Coordinates: 27°9′13″N 13°12′12″W / 27.15361°N 13.20333°W / 27.15361; -13.20333
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العيون (Arabic)
El Aaiún
Left to right, top to bottom: Footprints on the sand, Place Mechouar, Street, Monumental Arch, Laayoune Cathedral
Left to right, top to bottom: Footprints on the sand, Place Mechouar, Street, Monumental Arch, Laayoune Cathedral
Laayoune is located in Western Sahara
Location in Western Sahara
Laayoune is located in Africa
Laayoune (Africa)
Coordinates: 27°9′13″N 13°12′12″W / 27.15361°N 13.20333°W / 27.15361; -13.20333
Non-self-governing territoryWestern Sahara
Claimed by Kingdom of Morocco
 Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic
Controlled by Kingdom of Morocco
RegionLaâyoune-Sakia El Hamra
Founded byAntonio de Oro
 • Total247.8 km2 (95.68 sq mi)
 • Total217,732
 • Density880/km2 (2,300/sq mi)
Time zoneUTC+1:00 (Central European Time)

Laayoune[note 1] or El Aaiún[note 2] (Arabic: العيون, romanizedal-ʿUyūn, lit.'The Springs') is the largest city of the disputed territory named Western Sahara, with a population of 271,344 in 2023.[7] The city is de facto under Moroccan administration as occupied territory. The modern city is thought to have been founded by the Spanish captain Antonio de Oro in 1938.[8] From 1958, it became the administrative capital of the Spanish Sahara, administered by the Governor General of Spanish West Africa.[9]

In 2023, Laayoune is the capital of the Laâyoune-Sakia El Hamra region administered by Morocco, it is still under the supervision of MINURSO, an UN mission.

The town is divided in two by the dry river of Saguia el-Hamra. On the south side is the old lower town, constructed by Spanish colonists.[10] The St. Francis of Assisi Cathedral was constructed during the Spanish period and is still active with a few Catholic missionaries.


Laayoune or El Aaiún are respectively the French and Spanish transliterations of one of the possible Romanized Maghrebi Arabic names for the city: Layoun, which could mean "the springs", in reference to the oases that furnish the town's water supply.[11]

The city was founded by the Spanish captain Antonio de Oro in 1938 as a small military outpost, but quickly became the Spanish Sahara's administrative and political centre.[10] The location was chosen for two reasons: the presence of water and the strategic military position the site offered. Its position on the banks of the Saguia el-Hamra river enabled good communication with the harbors of Tarfaya and Boujdour. The city underwent a period of rapid economic growth in the 1940s due to the discovery of vast deposits of phosphates at the Bou Craa site fuelling a phosphate industry.[10]

The town was the scene of the Zemla Intifada that occurred on June 17, 1970, that culminated in a massacre, resulting in the deaths ranging from 2 to 11 people and hundreds injured.[citation needed]

After the Spanish withdrew in 1975, Laayoune, along with much of the rest of the Western Sahara, was annexed by Morocco.[10] Since then, large numbers of Moroccans have moved to the city, and now outnumber the indigenous Sahrawis, who have gradually given up their traditional nomadic lifestyles.[10]

The city has continued to develop rapidly and benefits of a desalinization plant. The city's rate of urbanization continues to outpace that of Morocco, though on most indicators of human development, it lags behind southern Morocco.[10]


Laayoune has a hot desert climate (Köppen climate classification BWh), moderated by the Canary Current,[citation needed] with an average annual temperature just over 21 °C (70 °F).

Climate data for Laayoune (1981–2010 normals)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Mean daily maximum °C (°F) 22.2
Daily mean °C (°F) 16.9
Mean daily minimum °C (°F) 11.6
Average precipitation mm (inches) 11.1
Mean monthly sunshine hours 239.1 234.7 281.4 296.5 326.5 308.9 290.3 286.9 260.1 266.1 243.9 229.8 3,264.2
Source: NOAA[12]

Climate change

A 2019 paper published in PLOS One estimated that under Representative Concentration Pathway 4.5, a "moderate" scenario of climate change where global warming reaches ~2.5–3 °C (4.5–5.4 °F) by 2100, the climate of Laayoune in the year 2050 would most closely resemble the current climate of Alexandria. The annual temperature would increase by 1 °C (1.8 °F), and the temperature of the warmest month by 1.8 °C (3.2 °F), while the temperature of the coldest month would decrease by 0.1 °C (0.18 °F).[13][14] According to Climate Action Tracker, the current warming trajectory appears consistent with 2.7 °C (4.9 °F), which closely matches RCP 4.5.[15]


Laayoune has a population of 271,344[1] and is the largest city in Western Sahara.

Year Population
1982 (Census) 93,875[16]
1994 (Census) 136,950[16]
2004 (Census) 183,691[16]
2014 (Census) 217,732[16]
2023 271,344[7]

Economy and status

The city is a hub for fishing and for phosphate mining in the region.[17] In 2010, the country was negotiating a new fishing agreement with Europe over offshore fishing.[citation needed]


The football club of the city is Jeunesse Massira. The club plays in the Moroccan Second Division, the second highest football league in the country. Jeunesse Massira uses Stade Sheikh Mohamed Laghdaf for training and games.[citation needed]


Laayoune is served by the international Hassan I Airport.


French school associated to the Alliance française was established in 2018, the city also includes a Spanish international school, Colegio Español La Paz, owned by the Spanish government.[18]

Diplomatic missions

On 18 December 2019, Comoros became the first nation to open a consulate in support of Moroccan claims to the region.[19] In January 2020, Gabon opened also a general consulate.[20] Later on, São Tomé and Príncipe,[21] the Central African Republic,[22] Ivory Coast,[23] Burundi,[24] Eswatini,[25] Zambia,[26] the United Arab Emirates,[27] and Bahrain,[28] also opened consulates in the city.


