Sidi Ben-Achir Cemetery, Salé’s Iconic Necropolis

The massive cemetery right next to the Atlantic Ocean and Bou Regreg Estuary

photography by: Omri Westmark

For centuries, the coastal city of Salé was known as a base of operation for the corsairs, who were notorious for striking terror across the Western Mediterranean and the North Atlantic. Nonetheless, the city also has other, lesser-known facets. While Sidi Ben Achir was born in the Moorish-controlled region of Andalucía, he soon became a prominent figure in Salé, where he is buried. More than 650 year later, Ben Ashir's grave is surrounded by a massive necropolis that bears his name, from where one can gaze at the ocean as well as the country's capital, Rabat.

For an outside observer, the city of Salé might seem like a low-key suburb of Rabat. However, the town, separated from the Moroccan capital by the Bou Regreg River, prides itself on a rich history that makes it a worthy place to explore by its own right. Alongside its notorious legacy of piracy and slavery, Salé is regarded as a religious and spiritual center, home to Morocco’s third largest mosque.

 

Born in the Muslim-ruled Andalusia region around the beginning of the 14th century, Ahmed ben Mohammed ben Omar ben Achir al-Andaloussi, better known as Sidi Ben Achir, is one of Salé’s four major saints. After spending most of the early period of his life in the port city of Algeciras, Ben Achir settled in Salé, where he soon became a venerated spiritual and religious leader.

 

A fervent adherent of Sufism, Ben Achir was regarded as a role model for asceticism. However, he is probably best known for his proclaimed healing powers. Legend has it that Ben Achir’s blessings could heal a wide array of incurable diseases and disabilities, including blindness, deafness and mental illnesses.

 

Following his death in 1364, Ben-Achir was buried in front of Salé’s coastline, next to the Borj Adoumoue, aka the bastion of tears. In 1733, the then sultan, Moulay Abdullah bin Ismail, erected a lavish mausoleum around the tomb, which would later become a pilgrimage site for those who are desperate for a medical miracle.

 

Over the years, a massive cemetery with which the renowned saint shares his name, began engulfing Ben Achir’s tomb. Surround by a formidable wall, the sprawling graveyard turned into the last resting place of many of Salé’s residents, including the town’s most honored scholars and sheikhs.

 

Along with two adjacent graveyards, Bab Maalqa and Sidi Abdallah Benhassoun, Cimetière de Sidi Benachir forms a gargantuan 13.5-hectare necropolis, where tens of thousands of people are buried. The three cemeteries are separated by a series of roads and walls, while the densely arranged tombstones are accessible by dozens of walkways that traverse the burial grounds.

 

The zillions of tombs might look utterly similar from a distance, yet a closer glimpse would suggest otherwise. In fact, the gravestones vary in size, shape, color and even covering, as many of which are embellished with intricate details and Moroccan-style tiles. If it wasn’t enough, this gigantic cluster of graveyards offers a breathtaking vista of Rabat’s old town on the backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean.

The mausoleum of Sidi Ben Achir

photography by: Bertramz/ Wikimedia Commons


The Bab Maalqa Cemetery

photography by: Omri Westmark


Some tombs are immersed in tall shrubbery

photography by: Omri Westmark


Standing out amid the tombstones is a small yellow grave of a toddler

photography by: Omri Westmark


The giant wall separating Sidi Abdallah Benhassoun and Sidi Ben Achir cemeteries

photography by: Omri Westmark


Sidi Ben Achir Cemetery as seen from a small window across the nearby cemetery's wall

photography by: Omri Westmark


A bluish domed tomb that belongs to a prominent religious leader

photography by: Omri Westmark


All graves might look the same at a distance, however, they differ in many ways, including size, age and shape

photography by: Omri Westmark


The old town of Rabat looming in the distance

photography by: Omri Westmark


The wall separating the streets of Salé from Bab Maalqa cemetery

photography by: Omri Westmark


As your eyes can see, the dead and the living are in short proximity

photography by: Omri Westmark


Many of the graves are topped by flowery shrubs

photography by: Omri Westmark