Designed by a French hostage in 1760, Essaouira (pronounced Essa-wira) is one of the most relaxed towns in Morocco, popular with independent travellers and for those who love the heat but can live without the haggling – a western fantasy in an oriental setting.
Located 109 miles west of Marrakech on a sandy bay, freshened by southwesterly breezes, Essaouira makes for a welcome break on Morocco’s Atlantic coastline, away from the oppressive African heat felt further inland – even in the height of summer. Shallow clean water makes it an ideal spot for families, and in the summer wind and kite surfers flood the beaches of the aptly nicknamed “windy city”. It is also a favourite location for surfers to Morocco, with some fantastic surf spots in and around Essaouira.
A town of whitewashed houses with blue shutters where Orson Welles filmed much of his Othello, and more recently, Oliver stone’s ‘Alexander the Great’ with Colin Farrell and Angelina Jolie, where scenes for the Temple of Pallas Athena, Mieza and the Macedonian horse market were filmed. However, (staying on the ‘celeb’ theme a little longer) despite common misconception, Jimi Hendrix did not visit Essaouira until two years after he wrote the song “Castles made of sand”…
All that remains of Essaouira’s commercial boom, following the triumph of steam-over-sail, are the purple ramparts and empty cannons of a bygone age, and the encompassing scents of thuya and lemon woods, fashioned into high quality marquetry by local craftsmen.
It does still have a flourishing fishing industry, and there are of course plenty of excellent fish restaurants to be found. A string of fish stalls line the sea front, serving a variety of fish and seafood dishes, barbequed as you wait. These are very reasonably priced and great fun – choose the fish you would like and pay for it by weight, then sit at a long communal table with the locals and wait for your fish to be grilled to perfection. You can have a side salad and ‘Pommes Frites’ (totally delicious!!) to accompany your chosen Medley, and of course the requisite ‘Moroccan loaf’ is served without question!
Essaouira is an incredibly ‘chilled out’ town, even in Moroccan terms. Enjoy the ‘café culture’ and sit for hours watching the world go idly by, or stroll around the souks where even the merchants seem happy to let you browse without the usual badgering, although your bartering skills will still be required should you decide to make a purchase!
We do not generally recommend more than three of four days in Essaouira. It is a small town, and the wind can be incessant and difficult to escape, so unless you are visiting specifically for the wind sports on offer, three full days tend to be enough for most people. A very popular itinerary for those wanting more than a short break is to combine Essaouira with a few nights in Marrakech and / or the High Atlas Mountains.
- Art Galleries
- Artisan shops
- Moulay-El-Hassan Plaza
- Sidi-Mohammed-ben-Abdellah museum
- Orson Wells Plaza
- Mechouar (ceremonial plaza) and Clock
- Fish Market
- Fish stalls on the port
- Fishing boat construction
- The Fortifications and the Porte de la Marine (Navy Gate)
The Skala of the Kasbah and the Northern Bastion
The Skala is a great wall over 200 metres long and furnished with two dozen 18th century cannons – it offers an incomparable view over the city and the coast.
Sidi Magdoul Lighthouse
The lighthouse of Sidi Magdoul started its service in 1916. It is still giving active aid to navigation for ships entering the port of Essaouira.
Sidi Magdoul Tomb
During the middle ages a Muslim saint named Sidi Mogdoul was buried in Essaouira. It is said that he belonged to the Regraga brotherhood, he carried out twenty pilgrimages to the holy places of Islam, and that for 40 years fought the infidels and died at the age of 140.
Gnaoua and World Music Festival – Every June
The Gnaoua and World Music Festival is held in Essaouira every June, and has been running for over 10 years. There are around ten stages featuring various types of music: world and jazz musicians perform each evening on the stage of Bab Sebaa (previous years including the oud-playing brothers Trio Joubran,
the blues of Justin Adams and traditional Korean percussions); Famous groups feature on the Moulay Hassan stage (Eric Legnini, KyMani Marley, the National Orchestra of Barbes); in the medina, smaller stages offer gnoaua music day and evening, as well as other traditional Moroccan styles such as Ganga, Haddarates and Hmadcha.
Other activities on offer include: