Essaouira is a beautiful seaside town 3 hours west of Marrakech. It’s a peaceful retreat from the hot and bustling royal city, and gives visitors time to recharge their batteries. Although small, there is plenty to see and do here for lovers of North African history and architecture that this town has to offer,and for those who enjoy outdoor sports.
Here, we have a modern town that is surrounded by a heavily fortified 18th century medina. In its time, Essaouira would have attracted many traders and attackers eager to take the port and all it had to offer. The Romans were particularly attracted to Essaouira because they were able to provide them with a rare dye to make their imperial robes. Essaouirawas second in line for this to Lebanon who also provided this precious dye. The dye was sourced from sea snails that were discovered on nearby rocks in Lle de Mogador and was known as Tyrian purple dye. It was expensive to produce as so many snails had to be crushed in order to provide just a small quantity.
Essaouira was a successful trading and fishing port, but ran into trouble when it was captured by the Portugese in the 16th century. Essaouira would be fought over for many years until the Alaouite Sultan Mohamed III fought back. He used the French engineer Thomas Cornutwho had been captured from a French ship,to design the fortified walls around the city, Cornut would also design the boulevards seen throughout the centre of the medina.
The medina is pedestrianized and is the main area where locals live. Here there are restaurant, hotels, and markets. Down near the harbour is the Place Moulay Hassan which is the main fishing port. This is divided into two halves which are lined with cafes and shops,a place to relax where one can indulge in a little people watching. There are some excellent places to eat including the Patisserie chez Driss and the Taros restaurant where authentic Moroccan cuisine is served. The Taros also boasts a roof terrace where the harbour and the bay beyond can be seen.
A short walk from the square is the museum Sidi Mohamed ibnAbdallah. Here you will find basketry, and weaving on display with Moorish instruments and weapons from the local town. The woodcarver’ssouq is a particularly excellent place to visit where the local wood thuya is utilised to create everything from exquisitely carved wooden boxes to a chessboards and furniture. There isalso the government sponsored storeknown as Ensemble Artisanal, and the Cooperative Tamoute, both of which sell goods at fixed prices; here you will find everything from boxes to argan oil.There are plenty of art galleries here inEssaouirawith the main one being the Damgaard gallery followed by plenty of less formal galleries scattered throughout the town.
The Sqala de la ville is to the northwest of the medina and is a huge gun battery built during the 18th century reconstruction, from the ramparts you can see amazing views of the islands around Essaouira, which are now nature reserves, at one time they would have helped protect the harbour, and you can still see the remains of the ruined fortresses.
Outside of the city walls and parkland the place Orson Welles and the Othello Gardens are to be found;named after its founder who filmed Othello here in the 1940s. There are some outstanding views of the beach from the Othello Gardens and it is well worth a visit.
There are some strong winds here and although sunbathing is difficult it’s perfect for those who enjoy active water sports. Windsurfing is popular here and there are several stretches of beach which offer excellent conditions. The bay at Essaouira and SidiKaouki are excellent and MoulayBouzerktown is perfect for those who are in the intermediate to advanced class.
All in all there is much to keep the visitor entertained here in Essaouira from water sports to the beautiful architecture of the medina, the souqs and the many impressive art galleries.
To return to our main Morocco Tours page, please click here