Morocco’s stunning coastal fortress of Essaouira
Morocco’s spectacular Atlantic Ocean coastal town of Essaouira – formerly known as Mogador – has witnessed much over its long history.
Founded as a base in the 7th century B.C. by the Phoenecians, six centuries later it had grown into an important commercial center for the manufacture of purple dye.
By the 15th century A.D. Portuguese traders had set up a trading post and named it Mogador. The town itself would be established in 1760 by Mohamed III, who wanted to develop the area as a naval base. The town, harbor and fortifications were all built in the European fortress style. It was a famed French architect under Louis XV reign who oversaw the urban design.
This mix of European and Moorish architecture – along with its dramatic position along the coast – makes Essaouira a spectacular destination.
Many years later, Essaouira would attract artists, and in the 1970s, many hippies found their way here. Even singer Jim Morrisson lived for some time here.
Today, it’s a popular tourist spot, and also, thanks to its strong winds, a great destination for surfers.
I’ve already written about the beautiful doors of Essaouira, but the whole town is amazing for wandering. On my visit with friends, we began at the port, with its colorful, blue fishing boats (which are still built at the harbor) and the fishermen coming in with the day’s catch. You can go to one of the many simple places to eat freshly grilled sardines along the wharf for the day’s catch.
In the past, this was one of the most important ports on the Atlantic coast, and the port still boasts impressive towers and turrets, where you can enjoy spectacular views of the town and along the coast.
Wandering the ramparts in the warm February sun gave a great overview of the town layout. The outer walls were designed to thwart naval attacks, and were designed after European traditions, while the inner walls are more typical of Islamic style, and are similar to those of Marrakech. The walls are dotted by gates that lead into the spectacular medina.
We spent a lot of time wandering around the twisting alleys of the medina, and enjoying then spices and varied wares. This are is known for its thuya wood, which grow in the area around Agadir. It has a beautiful grain, is highly polished and has a pleasant scent. I came home with plenty of jewelry boxes, bracelets, desktop containers for pens and a beautiful chess set for my children. We had a great chat with one of the traditional wood carvers who explained all about the old traditions.
After all that wandering and medina shopping, we decided to treat ourselves well with a relaxing seafood lunch at one of the traditional dar. The food was wonderful, and the relaxing environment even better, with the gurgling fountain at the center of the room, plush chairs and gentle ocean breezes.
Despite my return flight the next morning, I admit the idea of staying to set up camp in gorgeous Essaouira crossed my mind a few dozen times. All the invaders, colonial powers, traders, hippies and artists were obviously on to something…
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