The ramparts of Essaouira
Essaouira is a city and tourist resort in Morocco, near Marrakesh.
Archeological research has shown that Essaouira was occupied since prehistorical times. The bay in front of Essaouira is almost closed by the large island of Mogador, making it a relatively peaceful harbour protected against the strong winds of the area.
Essaouira has long been considered as one of the best anchorages of the Moroccan coast. During the 5th century BCE, she was visited by the Carthaginian navigator Hannon , who established a trading post there. Around the end of the 1st century BCE, Juba II established a Tyrian purple factory, processing the murex and purpura shells found in the rocks around Essaouira.
During the Middle Ages, a muslim saint named Sidi Mogdoul was buried in Essaouira and gave his name to the locality, which was later transcribed as "Mogador" by the Portuguese. In 1506, the king of Portugal ordered a fortress to be built there, named "Castelo Real de Mogador". The fortress fell to the local resistance of the Regraga fraternity four years later.
During the 16th century, various powers including Spain, England, Holland and France tried to conquer the locality, in vain. Essaouira remained a small haven for the export of sugar molasses and the anchoring of pirates.
The actual city of Essaouira was only built during the 18th century. Mohammed ben Abdallah , sultan since 1757, wishing to reorient his kingdom towards the Atlantic for increased exchanges with European powers, chose Mogador as his key location. He hired a French engineer, Théodore Cornut , and several other European architects and technicians, to build the fortress along modern lines. Originaly called "Souira", "The small fortress", the name then became "Es-Saouira", "The beautifully designed".
Mohammed ben Abdallah encouraged the establishement of Jewish as well as foreign traders. They were around one thousand by 1780. He also forced European nations to establish consulates in the city, but the city did not really flourish, as she was too far away from the traditional caravan trade routes.
In 1844, Essaouira was bombarded and briefly occupied by the French Navy.
The Medina of Essaouira (formerly "Mogador") is a UNESCO World Heritage Listed city, as an example of a late-18th century fortified town, as transferred to North Africa.
The fishing harbour, suffering from the competition of Agadir and Safi remains rather small, although the catches (sardines, conger eels) are surprisingly abundant due to the coastal upwelling generated by the powerful northeastern trade winds.
Tourism is a quite important industry, supporting a growing small-hotel ("Ryad") business within the traditional architecture of the old city, and small handicraft businesses such as cabinet making.
Essaouira is also renowned for its windsurfing, with the powerful northeastern trade wind blowing almost constantly onto the protected, almost waveless, bay. Several world-class clubs rent top-notch material on a weekly basis.
For the same reasons, the beach and waters are very cold year-round, and parasols tend to be used more as a protection against the wind and the blowing sand. Few are the ones who dare swim, even in the middle of summer. Camel excursions are available on the beach and into the desert band in the interior.
The desert road between Marrakesh and Essaouira.
A building just outside the old city.
The citadel by the harbour.
Camel tours on the beach.
A typical room in a "Ryad" hotel.
Last updated: 10-15-2005 04:31:04