Essaouira on the Atlantic Ocean

Saturday, 8 October 2022 - 12:00 pm (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General, UNESCO World Heritage
Reading Time:  10 minutes

© flickr.com - Visions of Domino/cc-by-2.0

© flickr.com – Visions of Domino/cc-by-2.0

Essaouira, known until the 1960s as Mogador, today the name of the island off the coast of the city, is a port city in the western Moroccan region of Marakesh-Safi, on the Atlantic coast. It has 77,966 inhabitants as of 2014. The foundation of the city of Essaouira was the work of the Moroccan ‘Alawid sultan Mohammed bin Abdallah, who made an original experiment by entrusting it to several renowned architects in 1760, in particular Théodore Cornut and Ahmed al-Inglizi, who designed the city using French captives from the failed French expedition to Larache in 1765, and with the mission of building a city adapted to the needs of foreign merchants. Once built, it continued to grow and experienced a golden age and exceptional development, becoming the country’s most important commercial port but also its diplomatic capital between the end of the 18th century and the first half of the 19th century. The entire old town (Medina) of Essaouira was recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 2001.

Essaouira is protected by a natural bay partially shielded from 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. The Canary Current is responsible for the generally southward movement of ocean circulation and has led to enhancement of the local fishery. The village of Diabat lies about five kilometres (3.1 miles) south of Essaouira, immediately south of the Oued Ksob. Essaouira 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 to 8 km (4 to 5 mi) away from the town, which schedules several flights a week to Paris-Orly, London-Luton and Brussels-South (Charleroi) and daily to Casablanca.

There are only a handful of modern purpose-built hotels within the walls of the old city. Newer international hotels have been built along the sea front, with local planning regulations restricting buildings to 4 storeys in height. There are also many privately owned riads, also known as dars, that may be rented on a daily or weekly basis. 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. 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. Essaouira remains one of the major fishing harbours of Morocco (Fishing industry in Morocco). 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. The township of Sidi Kaouki is located 25 km south of Essaouira and is becoming one of the best locations in Morocco for surfing, windsurfing and kitesurfing. There are several businesses in Sidi Kaouki which offer gear rental. Essaouira is also a center of argan oil production. It has become a tourist attraction due to the tree-climbing goats who are unique to the region, as argan trees are the only type the goats climb.

© flickr.com - Jean-Marc Astesana/cc-by-sa-2.0 © flickr.com - rob Stoeltje/cc-by-2.0 © flickr.com - Visions of Domino/cc-by-2.0 Medina of Essaouira © Roquai/cc-by-sa-3.0 Essaouira Beach © Uploadmo/cc-by-sa-3.0 © panoramio.com - karel291/cc-by-3.0
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© flickr.com - Jean-Marc Astesana/cc-by-sa-2.0
The present city of Essaouira was built during the mid-eighteenth century by the Moroccan King. Mohammed III tried to reorient his kingdom toward the Atlantic for increased exchanges with European powers, choosing Mogador as his key location. One of his objectives was to establish a harbour at the closest possible point to Marrakesh. The other was to cut off trade from Agadir in the south, which had been favouring a political rival of Mohammed III, and the inhabitants of Agadir were forced to relocate to Essaouira. For 12 years, Mohammed III directed a French engineer, Théodore Cornut, and several other Moroccan and European architects and technicians to build the fortress and city along modern lines. Originally called “Souira” (“the small fortress”), the name became “Es-Saouira” (“the beautifully designed”). Thédore Cornut designed and built the city itself, particularly the Kasbah area, corresponding to the royal quarters and the buildings for Christian merchants and diplomats. Other parts were built by other architects, including Moroccan architects especially from Fez, Marrakesh, and Rabat. The harbour entrance, with the “Porte de la Marine”, was built by an English renegade by the name of Ahmed el Inglizi (“Ahmed the English”) or Ahmed El Alj (“Ahmed the Renegade”). Mohammed III took numerous steps to encourage the development of Essaouira including closing off the harbour of Agadir to the south in 1767 so that southern trade could be redirected through Essaouira. European communities in the northern harbour of RabatSalé were ordered to move to Essaouira through an ordinance of 21 January 1765. From the time of its rebuilding by Muhammad III 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 Marrakesh. The road from Marrakesh to Essaouira is a straight line, explaining the king’s choice of this port among the many others along the Moroccan coast.

Mohammed III encouraged Moroccan Jews to settle in the town and handle the trade with Europe. Jews once comprised the majority of the population, and the Jewish quarter (or mellah) contains many old synagogues. The town also has a large Jewish cemetery. The city flourished until the caravan trade died, superseded by direct European shipping trade with sub-Saharan Africa. Changes in trade, the founding of Israel, the resulting wars with Arab states, and the independence of Morocco all resulted in Sephardic Jews leaving the country. As of 2017, Essaouira had only three Jewish inhabitants. On 15 January 2020, King Mohammed VI visited “Bayt Dakira”, a Jewish heritage house, in Essaouira.

In the 19th century, Essaouira became the first seaport of Morocco, with trade volumes about double those of Rabat. The city functioned as the harbour for Marrakesh, as it was only a few days from the inland city. Diplomatic and trade representations were established by European powers in Essouira. In the 1820s, European diplomats were concentrated in either Tangier or Essaouira (Morocco–Netherlands relations and Morocco – United Kingdom relations).

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 16 August 1844, in the Bombardment of Mogador, an important battle of the First Franco-Moroccan War. From 1912 to 1956, Essaouira was part of the French protectorate of Morocco. Mogador was used as a base for a military expedition against Dar Anflous, when 8,000 French troops were located outside the city under the orders of Generals Franchet d’Esperey and Brulard. The Kasbah of Dar Anflous was taken on 25 January 1913. In 1930, brothers, Michel and Jean Vieuchange used Essaouira as a base before Michel set off into the Western Sahara to try to find Smara. France had an important administrative, military and economic presence. Essaouira had a Franco-Moroccan school, still visible in Derb Dharb street. Linguistically, many Moroccans of Essaouira speak French fluently today.

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’ sojourn in the town he met Winston Churchill, another guest at the Hotel des Iles. A bas-relief of Orson Welles is located in a small square just outside the medina walls close to the sea. Several other film directors have utilized Essaouira as a location due to the photogenic and atmospheric qualities. Beginning in the late 1960s, Essaouira became something of a hippie hangout.

Read more on VisitMorocco.com – Essaouira-Mogador, bride of the Atlantic, Wikivoyage Essaouira and Wikipedia Essaouira (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com - Global Passport Power Rank - Travel Risk Map - Democracy Index - GDP according to IMF, UN, and World Bank - Global Competitiveness Report - Corruption Perceptions Index - Press Freedom Index - World Justice Project - Rule of Law Index - UN Human Development Index - Global Peace Index - Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.




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