Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands
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CSI info 5


5.1 Essaouira
5.2 Alghero
5.3 Esberg
5.4 Kotor
5.5 Odense
5.6 Omisalj
5.7 Saida
5.8 Saint-Malo
5.9 Sciacca
5.10 Licata
5.11 Taglio Di Po

Whether on the north or the south side of the Mediterranean, the towns that are potential partners in the project and whose representatives were present in Essaouira have, as small and medium size historic towns, many things in common, whether from the geophysical or socio-economic standpoints. A brief account of each of them helps in understanding the reason for one of the focal points of the project, which is that of the creation of a co-operative, exchange network of these towns.

5.1 Essaouira

A small blue and white town exposed to wind and tide, Essaouira, the ancient Mogador, is a fortress overlooked by other small forts and encircled by a series of walls pierced by many gates. The site of Mogador has been known since antiquity. The discovery of fragments of pottery and ceramics going back to the 7th century BC, on the surrounding islands in the bay of Essaouira less than a kilometre from the coast, shows that the Phoenicians used Essaouira as a stopover. The Carthaginians created Tamusiga in the 5th century BC as a commercial centre, and towards the end of the 1st century BC the Numidian King of Mauretania, Juba II, set up the first gentian-violet factories, the celebrated dye obtained from the shells of the mollusc Murex which was abundant there.

In the 11th century AD, Mogador was the port of Souss, which served the whole of southern Morocco, but it was only in the 18th century AD that the town and port were built facing the island and surrounded ramparts. In 1765, the Alaouite Sultan Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdallah decided to construct the greatest port in his empire, and he entrusted the works to the mathematician and architect Théodore Cornut, a disciple of Vauban, of Avignon, with the mission to build a commercial town with a port protected from inclement weather even at neap tide. Cornut was dismissed later, but his quadrilateral layout is still visible today; for some, it recalls the town of Saint-Malo, which was designed by Vauban. A Genovese architect designed the "scala" built on the western rampart looking seawards. A British architect, who later converted to Islam, had his name, "Ahmed El Euli" engraved on the jetty.

Around 1780, the were a dozen trading posts at Mogador employing about a thousand Europeans (British, French, Dutch, Italian, Portuguese, German and Danish). The port was the raison d'être for the construction of the town and the pivot of its existence, since everything was organized around it. The British established private schools there and encouraged the local population to speak English. French culture developed in parallel, thanks to the Universal Israelite Alliance, which built schools throughout Morocco, including Mogador in 1867. From 1912, when Morocco became a protectorate, the French influence became predominant. A 1930s' style centre was built outside the ramparts and near the beach, with a post office and a tax office, a church and a few villas. The French left when Morocco ceased to be a protectorate, some 44 years later.

Since its creation in 1765, Mogador found itself at the cross-roads of several cultures and civilizations: the Berber Haha-speaking tribes to the south, and the Arab-speaking Chiadmas to the north. The town was inhabited by these tribes and other families from the hinterland.

With 60,000 inhabitants, Essaouira is today the main town in a province of half a million inhabitants. As a coastal town, the ancient Mogador has a number of serious problems (uncontrolled coastal erosion, a decrepit and inefficient water-supply system, and a serious shortage of drinking water), which require urgent attention. As in other old towns, Arab quarters and historic town centres in certain Arab countries, Essaouira also suffers from such ills as overpopulation, building decay and the breakdown and inadequacy of public facilities. Historic districts, as well as their social fabric, have been endangered by the introduction of modern models of urban organization. It is to this small centre that the rural population migrates.

Essaouira remains, nevertheless, a magic window onto the Moroccan cultural patrimony, and a centre of artistic creation. Writers and artists from all over the world have been attracted to it (Orson Welles, Tennessee Williams, Antoine Saint-Exupéry, Madame de Stael, and more recently, Erik Orsenna, Scott Simons, Patrice Chéreau, Leonard Cohen, Cat Stevens, The Rolling Stones and many others).

5.2 Alghero

Situated on a very windy peninsula of Sardinia, the town of Alghero is built on rocks and is encircled by ramparts. Once a fishing port and a Catalan island of the 14th century AD, its raison d'être is tied to the sea. Its cultural heritage and its architecture are rich in Aragon Gothic elements. Today, it has 40,000 inhabitants most of whom have very deep roots; the town benefits from being a tourist attraction which has been the key ingredient of its socio-economic development since the 1960s.

As any other town on the coast, Alghero suffers from strong coastal erosion which is easily seen from the variations in the beach to the north of the town and from the degradation of the town walls. For this reason, Alghero makes a good subject for a comparative case study with Essaouira. The similarities (historical, geographical, environmental and developmental) between the two towns are striking.

5.3 Esbjerg

A new town founded in 1868, Esbjerg is the "capital" of western Denmark. Situated on the southern coast, which is the only tourist and recreation area of Denmark, it is the fifth largest Danish town, with a population of about 83,000 inhabitants.

