Essaouira: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

—  City and Wilaya  —

Coat of arms
Essaouira is located in Morocco
Location in Morocco
Coordinates: 31°30′47″N 9°46′11″W / 31.51306°N 9.76972°W / 31.51306; -9.76972
Country  Morocco
Region Marrakech-Tensift-Al Haouz
 - Mayor Asma Chaâbi
Population (2004)
 - Total 70,000
Time zone WET (UTC+0)
 - Summer (DST) WEST (UTC+1)

Essaouira (Arabic: الصويرة‎, eṣ-ṣauīrah; formerly known as Mogador, its older name) is an isolated city in the western Moroccan economic region of Marrakech-Tensift-Al Haouz (#11), on the Atlantic coast.



Archaeological research shows that Essaouira has been occupied since prehistoric times. The bay at Essaouira is partially sheltered by the island of Mogador, making it a peaceful harbor protected against strong marine winds.

Essaouira has long been considered as one of the best anchorages of the Moroccan coast. The Carthaginian navigator Hanno visited and established a trading post there in the 5th century BC. Around the end of the 1st century BC or early 1st century AD, Juba II established a Tyrian purple factory, processing the murex and purpura shells found in the intertidal rocks at Essaouira and the Iles Purpuraires. This dye colored the purple stripe in Imperial Roman Senatorial togas.

Portuguese 16th century cannons in Essaouira

During the Middle Ages, a Muslim saint named Sidi Mogdoul was buried in Essaouira. In 1506, the king of Portugal, D. Manuel I 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, the Netherlands and France tried in vain to conquer the locality. Essaouira remained a haven for the export of sugar, molasses and the anchoring of pirates.

The present city of Essaouira was only built during the 18th century. Mohammed III, wishing to reorient his kingdom towards the Atlantic for increased exchanges with European powers, chose Mogador as his key location. He directed a French engineer, Théodore Cornut, who had been captured and enslaved, and several other European architects and technicians, to build the fortress and city along modern lines. Originally called "Souira", "The small fortress", the name then became "Es-Saouira", "The beautifully designed".

From the time of its rebuilding by Muhammad II until the end of the nineteenth century, Essaouira served as Morocco's principal port, offering the goods of the caravan trade to the world. The route brought goods from sub-Saharan Africa to Timbuktu, then through the desert and over the Atlas mountains to Marrakech. The road from Marrakech to Essaouira is a straight line, explaining the King's choice of this port among the many that the Moroccan coast offers.

French troops disembarking on the island of Mogador, in Essaouira bay in 1844.

Mohammed ben Abdallah encouraged Moroccan Jews to settle in the town and handle the trade with Europe. Jews once comprised 40% of the population, and the Jewish quarter, or mellah remains, containing many old synagogues. The town also has a large Jewish cemetery. The city flourished until the caravan trade died, outmoded by direct European trade with sub-Saharan Africa.

Following Morocco's alliance with Algeria's Abd-El-Kader against France, Essaouira was bombarded and briefly occupied by the French Navy under the Prince de Joinville on August 16, 1844.


Essaouira is protected by a natural bay partially shielded by wave action by the Iles Purpuraires. A broad sandy beach extends from the harbour south of Essaourira, at which point the Oued Ksob discharges to the ocean; south of the discharge lies the archaeological ruin, the Bordj El Berod.[1] The Canary Current is responsible for the generally southward movement of ocean circulation and has led to enhancement of the local fishery.[2] The village of Diabat lies about five kilometres south of Essaouira, immediately south of the Oued Ksob.

Essaouria connects to Safi to the north and to Agadir to the south via the N1 road and to Marrakech to the east via the R 207 road. There is a small airport some 7–8 km away from the town, which schedules several flights a week to Casablanca.

Essaouira today

Medina of Essaouira (formerly Mogador)*
UNESCO World Heritage Site

Typical street in the Medina Dec 2008.jpg
State Party  Morocco
Type Cultural
Criteria ii, iv
Reference 753
Region** Arab States
Inscription history
Inscription 2001  (25th Session)
* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List.
** Region as classified by UNESCO.

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.

Fishmarket in Essaouira

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 trade winds and the Canaries Current.

There are only a handful of modern purpose-built hotels within the walls of the old city. The medina is home to many small arts and crafts businesses, notably cabinet making and 'thuya' wood-carving (using roots of the Tetraclinis tree), both of which have been practised in Essaouira for centuries.

Essaouira is also renowned for its kitesurfing and windsurfing, with the powerful trade wind blowing almost constantly onto the protected, almost waveless, bay. Several world-class clubs rent top-notch material on a weekly basis. Parasols tend to be used on the beach as a protection against the wind and the blowing sand. Camel excursions are available on the beach and into the desert band in the interior.

