Positioned on the Atlantic coast, the 18th-century port city of Essaouira was always my favourite place in Morocco. The charming fishermen town attracts many tourists, but still don’t lose its magic. If you are still considering in what coast city to spend your holidays, definitely go for Essaouira.
Essaouira is a laid back, a breezy town with a wide beach, the picturesque fishing harbour, vibrant blue&white painted Medina, and rich history. Seagulls and cats are the kings of Essaouira. You will meet them on every corner, hunting for a fish, stealing your breakfast and guarding the peace of the magical town.
Music is an important part of this charming city. Essaouira is famous for the sounds of hypnotic spiritual Gnaoua music and the annual Gnaoua World Music Festival. Do you know Jimi Hendrix’s song “Castles in the Sand”? Well, they say it was inspired by Essaouira, and the town for many years attracts hippies from all over the world. In Essaouira and around, there are few cafes/hotels claiming J.Hendrix was staying/eating in their place.
Locals say that Essaouira is full of good spirits and I believe them. Somehow, time stops at this place, you forget the daily routine and immerse yourself in the laid-back environment. In Essaouira, I love waking up early and with a slow pace explore the empty town. Even at 10 am, the streets are empty. Locals are lazily rising to get ready for the day. Despite being popular among foreigner and local tourists, Essaouira’s spirit remains unaffected time and modernisation.
In Arabic, Essaouira means “Little picture”, “well designed” or “protected” depending on how you pronounce the S,”. And, literally, Essaouira is a little picture, every year attracting many photographers and moviemakers. Famous movies and television shows like “Lawrence of Arabia”, “Gladiator”, “Game of Thrones”, “Prison Break”, “Sherlock”, and “The Nine” were shot in Essaouira.
Although history books are stating that Essaouira and its fortifications are dating the 18th century, the town has much older history. In the 15th century, the Portuguese were among others who invaded the Moroccan coast. Portuguese were the ones who constructed the massive stone walls, fortress that until these days surrounds the Medina of Essaouira.
After Moroccans finally reclaimed Essaouira, in 1764 Sultan Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdallah (also known as Mohammed III , c. 1710-1790) moved to the town that back then was called Mogador (meaning a small fortress). He hired a French architect, Théodore Cornut to build Essaouira from scratch, and create a melange of European and Moroccan styles. With merchants from Europe, Jews and English traders the city was enjoying its golden age.
“Essaouira was the only Arab city where most of the residents were once Jewish”
Then, Sultan named the city ‘Essaouira’. However, after the French had established their protectorate in Morocco, they changed the town’s name back to Mogador. Only in the 1960s, Essaouira got back its name. However, even now, you will often see the Mogador name next to Essaouira’s.
The Jewish community contributed a lot to Essaouira’s development. Back then, the Jewish community was 40 percent of the city’s population. When the State of Israel was founded in 1948, Essaouira lost almost all Jewish habitats. Today, visitors in Essaouira can visit two synagogues and the Jewish cemetery (I only visited The Rabbi Pinto Synagogue).
Today, the Medina of Essaouira is listed in the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Essaouira is a mesmerizing place in Morocco. You have to enjoy it without any rush and simply go with the flow.
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