See also


  1. ^ a b "POPULATION LÉGALE DES RÉGIONS, PROVINCES, PRÉFECTURES, MUNICIPALITÉS, ARRONDISSEMENTS ET COMMUNES DU ROYAUME D'APRÈS LES RÉSULTATS DU RGPH 2014" (in Arabic and French). High Commission for Planning, Morocco. 8 April 2015. Retrieved 29 September 2017.
  2. ^ "Laayoune". Lexico UK English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. Archived from the original on 2020-03-22.
  3. ^ a b "Laayoune". Dictionary. Retrieved 17 August 2019.
  4. ^ "Laâyoune". Collins English Dictionary. HarperCollins. Retrieved 17 August 2019.
  5. ^ "el-Aaiún". Lexico UK English Dictionary UK English Dictionary. Oxford University Press.[dead link]
  6. ^ "El Aaiún". Collins English Dictionary. HarperCollins. Retrieved 17 August 2019.
  7. ^ a b "Population totale". Retrieved 2023-08-23.
  8. ^ Francisco López Barrios (2005-01-23). "El Lawrence de Arabia Español" (in Spanish). El Mundo. Retrieved 2013-02-11.
  9. ^ Norris, H. T. (1964). "The Wind of Change in the Western Sahara". The Geographical Journal. 130 (1): 1–14. doi:10.2307/1794260. ISSN 0016-7398.
  10. ^ a b c d e f Deubel, Tara F.; Boum, Aomar (2019). "The Rise of a Saharan City". Routledge Handbook on Middle East Cities. Abingdon: Routledge. ISBN 9781138650749.
  11. ^ Adrian Room (1994). African Placenames: Origins and Meanings of the Names for Over 2000 Natural Features, Towns, Cities, Provinces, and Countries. McFarland. p. 62. ISBN 978-0-89950-943-3.
  12. ^ "WMO_Normals_ASCII_60033". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved August 4, 2021.
  13. ^ Bastin, Jean-Francois; Clark, Emily; Elliott, Thomas; Hart, Simon; van den Hoogen, Johan; Hordijk, Iris; Ma, Haozhi; Majumder, Sabiha; Manoli, Gabriele; Maschler, Julia; Mo, Lidong; Routh, Devin; Yu, Kailiang; Zohner, Constantin M.; Thomas W., Crowther (10 July 2019). "Understanding climate change from a global analysis of city analogues". PLOS ONE. 14 (7). S2 Table. Summary statistics of the global analysis of city analogues. Bibcode:2019PLoSO..1417592B. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0217592. PMC 6619606. PMID 31291249.
  14. ^ "Cities of the future: visualizing climate change to inspire action". Current vs. future cities. Retrieved 8 January 2023.
  15. ^ "The CAT Thermometer". Retrieved 8 January 2023.
  16. ^ a b c d "Western Sahara: Provinces & Urban Communes - Population Statistics, Maps, Charts, Weather and Web Information". Retrieved 22 December 2020.
  17. ^ "Diplomacy over Western Sahara: 'Morocco v Algeria'". The Economist. 4 November 2010.
  18. ^ Santana, Txema (2015-04-10). "El colegio español en El Aaiún pide ciclo de secundaria". El País (in Spanish). ISSN 1134-6582. Retrieved 2023-02-07. Lagadaf Lahsen, presidente del AMPA del centro educativo, asegura que es "la única forma de evitar" que sus hijos "se vayan a otras ciudades de Marruecos o a Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, además de que no se pierda el español en el Sáhara"." and "[...]una instalación de 17.000 metros cuadrados que es propiedad del Estado español[...]
  19. ^ "First foreign diplomatic post opens in Western Sahara". Arab News. 18 December 2019.
  20. ^ "Gabon Opens Consulate General in Laayoune". Sahara News. 17 January 2020.
  21. ^ "Sao Tome and Principe Inaugurates Consulate General in Laayoune". Morocco World News. 23 January 2020.
  22. ^ "Central African Republic Opens Consulate General in Laayoune". Morocco World News. 23 January 2020.
  23. ^ "Cote d'Ivoire Opens General Consulate in Morocco's Laayoune". Morocco World News. 18 February 2020.
  24. ^ "Burundi Opens General Consulate in Laayoune". Morocco World News. 28 February 2020.
  25. ^ "Eswatini Opens Consulate General in Laayoune, Southern Morocco". Morocco World News. 27 October 2020.
  26. ^ "Zambia Opens Consulate General in Morocco's Laayoune". Morocco World News. 27 October 2020.
  27. ^ "UAE Officially Opens Consulate General in Morocco's Laayoune". Morocco World News. 4 November 2020.
  28. ^ "Bahrain Opens Consulate General in Laayoune, Southern Morocco". Morocco World News. 14 December 2020.
  1. ^ /lɑːˈjn/ lah-YOON,[2][3] also UK: /lˈ-/ ly-,[4] French: Laâyoune [la.ajun]
  2. ^ /ˌɛl ˈ(j)n/ EL eye-(Y)OON,[3][5][6] Spanish: [el (a)aˈʝun]; Hassaniya Arabic: لعيون, romanized: Laʕyūn/Elʕyūn; Literary Arabic: العيون, romanizedal-ʿUyūn/el-ʿUyūn, lit.'The Springs'

External links