Essaouira is the site of an annual pilgrimage to the grave of Rabbi Chaim Pinto, whose home and synagogue are preserved as an historic and religious site, the Chaim Pinto Synagogue. The Simon Attias Synagogue is also still standing.


Book market

Essaouira presents itself as a city full of culture: several small art galleries are found all over the town. Since 1998, the Gnaoua Festival of World Music is held in Essaouira, normally in the last week of June. It brings together artists from all over the world. Although focussed on gnaoua music, it includes rock, jazz and reggae. Dubbed as the "Moroccan Woodstock" it lasts four days and attracts annually around 450,000 spectators[3].

In the early 1950s film director and actor Orson Welles stayed at the Hotel des Iles just south of the town walls during the filming of his 1952 classic version of "Othello" which contains several memorable scenes shot in the labyrinthine streets and alleyways of the medina. Legend has it that during Welles's sojourn in the town he met Winston Churchill, another guest at the Hotel des Iles. Orson Welles's bust is located in a small square just outside the medina walls close to the sea. It is in a neglected state being covered in bird poop, graffiti and with a broken nose. In addition, the dedication plaque below it has been stolen (as of Dec 2008). Several other film directors have utilised Essaouira's photogenic and atmospheric qualities.

Despite common misconception,[4] Jimi Hendrix's song "Castles Made of Sand" was written two years before he visited the castles of Essaouira.[5]

Photo Gallery

International relations

Main article: List of twin towns and sister cities in Morocco

Twin towns — Sister cities

Essaouira is twinned with:

See also

Line notes

  1. ^ C.Michael Hogan, Mogador: promontory fort, The Megalithic Portal, ed. Andy Burnham, Nov. 2, 2007 [1]
  2. ^ William Adams Hance, The Geography of Modern Africa, Columbia University Press, 1975 ISBN 0231038690
  3. ^ Gnaoua Festival Press Kit
  4. ^
  5. ^ Castles In The Sand
  6. ^ "La Rochelle: Twin towns". Retrieved 2009-11-07.  

External links

Coordinates: 31°30′47″N 9°46′11″W / 31.51306°N 9.76972°W / 31.51306; -9.76972

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Sea Walls
Sea Walls

Essaouira (الصويرة) is a coastal city in Morocco.

  • A whole grand taxi from Marrakech runs anywhere from about 450dh - 800dh, depending on your negotiating skills, where you are, the mood of the driver etc. Alternatively, it's about 80dh per place if you wait and take a shared grand taxi (six passengers, leave when full).
  • Supratours run coaches from their offices - immediately next door to Marrakech's new train station - to their office in Essaouira - just down the street from the beach and close to the medina entrance at Bab Marrakech. The 2009 price is 65dh per person plus 5dh for each piece of stowed luggage.
  • CTM also run a coach service from Marrakech's bus station (or the CTM Offices in the Gueliz, on Zerktouni street) for 80dh (2009 price, add 5dh per piece of stowed luggage).
  • At the bus station it is likely that there'll always be "a bus departing to Essaouira now". Unless you've time to kill and are not too bothered by hygiene, it's worth avoiding these other services as they will stop all the way to Essaouira, adding 1.5 hours to the journey.
  • Otherwise, the coach trip takes about 3 hours including a 15 minute half-way stop where you'll find snacks & refreshments, and toilet facilities. There are no facilities aboard the coaches.

Please note: tickets are rarely available for the next departing coach. Try and book your tickets the day before, or further in advance during peak travel periods.

Get around

The walled centre of town, the Medina, does not allow motor vehicles to enter other than the ubiquitous moped, but there are occasional horse drawn vehicles to dodge. Smile and get out of the way.

