This extremely rare, separately-issued chart was published by Gerard Hulst Van Keulen, of the great Dutch dynasty of chart makers, and depicts the harbour, town and vicinity of Essaouira (formerly Mogador) during the great reign of Sultan Mohammed III, when the city was the principal maritime gateway to Morocco for Europeans. The chart is a uniquely attractive, with aspects expressed in a stylized, pictorial fashion.
Essaouira is located along the central coast of Morocco, south of Agadir, and was valued for its fine anchorage by the Ancient Romans, who established a settlement on the island in the harbour. Remaining an important port, by Medieval times the town established on the mainland was named ‘Mogador’ after the Muslim saint Sidi Mogdoul. The Portuguese recognized the value of Mogador, taking over the area and building the Castelo Real de Mogador in 1506, although local resistance soon forced them to withdraw.
In the decades that followed, Modagor, became an increasingly important entrepôt for goods such as sugar, molasses and exotic African goods. It also became on important base for pirates, praying on European shipping, and it was attacked (usually unsuccessfully) innumerable times by various Western powers. Most notably, in 1629, the French Admiral Isaac de Razilly, with the backing of Cardinal Richelieu, mounted an expedition against Mogador, with to aim of colonizing it with French settlers, as so striking blow to the pirates and humbling France’s enemy, the Sultan of Morocco. The French force landed on Mogador Island, and while they did not complete their mission as intended, they put a scare into the Sultan, who in 1631, agreed to give France preferential trading rights, as well a promise to supress the pirates.
Fast-forward to the mid-18th Century. The financial underpinnings of the government of Morocco were being undermined by unchecked piracy, black market trading and rogue European activity. Sultan Mohammed III (reigned 1757-90), who spent most of his time in the interior cities of Marrakesh and Fes, realized that he had virtually no control over the country’s coats or its maritime exports. Drastic action needed to be taken.
Mohammed’s main strategy was to channel Morocco’s maritime trade through a port strictly under his control, so curtailing the power of the pirates, smugglers and his political opponents, many of whom were based in Agadir. Due to its relatively close proximity to Marrakesh, he chose Mogador as this harbour.
Beginning in 1760, Mohammed oversaw a 12 year ‘grand projet’ to transform Mogador into a modern, thriving and carefully controlled port. He hired the French engineer Thédore Cornut to lead an international team to rebuild the city and its defences along advanced European urban planning and military schemes. He diverted the caravan routes to terminate at Mogador and strongly incentivised all European traders to conduct maritime business out of the city.
Notably Mohammed renamed the city ‘Essaouira’ (meaning: the “the little rampart”). The sultan’s plan was successful, within a short time Essaouira had become Morocco’s busiest port and a fabulous mart for the commodities and treasures of Africa, as well as nexus of positive cross-cultural exchange. Importantly, the Sultan reinstated royal control over the country’s maritime economy and vanquished his domestic opposition. Essaouira would remain Morocco’s main port until the late 19th Century, when direct mass European trade with Sub-Saharan Africa caused the virtual collapse of the caravan economy.
The Chart in Focus
This wonderful chart embraces Essaouira and its environs, centred on the city and harbour, which is guarded by Mogador Island, labelled as ‘Eiland Magodor’. The chart, true to its practical primary purpose, features extensive nautical information, including the treacherous shoals and rocks that line the harbour, but also the deadly ‘Rif’ to the north of the city, comprised of a shelf of rocks that project deep out into the Atlantic. Lengthy notes in the upper right give mariners detailed instructions how to safely sail into the port.
Focussing on the town, many aspects are labelled by letters, which correspond to the key in the lower-left. Letter C marks the main city, noting that its fortification were originally designed by a Genoese engineer; E. designates the New Castle or Citadel; G marks the bridge leading to the old Portuguese Castelo Real; H marks the main gate from the port into the city; K notes the main mosque (although here described as a ‘Kerk’, or Church); while D, E, K and L mark aspects of the city’s defences and arms stores. The Atlas Mountains are figuratively represented in the interior, labelled as ‘Gebergte van Atlas’.
Most of the magnificent sites designated on the map still survive to this day, which has led the old town to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Van Keulen Dynasty of Chart Makers
The present chart was issued by Gerard Hulst van Keulen, the scion of one of Europe’s longest-lived and prestigious map publishing dynasties. The firm was founded in Amsterdam in 1678 by Johannes van Keulen I (1654 – 1715) and would operate until 1885. Johannes I gained great acclaim for his sea atlas entitled Nieuwe Lichtende Zee-Faakel (translation: ‘New Shining Sea Torch’), the first volume of which appeared in 1681. The company soon gained privileged access to ground-breaking sea charts and became a titan in the global maritime map trade, at one point being the biggest private chart maker in the world. Johannes van Keulen II (1704-55) took over the family enterprise in 1726, and while only in his twenties, quickly proved to be highly industrious, bringing the firm to the apogee of its success. In 1743, Johannes II was appointed as the official hydrographer to the VOC, and in 1753 published the ‘Secret Atlas’ of the VOC, based on the Company’s formerly censured manuscript charts, being the 6th volume of the Zee-Fakkel. His sons, Cornelius Buys (d. 1778) and Gerard Hulst van Keulen (1733 – 1801) continued in their father’s footsteps. Gerard Hulst issued the last editions of the atlas and produced his own fine charts (such as the present map of Mogador) and served on the Dutch Longitude Commission
The Van Keulen firm continued through most of the 19th Century, being handed to the Swart family (decedents of the Van Keulens), who ran the venerable enterprise until it closed its doors in 1885 – after an amazing run of 207 years!
The Production & Rarity of the Chart
The present chart was separately issued by Gerard Hulst van Keulen and contemporarily back with thick blue rang paper, so as to preserve it for use on ships (a relatively early Dutch version of a ‘Blueback’ chart), identical to the example held by the Bibliothèque nationale de France. This particular example seems to have at one point been bound into a composite atlas, which explains why it survives in such stellar condition. While undated, the chart seems to have been issued around 1780, shortly after Gerard Hulst took over sole leadership of the family business, following the death of his bother Cornelius Buys in 1778, as it bears his lone imprint, ‘Te Amsterdam bij G. Hulst van Keulen’. The work was certainly issued in response the to the imperative for charts of Essaouira in the wake of the city’s ascendency. That being said, only a very limited number would have been printed, and, of these, very few would have survived the travails of shipboard use.
The present chart is extremely rare. We cannot trace any sales records for the chart from the last 30 years, and we can locate only two institutional examples, at the Bibliothèque nationale de France and the Netherlands’ Nationaal Archief (The Hague).
References: OCLC: 494813171 / Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Cartes et plans, CPL GE SH 18 PF110 DIV 4 P 9 D; Nationaal Archief (Den Haag), 4.VELH, no 80.