Place Mechouar is the square with the nicest buildings around it, Place Oum Saad is the emptiest and biggest, but Place Dchira definitely is the most vivid square of all! The square is situated in the middle of the business centre of Laayoune and is also in the part where you'll find most the restaurants.
Dchira Square basically is a very big round-about. All around the square you'll find businesses: banks, the head office of Royal Air Maroc, lots of buscompanies and a lot more. And in between these buildings there are small restaurants and bars everywhere.
In the middle of the square, at the centre of the roundabout, there is a nice oasis where you can hide from the traffic and the heat. In the restaurant/bar that you'll here you can have a good meal or a nice glass of fruitjuice: a place popular with businessmen, the local youth and families.
Right next to the Place Mechouar you'll find the new, central mosque of Laayoune. This mosque is the place where the people come to especially for the Friday Prayers. The mosque is built in a pretty basic, typically modern Moroccan style with green tiles on the roof, a square, high minaret at one side and for the rest a lot of concrete.
Like all buildings in Laayoune the mosque is painted in the same salmon-pink colour. It used to be white, as I saw on older pictures, but because it was probably too standing out like this, they made it into the same colour as everything else.
On Fridays you can expect a big crowd coming here, but also during normal praying hours you'll see people from all ages and classes coming into to mosque to pray together.
Directly south from Place Dchira you'll end up in the souq of Laayoune. This area is very typical for the whole region: a market that is very, very quiet at daytime with just some salesmen and some old people hanging around there staring at everybody who stops by. And as soon as it gets dark it transforms completely: people come from everywhere, everywhere you hear the salesmen shouting and the streets are covered with bikes, cars and all other things on wheels.
Therefore the only way to see the Souq Djemal in a decent way is by going there in the evening. Out on the streets it's a great experience and when you enter the indoor souq you'll be surprised by the smells and the colours of all the food they sell here: from the local specialty fresh fish and the delicious olives to complete cow- and goatheads.
The get to the centre of the souq you have to enter the street that goes straight south from Place Dchira. After 500 metres the party starts!
Between the important square Place Mechouar and Place Dchira you will find another huge open area: the Place Oum Saad. This square is something in between a huge sportsfield, a events-square and a crossing point for traffic.
Place Oum Saad is completely surrounded by pretty useless columns. The columns are not meant to separate the square from the street: walls do. And the columns hardly offer any shadow either. But: they're there and it's nice to take some perspective-pictures here.
The square is mainly used as a sports field for the school in the area. Of course football (soccer) is the most popular sport here, like in the whole of the region, and don't be surprised to see dozens of young boys hanging out on the square playing a game.
The other main purpose of the square is the busstop that is located here. Supratours, the biggest buscompany in the area, has his stop here and that attracts a lot of activity: lots of people, lots of busses and lots of taxi's make the northside of the square to a chaotic part.
After the Moroccans took over the control of Western Sahara in 1979, they started expanding the city in a high tempo. Where the Spaniards only built the city in the lower parts of the area, close to the river, the Moroccans immediately started building on top of the hill.
The Place Mechouar was one of the first projects: a big, central square that is the space for happenings and that is bordering the Palais de Justice and the main mosque of the city. It is situated at the end of the important Boulevard de Mekka and the road towards the airport and the coast.
The square can be seen from a distance already because of the four towers on every corner of Place Mechouar. These towers indicate the first part of the square: here you'll also find some "sails" where you can find some protection from the sun.
In the other part of the square you will not see that much: this part is clearly not taken care of that good, but the flowers you find here still make it a nice place.
Laayoune is by far the biggest city in Western Sahara and is the capital of the country. The population at this moment as approximately 200.000, but the city is enormously fast growing. In the city there are three main-areas: the old Spanish centre, the modern Moroccan centre and the fast growing suburbs with big, square, high buildings.
The Spanish centre is the oldest part of the city. It is situated at the banks of the river, far below the modern centre. In this area you find a lot of very interesting architecture and small markets, but this is clearly not the best part of town.
