Essaouira

Region: Marrakesh – Tensift – al Haouz
Population: 56,000

 

Essaouira’s translation stands for “elaborately planned” - and the first glimpse of the radiantly white town with its enormous defensive walls seems to prove this name, as Essaouira is doubtless the most beautiful locality on the Moroccan Atlantic coast. The town means paradise to dropouts, artists, and surfers who enjoy the ideal weather conditions. The city was founded by the Portuguese in 1173 and given the name “Mogadoura”, even though former housing remnants date back to Roman times. Archeological findings prove that already the Phoenicians had been settling at the site of what is today Essaouira. But the town on the coastline did not become famous and a city to last, until - in the end of the 1st century - King Juba II built a purple dye factory on the offshore islands, exporting the produce to distant Rome. The murex and purpura shells - or rather their precious red colorant - provided the islands with their names: the “Purple Islands” or “Iles Purpuraires”, a group of two smaller islands and a number of cliffs, all in all approx. 18 ha in size.

It was only in the 18th century that Essaouira became the town it is today and that it was also called by that name - derived from “Saouirah”, the Arabic term for “perfect design”. The vast fortress walls of about 200 m length protecting the “Sqala de la Kasbah” with all its buildings embrace the old town and establish a border between the town and the Atlantic Ocean in the west. The Medina is outstanding for its shape, because in contrast to all other old towns in Morocco, all streets either run parallel or cross each other in a right angle – therefore, the ground plot of the Medina reads like one of a modern city. It is a perfectly conserved example for a fortressed harbor town of the late 18th century, and in 2001, it was added to the UNESCO-list of world heritage sites.

Many of the old buildings in the Medina accommodate galleries, small hotels which were fondly situated in old town houses, fish restaurants or numerous tiny shops, inviting the traveler to shop for a souvenir in a relaxed atmosphere. But Essaouira is also famous for the works of its cabinetmakers, who use thuya wood and display their work and methods on the so called “Skala” down by the harbor. Even fishing boats are still made from wood, and any art lover should go on a shopping spree in the many galleries in town, because original handicraft can be bought here at good prices.