  • The beach dominates the Essaouirans' leisure time. Although the strong wind and currents makes relaxed tanning and swimming a little difficult at times, it is perfect for kitesurfing and windsurfing. With good winds for most days of the year, Essaouira is a watersports paradise. The best spots are reported to be Essaouira Bay, Sidi Kaouki, Cape Sim and Mouley Bouzertoune. Equipment can be hired from various hire centres on the beach front. However, this is not the ideal place to learn watersports, particularly kitesurfing. There tends to be a bit of a catch 22 - either its calm and you can't go out because there's no wind or its windy and you can't go out because there is a huge shore break. In addition the water can smell of sewage.
  • World Music Festival in June : [1]
Castle in the sand
Castle in the sand
  • The nearby town of Diabat is at the other end of Essaouira's beach, and is allegedly where Jimi Hendrix once spent some time. Even if the stories aren't true, this long, windswept beach with its ruined fort is a fantastic walk. Diabat is an empty, concrete Berber village that is practically devoid of attractions except the Hendrix ruin and a Hendrix Cafe. It's best visted in the early morning via taxi and then return to Essouiara via a short and very romantic walk on the beach past the castle in the sand of Hendrix fame.
  • Zouina-cheval, Village of Diabat (Diabat is at 3 km of the medina, accessible by taxi), [2]. from 8AM to 8PM. Zouina-cheval organizes horse treks and horse rides in the surrounding of Essaouira. The rides are for everybody (beginners, good riders, children) but the treks are recommended to good riders as you spend long hours riding. If you want city breaks and experience the countryside as well as beaches, dunes and traditional village, those rides are for you. The monitor, Najib, is very qualified and very nice. Prices are correct and you don't have to negotiate. from 170dh for 1h to 7150dh for a week.  edit
  • Ecotourism…Walking tours, 8 bis rue houmman el fatouaki Médina Essaouira, 06 18 13 24 80, [3]. half day. Discover the real Essaouira-Natural Essaouira…on foot Guided Eco friendly tours of the amazing countryside around Essaouira. You can discover the Argan Woods, the Thuya Forests, and the unimagined world of the Dunes… take mint tea in a berber village, and learn the secrets of a unique and irreplaceable ecosystem at your own pace. Price per person per day: half day is 200 DH and full day is 400 DH (including a traditional meal with moroccan family) Transport is included from town to the departure point of each walk. 200 dh.  edit


Essaouira's craftsmen are renowned for their woodwork and lacquerware. Intricately inlaid boxes, chessboards and curios can be found for good prices in the city's hundreds of shops; however, beware that extensive deforestation is taking place in the area due to these woods not being replanted. Artwork of all kinds can be had here.


Although Essaouira is on the sea, fish are quite expensive. Fishermen sell their catch through market hall and you can get it cooked in small stands nearby. Prices are clearly marked per weight on the large pricing board at the end of the fish market stalls, but this seems to make little difference to the chances of being hustled. Carefully evaluate how much you are being charged. A cheaper option is to buy Harira (a spicy soup) for 2-5DH or sandwich (i.e. at Blue fasade for 10-20DH, walking at the street from fish stands to the medina). There are many reasonable restaurants and cafes on the main streets and squares. Upscale restaurants worth a mention are Taros (2, rue de la Sqala Tel: 044 47 64 07) which combines a French-Moroccan restaurant, a gallery and a terrace bar with live local music and "5" (rue Youssef el fassi) for its elegant ex-pat vibe.

  • La Triskalla, Rue Touahen (in the Medina), [4]. Restaurant (excellent Vegetarian food and Fish), Creperie, Galerie. Cosy environment in an old Riad, friendly service. Free internet for customers (WiFi + PC available). between 20 and 60dh per meal.  edit
  • Patisserie Driss. close to the main square is a great place for cakes and snacks.  edit
  • Fish Market, Essaouira local market. If you are a fish enthusiast, you cannot miss the food in the market. Buy your fish (cheap, shirmps are 50dh/kilo, sardines 5dh/6, etc) take it to the small kitchen / restaurant and let them cook it for you. They add salad, olives and bread for 25dh. Really fun, cheap and good food! (The food here is NOT cheap - see cautionary tale above) buy the fish + 25dh for the baking.  edit
  • La decouverte, 8 bis, rue Houmman el Fatouaki, 024 47 31 58, [5]. If you are tired of tagines, disappointed by italian-moroccan pasta, give La Decouverte a try. A french couple cooks with moroccan ingredients, moroccan like recipes but with french hand. Nice atmosphere, correct prices. Go for it mains 50dh - 80dh.  edit
  • La Licorne, 26 rue scala, 024 47 36 26 (, fax: 024 47 59 71), [6]. A great place in Essaouira for a romantic diner, or between friends, and for all of you who like to enjoy Moroccan dishes along with one of the country's finest wine. mains 160dh.  edit


Mint tea is available for about 6DH all over the town, or for free if you are invited in by any carpet salesman who will assure you you are entering "just for a look." Some of the hotels have licensed bars, but it's hard to beat the terrace bar of the Taros (2 Rue de la Sqala) for its view over the lively Place Moulay el Hassan and the harbour.


If arriving by bus, local women will surround you as you exit offering discount Riads or accommodation in their homes for as little as 150dnr (can be negotiated down to 75), though you will not get a view of the ocean for this. There are many hotel options available so feel free to bypass them. You can always return to the bus station and they will still be there.

