about essaouira

With its shining lime-washed white walls the lovely old fortified coastal town of Essaouira has become known as one of Morocco's most enchanting places to visit.

Originally called Mogador by the Portuguese, who established their trading and military base here on the Atlantic Coast in the 15th century, the present day town, port and fortified ramparts now called Essaouira, were designed and built around 1760, by order of Mohammed II. Prior to this a settlement is known to have existed here as far back as 7th century BC and an important centre for the production of purple dye obtained from a local mollusc was established in 1st century BC. The islands off the coast got their name – Iles Purpuraires – from this production and are now a protected bird sanctuary and home to a rare falcon.

Take a guided walk around the old town and see the ramparts – the outer walls typically European with bevelled battlements designed to protect against naval attack; the Islamic inner walls with square battlements - and the two sea bastions (Sqalas) one with its row of old Spanish cannons.

Local activities

Essaouira and its beautiful 7km beach just to the south are kept pleasantly cool in the hotter months by the all year round trade winds. From April to September is when the winds can be at their strongest and as a result the town is becoming one of the top destinations for wind and kite surfing. Quad bikes can be hired locally to go driving through the dunes to Cap Sim. For those who enjoy horse riding they can go for a gallop along the beach, or perhaps a more sedate camel ride?

Just 10 minutes' drive from the medina, following the coastline, is the excellent 18 hole golf course designed by Gary Player. Completed in 2010, it enjoys breath-taking views of the Atlantic Ocean and has made good use of the existing sand dunes and vegetation to minimise the environmental impact. The course is known as one of the most beautiful courses in Morocco and is one which players of all levels will enjoy.

The Port

A visit to the port is a must. In its busiest period in the 18th century it became known as the Port of Timbuctu as it received over 40% of the caravans from sub-Saharan Africa bringing goods destined for Europe. Here you can still see the centuries old production of large wooden fishing trawlers still in action, as well as the large fleet of blue boats used for catching sardines and smaller fish. Every day there is a very lively fresh fish market on the quay and after watching this you can go and try some of them in the small kiosk cafes just nearby.

The Medina and produce

The narrow bustling streets of the medina are home to hundreds of little bazars and souks where you can buy Moroccan spices, leatherwear, mirrors and rugs etc, and bargain for all types of locally made things. There is a thriving production of Thuya wood objects – boxes, bowls, chairs, mirrors to name a few – found under the ramparts in the former munitions stores. This is a highly prized hard wood, delicately perfumed and native to this area. Essaouira's famous cabinet makers have long been known for their exquisite marquetry, and it is tradition that the men do the skilled part of the work and the women and children polish the finished items. Another tree local to Essaouira is the unusually twisted Argan and there are several co-operatives producing Argan oil which is used for fuel, in cooking, cosmetics and in medicine. As you drive into Essaouira it is not uncommon to see goats climbing precariously up the Argan trees as they love the fruit and don't seem put off by their very long, sharp thorns.

Wherever you go in the medina the locals are friendly, not pushy and always willing to make you a "Whisky Berber" – Mint Tea!!




Close to everything Essaouira has to offer!