As its name – in Arabic, “the Great Enclosure” – suggests, KSAR EL KEBIR, an eleventh-century Arab power base 36km southeast of Larache, was once a place of some importance. It was 12km north of here where, in August 1578, the Portuguese fought the disastrous Battle of the Three Kings, the most dramatic and devastating in their nation’s history – a power struggle disguised as a crusade, which saw the death or capture of virtually the entire nobility and which ultimately resulted in 62 years of Spanish rule.
The town fell into decline in the seventeenth century, after a local chief incurred the wrath of Moulay Ismail, though its fortunes were revived to some extent under the Spanish protectorate, when it served as a major barracks.
The Sunday souk is held right by the gare routière and Moulay el Mehdi station. On any morning of the week, however, there are lively souks around the main kissaria (covered market) of the old town – in the quarter known as Bab el Oued (Gate of the River). Beyond Ksar el Kebir, a decaying customs post at Arbaoua marks the old colonial frontier between the Spanish and French zones.