  • Riad Lunetoile, 191, Rue Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah (Essaouira Medina), (212) 661 880 340 (), [7]. Riad Lunetoile is a 200 year-old family home, well-situated in the centre of the ancient, walled, Medina of Essaouira, with a beautiful terrace giving a breath-taking view of the Atlantic ocean, the bay, Diabet in the distance, as well as a lovely panoramic view of the rooftops, and streets, of the Medina. from 35€, see website or call for special offers.  edit
  • Dar 91, 91 rue Chbanat (Essaouira Medina), (), [8]. Dar 91 is a private and self-contained house with its own roof terraces, in the picturesque, walled old town of Essaouira. Here you can sit back and watch everyday Moroccan life unfold. Located in an area of the medina relatively untouched by tourism, the house is a chilled-out and authentic ‘home from home’, which we let out as a whole, rather than ‘by the room’  edit
  • Dar Lazuli (, 7 Moussa ben Noussaire (Essaouira Medina, 2 mins from beach), [9]. Dar Lazuli is a 200 year old riad in Essaouira, lovingly renovated to retain its original features in harmony with contemporary designs and comforts for a 21st Century visitor. It’s located just inside the medina walls and beside the main square. Comfortable and easy boutique self-catering apartments where you can completely relax, forget about the real world and immerse yourself in North African escapism. £60 per night.  edit
  • Hotel Smara, 26 Rue de la Skala, 044-472334. Is one of the cheapest (and therefore most popular) hotels in town, so you may need to book ahead during peak season. The spartan roof terrace has nice views over the cannons used in the opening sequence of Orson Welles Othello. Singles / doubles with shared bath start from Dh 47 / Dh 96. CAUTION The hotel is very cheap and popular with lovely views from the terrace; but unless you want to experience cold showers and non-flush toilets... I'd consider paying a bit more and staying somewhere else!  edit
  • Riad des Deux Rives, Medina of Essaouira, +33664098991 (), [10]. A Riad of the XVIII th century in Essaouira. Double: €60, suite: €90.  edit
  • Riad Malaika, 17 Rue Zayanne, +044.473861 (). Provides an authentic Riad stay. This former Moroccan home has been beautifully restored and converted and is in the center of town. The staff is extremely hospitable and courteous. It has a beautiful terrace rooftop perfect for private lounging. Rooms are charming and run from 500dh to 1000dh, including breakfast (discounts available in the low season and for longer stays).  edit
  • Sofitel Thalassa Mogador, 47 23 34. Right on the beach, it will be happy to indulge your every whim, for a hefty price. Singles / doubles start at Dh 1400 / Dh 1850 during low season but can rocket up to Dh 1890 / Dh 2430 during the peak new year period. Luxury suites are also available and there's a Sofitel-branded health spa next door for those in urgent need of a hydrotherapy session and facial.  edit
  • Dar Zahira, Medina Essaouira, [11]. Located right in the lively and bustling heart of Essaouira, Dar Zahira is a relaxed retreat hidden in one of the medina's narrow alleys. The small riad is built around a courtyard and sleeps a maximum of 6 persons. The house can be rented as a whole. Breakfast is served every morning. WIFI internet available  edit
  • Riad de la Mer, 7-9 Rue Khalid Ben Oualid, Kasbah, +442087880701, [12]. Very large 18th century riad, retaining original features and character. Stunning views of the ocean, centrally located just off the main square, 5 minutes from the beach. Sleeps 10. Think Villa Maroc, but smaller (and cheaper!) £47.50.  edit


If you're looking for longer term or apartment accommodation, try:

  • Jack's Apartments, 1 Place Moulay Hassan, Tel: 044-475538, Fax: 044-476901, Email:, [13]; Family run business, renting out a group of about 12 apartments. Prices are a little higher than the Riad's though you get good privacy and excellent ocean view's.
  • Apartment Simoom, The apartment is 3 minutes stroll from the centre of Essaouira's beach, and directly inshore from the Club Mistral Kitesurf/Windsurf Centre. Tel: 00447515771251, Email:, [14]. Apartment Simoom is a new property, incorporating traditional Moroccan touches into a clean comfortable modern apartment. Occupying the top floor of one of Essaouira's most prestigious new apartment blocks, the flat has a very light and airy feel with high ceilings helping to keep it deliciously cool during the day. Bedrooms and balcony overlook a Plaza, with views to the Medina, Forest and Beach, whilst the Roof Terrace gives uninterrupted 360 degree views across the Town, Beach and Countryside. Next to the Apartment are a supermarket and a pharmacy, and across the plaza is a patisserie and a restaurant.

Stay Safe

Avoid the space cake dealers and do not let them fool you into thinking that it is ok for tourists to use small amounts of cannibis.

Get out

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