Esbjerg has a very varied architecture, resulting from "borrowing" various details from several European cities. It remains today an important cultural centre.

Its strategic position on the North Sea explains the fact that Esbjerg is both a very active international commercial port and a major fishing port. Thanks to its commerce and its recent economic growth, the town of Esbjerg is a remarkable model of urban cultural and economic development.

5.4 Kotor

The town of Kotor, in Yugoslavia, is situated on the coast of Montenegro. It has about 25,000 inhabitants. The coast of Montenegro, with its typical landscape and wild nature, has been recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage site. Kotor was inscribed on the list in 1979.

The region is divided into two principal zones: the Bay of Boka Kotorska and the seashore. The Bay of Boka Kotorska (Mouth of Kotor) is a large, independent basin comprising the Bays of Topla (on the seaward side), Tivat (in the middle) and Kotor (on the landward side). The town of Kotor is on the south-eastern bank of the Bay of Kotor, at the foot of Mount Loveen.

Thanks to its exceptional biological and geographical conditions, Man appeared early in this area which has seen a succession of diverse civilizations and cultures. Vestiges dating from the neolithic period still exist along with prehistoric drawings, Roman mosaics and churches of the 6th, 12th and 13th centuries AD. Kotor, which is an ancient medieval fortress rich in historic monuments, is built in a triangular form surrounded by a defensive wall which fully reflects its cultural heritage.

The principal economic activities of Kotor and the Montenegro region are, as for all coastal towns, tourism and fishing, even if today agriculture and industry have made considerable progress. One of the factors limiting economic growth in the region, however, is the water supply; the distribution system is very old and small.

5.5 Odense

An ancient town of Denmark, Odense celebrated its millennium in 1988. The town inspired the stories of Hans Christian Andersen and was the town of the God Odin, a Viking divinity of the 7th-13th centuries AD. Today it is the capital of the Island of Funen on the eastern side of the Danish peninsula.

The town was built on the north bank of the river of the same name, a few kilometres from the mouth of the Odense fjord. The River Odense is the largest watercourse on the island and makes a major contribution to the life and development of the town's port.

The port of Odense is a well developed commercial centre and was the reason for the rapid growth in the population of the town in the 19th century. This population growth was due to the numerous changes that the town boundaries underwent during this period. The town spread more and more along the river banks, absorbing several smaller, isolated towns.

With a population today of more than 185,000 inhabitants, Odense is the third-largest town of Denmark, and it is estimated that its population will have reached 470,000 inhabitants by the end of this century.

One of the characteristics of Odense is impressive greenness, which is due to it being built on the river. It is nicknamed the "Garden City" and is free of pesticides and chemical fertilizers.

So it is an ecological town, yet it is also an important industrial centre, especially in terms of waste-water treatment. It has one of the most technically advanced treatment plants.

5.6 Omisalj

Omisalj is a small town in Croatia, on the Island of Krk, the largest island in the Adriatic. It lies in the north-western part of the island on a cliff 85m high.

The earliest traces of human settlements in the town date from 3000 years ago. Since then, each epoch has left its mark and has made of Omisalj a real historical and cultural treasury. At the beginning of the 1st century AD, the Romans built the town of Fulfinum in the Bay of Sepen, below Omisalj, and its vestiges have been preserved to this day. This archæological site has not been sufficiently explored or excavated so far. Besides Fulfinum, the remains of an ancient Christian Basilica dating from the 5th-6th century can be seen; the beauty of both sites merit special attention.

At the start of the 1960s, Omisalj took a favourable view of the development of tourism, which assumed an astonishing economic importance, until the undesired arrival of other industry. Omisalj's position on the closest point on Krk island to the mainland and the important economic and cultural centre of Rijeka encouraged the construction of major industrial complexes and an airport in the vicinity of of the town. These installations now occupy half of the hinterland and more than half the coastline. Such massive industrial development over the last twenty-five years has led to a permanent state of conflict between industry, on one hand, and tourism and urban planning, on the other. It is obvious that this has consequences for the economic, social, cultural and, above all, environmental aspects of the town's development.

At present, the town of Omisalj is trying to engage itself in the elaboration of new development strategies within the conceptual framework of sustainable development. It has to face several constraints, however:

5.7 Saïda

Situated on the southern Lebanese coast, the town of Saïda is very much a Mediterranean town. This ancient town has inherited and been enriched by many cultures, currents and civilizations. Today it retains the image of ancient Sidon as a frontier of two cultures: the West and the East; this despite the ravages of a war in the 1980s.

The architecture of the town still gives glimpses of the influence of the Crusades, the Mamelukes, the Maanites, and the Italians. Until the 19th century the town retained the memory of its Phoenician ancestors; a city turned towards the sea with the port as its centre. It was only at the beginning of the 20th century that economic development brought a new suburbs of wide avenues to what had remained, in appearence, a medieval town.

