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—  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

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

MOGADOR (Es-Sueira), the most southern seaport on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, in 31° 50' N., 9° 20' W., the capital of the province of Haha. Pop. (1908), about 20,000, of whom nearly a half are said to be Jews, and about loo Europeans. The town stands from 10 to 20 ft. above high water on a projecting ridge of calcareous sandstone. In certain states of wind and sea it is turned almost into an island, and a sea-wall protects the road to Saffi. On the land side stretch miles of sand-dunes studded with broom, and beyond, the argan forests, distinctive of southern Morocco. Approached from this side the city bursts on the view like a mirage between sky and sea, and this perhaps entitles it to its name - Es-Sueira - "the picture." It is the best planned and cleanest town in the empire, and this combined with the climate, which is very equable, makes it a health resort, especially for consumptive patients. The mean temperature of the hottest month is 71 0.06, and of the coldest month 58° 69. The rainfall varies between 13 and 20 in. annually. The water supply is carried by an overground conduit from a spring near Diabat. The prosperity of Mogador is due to its commerce. The harbour is well sheltered from all winds except the southwest, but escape is difficult with the wind from that quarter, as the channel between the town and Mogador Island is narrow and hazardous. It is the best-built port of the sultanate and is generally second in point of trade, which is carried on mainly with Marseilles, London, Gibraltar and the Canaries, the principal exports being almonds, goat-skins, gums and olive-oil, and the principal imports cotton goods, sugar and tea. The exports were valued at 407,000 in 1900 and at 364,000 in 1906. The imports were worth 246,000 in 1900 and 368,000 in 1906. Shipping, 1900, 132,000 tons; 1906, 140,000 tons.

A place called Mogador is marked in the 1351 Portulan of the Laurentian library, and the map in Hondius's Atlas minor shows the island of Mogador, I. Domegador; but the origin of the present town is much more recent. Mogador was founded by Mohammed XVII. (bin Abd Allah) in 1760, and completed in 1770. The Portuguese called it after the shrine of Sidi Megdul, which lies towards the south half-way to the village of Diabat, and forms a striking landmark for seamen. In 1844 the citadel was bombarded by the French.

See A. H. Dye, "Les Ports du Maroc," in Bull. Soc. Geog. Comm. Paris (1908), xxx. 313 sqq., and British Consular reports.

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