The modern centre is full of bombastic monuments and big public buildings. This is where is the booming business-centre is situated, where you find the banks, the busstations, the tourists agencies and the most of the restaurants and hotels. But you'll also find the biggest souk here and lots of small teahouses and small streetfood places.
And the rest of the city basically is completely uninteresting: the Moroccan government is building huge areas with concrete colosses here to facilitate the many Moroccan immigrants that are sent to this area. The only reason to come here is to be surprised by this enormous political action and to get to other places that are in this direction.
After the Spanish left Spanish Sahara, 350.000 Moroccan civilians walked into the Western Sahara, the so-called Green March of 1975, orchestrated by the Moroccan King Hassan II. I was at that time In Marrakesh. I didn´t know exactly what was going on, looking at the impressive procession of thousands of people of all kind like young, old, traditonial, modern, male and female.
After the ceasefire between the Moroccans and Frente Polisario in 1991, Morocco poured money into infrastructure and housing projects. Moroccans from the north have been lured to move to here by tax-free living and prospect of employement.
In the desert we saw many new built houses and urban areas. As an European townplanner it was interesting for me to see, how newtowns are built in these desert areas.
Apart from Laayoune, Dakhla is the only town of note worth stopping in and then only to replenish stocks, fill the tank and perhaps sleep the night. Close by the Hotel Sahara on the market square it does get lively in the evening.
At the northbank of the Oued Saquira el-Hamra at the edge of the town just south of the town gate, we saw this building, looking like a castle.
Like more of the castle-like buildings in the town and area, it was signposted as a military or police building, not a museum or castle to visit by the public anyway.
WARCS wrote me about this building:
What you named as "Castle" in El Aaiún (Laayoune) was the edification where the Headquarters of the Spanish Legion (Tercer Tercio sahariano D. Juan de Austria) were located in El Aaiún until 1975.
We left Laayoune, looking like a new Moroccan town now. We didn't see the areas, housing Saharawi refugees. Us it told that these are off limits to foreigners.
We left Laayoune at the northern side in the direction of Tarfaya and Tan Tan. Here we had to cross the Oued Saquira el-Hamra. In the oued we saw water. The oued was also lined with trees at some places. Quite a change after all the barren sand in the south.
In Laayoune you can not find an obvious centre. From the Place du Mechouar, along the Boulevard de Mekka and around Place Dchira you will find several hotels, like hotel Mekka. Here are also restaurants, cafés, banks and several shops.
At the Place Dchira we found an office to arrange our Moroccan insurance for the car. The banks at this square have also ATMs. It was the first place, where we could get Moroccan dirhams after entering from Mauritania.
East of the Place du Mechouar stands the Moulay Abdel Aziz Mosque of Laayoune. This mosque is built in the standard architecture for modern mosques of Morocco.
The mosque forms also an important part of architecture around the Place Mechouar and along the Boulevard de Mekka.
All the buildings around the Place du Mechouar and the four towers are made in the same kind of Moroccan architecture, which unity is intensified by the use of the same red-pink colour.
During the day we didn't see much activity at the Place du Mechouar. And I can't imagine there will be often in the evening.
Entering the town from the west, coming from the coast, the first orientationpoint you will see is the Place De Mechouar. Like in other Moroccan cities it is the big central square whithout any shade or protection against the hot sun at the square itself.
Laayoune's place is built by the Moroccans as the town's showpiece, made up with four towers and the Palais de Justice as the central point.
Laayoune (or Al-'Uyun, Aaiún, Aiun) lies in the Wadi Hamra region, in the northern part of Western Sahara. The town was founded in 1930 by the Spanish, allthough there were also allready before 1930 settlements in this area. This first town grew up at the southern shores of the wadi Seguiat al Hamra, becoming important as the administrative centre of the phosphate industry. From 1940 to 1975 Laayoune was the capital of Western Sahara or Spanish Sahara, an African overseas province of Spain.
In 1975 Morocco annexed Laayoune and so it became after 1975 the -not internationally recognized- capital of the Laayoune province of Morocco. A second town centre grew up on the hills over old Laayoune.
Today the town has more than 200,000 inhabitants and survives most on Moroccon governmental subsidies.