Pirates in the Oudayas

 I live in a pirate's den- one of those ill famed enclaves, where sea robbers and more legitimate goods confiscators came to rest and sell the produce of their raids. For pirates and corsairs ruled the Mediterranean coasts and high seas for centuries- be they working for the Muslim or Christian cause.

Where and how Leo Africanus was captured is still a mystery. Until recently, the commonly held belief was that he was made captive off the island of Djerba, not far from the Tunisian coast. Djerba was renown for its pirate trade, and rebels of all kinds (Muslim and Christian) could always be found in its waters. The odd thing though, was that Leo made neither mention of his captivity nor of this unusual commercial activity when describing the island- which immediately awakened my suspicions as to the actuality of his 'capture'.

Actually (according to Rauchenberger, the latest of Leo scholars) Leo was made captive, but not at Djerba. It was not vulgar Sicilian pirates who lay their hands on him, but the most noble of all sea robbers- the Knights of Malta (then known as the Knights of Rhodes, details to be explained later).And he did not lose his freedom on the most expected of all Mediterranean coasts (Djerba), but on a much more unlikely one- off Cyprus, deep into Ottoman waters.

This variation of captivity scenarios barely hints at the breadth and complexity of the pirate and corsaire trade that ruled the 16th century oceans. And is it not appropriate that I should have chosen to live in one of the oldest pirate bastions of the North African Coast- the Oudayas fortress?

The fortified neighborhood that now stands at the tip of Rabat, where the Bou Regreg river meets the Atlantic ocean was first built in the 11th century- as a defensive outpost of the ruling Almoravide dynasty (based in Marrakech). It was home to a brotherhood of Muslim monks, whose mission was to unite all Muslim territories. The fort was called a "ribat" from the Arabic word "rabata" (to unite). Rabat...the city that unites.

In the 12th century, when the Almohade dynasty took over in North Africa, chasing the Almoravide rulers to Spain, they built a bigger fortress on this emplacement, to wage war against their Spanish rivals. The place was to be known as " Ribat al Fath", or the camp of victory- yet another name evoking Jihad and religious war (as dynasties in Morocco usually supplanted each other based on religious issues and questions of interpretation of Islam and rule). In the late 12th century, Yacoub el Mansour built a greater city around the fort-remains of which can be seen until today. These were the beginnings of Rabat, a city that started gloriously but was soon to temporarily sink into obscurity. In Leo's days, it was nothing but a sore memory of greatness once earned. Yet, Leo could not anticipate the odd revival the city would undergo, only a few years after he left Morocco. For the pirate trade had not yet hit the Oudayas and Sale....

In the early 17th century, Muslims chased from the Spanish community of Hornachos, settled in the Oudayas. Their hatred of Catholic rule led them to start an unusually aggressive maritime trade: piracy. Or should I say "corsairy"- as these sea robbers were acknowledged by the Sultan. And so, in 1627 was born the Corsair Republic of Sale. Take the "Pirate Coast" trip for more on this...