With a population of 80,000 inhabitants, Saïda today lives from fishing and tourism.

5.8 Saint-Malo

Built over the centuries on a rocky island facing the open ocean, Saint-Malo has, for more than two thousand years, been the "capital of the seas". It occupies one of the most beautiful maritime sites of France, in Brittany, and is a unique place, synonymous with history and discovery, and the point of departure for great explorations.

Since the Middle Ages, Saint-Malo has been a sea fortress. Cramped inside its medieval ramparts from the 12th century, this privateer town has a rather special history. It was partly destroyed by a fire in 1661 and reconstructed in the following years by Vauban who gave the town a layout and a structure that were quite original. It was in this image that Théodore Cornut, a disciple of Vauban's, built the town of Essaouira.

Many forts were built on the islands off the coast and the area within the town walls was greatly increased. During the Second World War, Saint-Malo was destroyed for a second time. The ramparts and the castle escaped destruction, but more than three-quarters of the intramural town was destroyed. On the rubble, the "great reconstruction" was undertaken and, faithful to its history, the Saint-Malo of today rose from the ashes.

The history of Saint-Malo is also the history of its port, witness to so many departures for the unknown. The prosperity of the port and of the whole town, especially in the 17th and 18th centuries was due to its seamen, adventurers and merchants sailing for India, China, Africa and the Americas. Saint-Malo is also the history of Surcouf and Douguay-Trouin, famous privateers who brought much prestige to the town and a spirit of adventure that still pervades most of the Malouins.

After many generations, of which the main concern was to win land from the sea, the fishermen of Saint-Malo have given ground to the merchant navy, and the municipality is building a hydraulic system to preserve coastal-water quality. This is essential for a famous seaside town where the population increases from 50,000 to 200,000 in the summer and the beaches receive over 850,000 sea- and sun-bathers.

Water treatment poses serious problems. The water-treatment plan has, as its first objective, dealing with the frequent floods and the rain water, which are known for their adverse effects on the environment. The town has now adopted a very ambitious project to restructure the water-treatment network, to create water-entrapment basins and to renovate or create selective pumping stations. This project could contribute valuable information to the programme envisaged for Essaouira .

5.9 Sciacca

The town of Sciacca is on the south coast of Sicily, in the Province of Agrigento; it is an archæological site of rare beauty. It was an important spa during the Roman Empire, but underwent considerable evolution, economically and architecturally, when under Arab domination. Even today, the characteristics of Arab towns are reflected in some districts.

It is only since the middle ages, however, that the town reached its apogee: fortresses, churches, convents were built throughout the 13-15th centuries. An unparalleled urban development continued through to the 18th century. For many years, Sciacca had a major strategic function, to control the Sicily channel.

Today, Sciacca, which has a very mild and sunny climate, is still a spa town and lives mainly from tourism and handicrafts.

5.10 Licata

The Licata region in the south of Sicily is a very important archæological site, witness to the passage of several civilizations. It has a particular geography, with the sea on one side and a river on the other two sides, which made it a naturally fortified site from the very beginning.

It is this geographical situation that has made Licata a centre of attraction since antiquity. Rich in the archæological and architectural legacy of many civilizations, the town owes its birth and its early flowering to the Greek civilization. It was only several centuries later that the medieval town, the vestiges of which are still visible today, became superposed on the ancient Greek structure. Licata retains, among others, important baroque monuments, as well as several works of art by Sicilian artists.

5.11 Taglio Di Po

Taglio di Po is one of the most important centres of the Venetian regional park of the Po delta, which spreads over an area about 80km long. The town has 8 500 inhabitants.

The origin of its name is most curious. It means "a cut of the Po". The town was so named by the Venetians of the 17th century for the river delta and specially the dangerous lagoon on which the town stands.

Many significant examples of Venetian architecture of the 17th century are displayed around the town and in the rest of the Po delta, especially large palaces, old summer residences of the Seigneurs of the period (Villa Ca' Zen, Ca' Nani, Ca' Vedramin).

Taglio di Po's economy is based on agriculture, flourishing because of the Po, which is a veritable source of wealth for the whole region. Ecotourism is also a rapidly growing sector.

The local community has a very modern and well developed water-supply network and sewage system covering almost the entire urban area.

As these brief descriptions show, these towns, potential partners in the project under discussion, have in common a very rich cultural and historical past, a strategic coastal location, commercial, artisanal fishery and touristic activities. Some of them have overcome urban development problems within their context, whereas others are experiencing some greater difficulties. From this, the successful experience of certain towns, if not used as a model, could at least provide certain methods of analysis and handling of the problems of the other towns.

Who would be in a better position to help a coastal town than another coastal town with the same difficulties? Following Habitat II, municipalities have been recognized by the United Nations as equal partners. During the working sessions of the seminar, this idea was shown to be correct and useful contacts were established amongst the representatives of the municipalities present at Essaouira.

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