Essaouira : My Favorite Coastal City

I am often asked about my favorite coastal city in Morocco. Usually, I am slow to answer questions about favorites, but my answer to this one comes out immediately, “Essaouira.” Known for its charming blend of European and Moroccan culture, Essaouira is a charming coastal city located on the Atlantic coast of Morocco. The city is known for its breathtaking ocean views, traditional Souqs, and thriving arts scene. In this post, I will dive into the history, culture, food, and attractions of Essaouira, giving you a brief, yet comprehensive overview of this beautiful city.

History of Essaouira:

Essaouira has a rich and fascinating history. The city was originally founded in the 18th century as a port for trading with Europe. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to establish a presence in Essaouira, and they built a fortress on the site of the city in the early 16th century. However, the city did not really take off until the 18th century, when the Moroccan ruler Sultan Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdullah decided to build a new port city on the site.

Sultan Mohammed Ben Abdullah enlisted the help of French architect Théodore Cornut to design the city,which was then known as Mogador. Cornut drew inspiration from European fortresses and traditional Moroccan architecture to create a unique blend of styles that would come to define Essaouira.

The city quickly became an important center of commerce, attracting merchants and traders from all over the world. In the 19th century, Essaouira became a hub for the slave trade, which continued until it was abolished in 1922.

In the 20th century, Essaouira was discovered by the hippie movement, who were drawn to its laid-back vibe and Bohemian arts scene. Many artists and musicians settled in the city during this time, contributing to its thriving arts and culture. Today, Essaouira is a popular tourist destination, which attracts visitors from all over the world with its rich history and unique blend of cultures.

Culture in Essaouira:

Essaouira is known for its vibrant arts scene, with many local artists and musicians calling the city home. The annual Gnawa World Music Festival, held in Essaouira each June, is a popular event that attracts musicians and visitors from all over the world. The festival celebrates the Gnawa music tradition, a blend of African, Arabic, and Berber influences.

The city is also home to many traditional souqs, where visitors can shop for local crafts and goods. The souqs in Essaouira are known for their relaxed atmosphere and friendly shopkeepers, making them a popular destination for tourists looking for unique souvenirs.

Food in Essaouira:

Essaouira is known for its fresh seafood, which is caught daily by local fishermen. The city’s seafood market is a popular destination for visitors looking to sample the local cuisine, with a variety of fish and seafood available at affordable prices. Grilled sardines, a traditional Moroccan dish, are a must-try when visiting Essaouira.

The city is also home to a thriving street food scene, with vendors selling a variety of snacks and treats. In addition to all the traditional Moroccan dishes and snacks, Essaouira has seen an increase in ethnic restaurants. There are several authentic Italian restaurants and French crêperies, offering tourists an easy break from Moroccan tagines.

Attractions in Essaouira:

Essaouira has a variety of attractions for visitors to explore, from historical landmarks to scenic beaches. The city’s medina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a maze of narrow streets and alleyways lined with traditional shops and cafés. Visitors can explore the medina on foot, taking in the unique architecture and soaking up the bustling atmosphere.

The Skala de la Ville, a 18th-century fortress, is another popular attraction in Essaouira. The fortress is located on the waterfront and offers stunning views of the ocean and surrounding area. Visitors can explore the fortress on their own or take a guided tour to learn more about its history.

Essaouira is also known for its beautiful beaches, which offer a variety of water sports and activities. The city’s main beach, Plage d’Essaouira, is a popular destination for swimming, surfing, and sunbathing. For those interested in water sports, Essaouira is a great destination for windsurfing and kite surfing. The city’s strong winds and consistent waves make it a popular destination for water sports enthusiasts from around the world. There are several schools and rental shops that offer lessons and equipment for both windsurfing and kite surfing.