauritania, a region which will give birth to the city of Nouadhibou and become the economic capital of the southern neighbor. Territorial continuity goes at that time, according to this map, from Tangier to African lands under the supervision of an uninterrupted Moroccan royal authority until the 19th century. This authority of Morocco over West Africa is well documented. We will find it described in particular in a Germanic travel report in 12 volumes, translated into French by Berenger: “Géographie de Büsching. Africa and the islands which depend on it (…) decorated with a summary of the history of each State”, Regional Fund of Burgundy. Published in German in Lausanne between 1776 and 1782 by a certain Anton Friedrich Büsching, geographer and Lutheran philosopher, it is the first written testimony of high quality analysis on the expansion of the “Empire of Morocco” (thus is designated by the author) in Africa, plunging its roots as far as Guinea, encompassing Senegal, Mali and whose influence went as far as the Ivory Coast. The Sultan of Morocco is called in Africa according to this source: “Emperor of Africa and King of the four kingdoms”. We discover in the chapter entitled “Empire of Morocco” the way in which West Africa was administered by the Moroccan sultans: “The head of the Kingdom of Morocco takes the title of Emperor of Africa, King of the Four Kingdoms, Lord of Gago and Dahra (these two former territories form current Burkina Faso), and of Guinea, great sheriff of the prophet. His will makes a sacred law (…) His revenues are great: he has no particular domains, the whole empire is his domain. States are governed by Kaïds (caids) or Al Faquis (fqihs) to whom he abandons the revenues of their governments, and annually receives considerable sums from them; when the rulers die, he seizes their property and gives them with civil or military responsibilities to the sons able to exercise them, raises those who are still in childhood, marries their daughters.» (p.323-324)

This narrative already presents Morocco as an international hub for European trade in this part of the world. The Dutch, English and French pay a trade fee to the sultans and use the financial and transport circuits of the Cherifian Empire: “Merchants also buy dearly the right to trade, and that of bringing in foreign goods: the French, the English, the Dutch traffic (in the sense of doing business) many in this State; they bring sheets and other goods from their factories there; they exchange them for leather, woad, sugar, oil, gold and wax: they have consuls in some of these cities.” (pp.324-325)

On religious tolerance in the Empire of Morocco: “Mohammedanism (Islam) is the religion of the inhabitants, but it differs in some points from the doctrine of the Turks: they maintain that the decisions of the first caliphs, of the interpreters of the law, are only traditions, which have neither force nor authority (…) They also have some customs different from the Turks: the Turks, for example, prohibit the entry of their mosques to those who are not Muslims, and they in the empire of Morocco allow Jews, Christians, to attend their ceremonies, their assemblies, their solemnities; these small differences make them treat Turks like those who are not of their religion.” (325-326)

The links between Morocco and Africa pride themselves on good regional economic growth which the German author praises, “empire that produces a hundred times more than its inhabitants can consume» (p.326) he writes, and a generous and modern management which he gives as an example for the nations citing the reserves of wheat for five years which the sultans of Morocco stored for Africa, or the fertility and diversity of agricultural land which provides several harvests per year: “Morals and customs differ in the various kingdoms which make up this empire of Morocco; the soil is almost everywhere interspersed with plains and mountains, that the fertility is very great, since it provides three harvests of different productions each year, and can produce, say the exaggerators, a hundred times more than the inhabitants can consume: it is true that most of the land there remains uncultivated (fallow). The export of wheat is not allowed and enough is kept underground to feed the people for five years. The empire is rich in honey, wax, wool, cotton, ginger, sugar, indigo, etc..” (p.326) An African Eden: “The valleys and slopes of the mountains are abundant in fruits, the mountains are mostly covered with trees, pastures.» (p.327)

We see that for at least 569 years, the Sahara has been a region entirely dependent on the Kingdom. The very logic of Morocco’s expansion in Africa requires passage routes between the North and the South, which was ensured from the Atlantic coast, from the roads of Tafilelt to Guinea. A beautiful empire recognized and feared by all, magnanimous and fair with its populations, of which we can be proud.

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