Essaouira, Top Destination in Morocco
Pictures of Essaouira, MoroccoClick thumbnail to view full-size
When people think about Morocco they immediately picture Marrakesh, big markets full of arts and crafts, terracotta mosques and Couscous; but after travelling in Morocco for a month I visited a few places that are not as famous as Marrakesh, which remain somewhat undiscovered by the masses and that represent a potentially rich cultural experience, quite an adventure! One of these travelling jewels is the picturesque and unique Essaouira.
The cities and towns of the coast of Morocco present a very different face from those of the interior because most of them were occupied or even founded by European powers, and this is reflected in their appearance and feel. Such is the case of Essaouira.
A Fortified Fishing Village in Morocco's Atlantic Coastline
Essaouira (pronounced esa-wera) is a South Atlantic coastal town with a relaxed atmosphere that is in complete contrast to the hustle and bustle of the big cities in Morocco like Marrakesh or Rabat.
The fortifications of the old city are a mixture of Portuguese, French and Berber military architecture, and their massiveness lends a powerful mystique to the town. It was the Portuguese who established a commercial and military bridgehead here towards the end of the 15th century, which they named Mogador. They lost it in 1541 and the coastal town subsequently fell into decline. Most of what stands today is the result of a curious experiment: In 1765 Sultan Sidi Mohammed ben Abdallah hired a French architect, Théodore Cornut, to create a city suitable for foreign trade. The Sultan obviously liked what he saw since the town was renamed Essaouira, meaning “well-designed”. It quickly became an important commercial link between Timbuktu and Europe, trading European manufactured goods for sought-after commodities such as gold, salt, ivory and ostrich feathers.
Essaouira's Old City or Medina
Inside, the walled town is all light and charm. You will find narrow lanes, whitewashed houses with blue painted doors, tranquil squares, pleasant cafes and artisans in tiny workshops beavering away at fragrant thuya wood. Many Europeans and artists, enchanted by the place, have invested in medina (old city) properties and an arty, expat influence is evident throughout the town.
Essaouira's Sea Bastion and Harbor
Heading north from Place Moulay Hassan you can gain access to the Skala de la Ville, the impressive sea bastion built along the cliffs. It is home to a collection of brass cannons from the 18th and 19th centuries and has great views out to sea. Locals and tourists alike gather here to watch the sun disappear over the horizon.
The snug fortified harbor, immediately southwest of the medina, is a hive of activity, with nets laid out on the quayside, fishing boats unloading their catch, traditional wooden boats being built and seafood sizzling on outdoor grills; the best cheap, fresh eats are precisely here, where you can take a look at a fabulous selection of the catch of the day and choose accordingly for a delicious al-fresco lunch.
The beautiful port, bustling with ship-builders and fishing boats is well worth a wander at any time, but try to catch the fish auction (3pm-5pm). It takes place in the market hall just outside the port gates.
Essaouira's HarborClick thumbnail to view full-size
Essaouira Music Festivals
- folk festival essaouira- Gnawa Music in Morocco
The Gnawa are the Progeny of former slaves from black Africa. Made in fraternities across Morocco, the Gnawa musicians are masters (Maalem), players rattlesnakes, clairvoyants, mediums and followers.
Other Essaouira's Highlights
All though my traveling companions (thanks Nin and Cesar!!) and I where there in December I reckon the best time to go for a complete holiday package is summer, when you can best enjoy the water sports possibilities, and specially mid June to catch Essaouira’s Music Festival.
Windsurfing, Kite-Surfing, Surfing
The beach stretches some 10Km down the coast to the sand dunes of Cap Sim; it is windy and has currents but it is excellent for windsurfing.
Essaouira Festival is a four day musical extravaganza usually held around the third weekend in June. Concerts take place on Place Moulay Hassan and at other venues throughout the town. International, national and local performers provide music ranging from Moroccan music to jazz and there are simultaneous art exhibitions.
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