Essaouira has been occupied since prehistoric times.  It is considered one of the best harbors of the Moroccan coast, partly because it is sheltered by the island of Mogador, making it a peaceful harbor protected against strong ocean winds.  The Carthaginians established a trading post in 5th century BC; early 1st century a Berber king established a Tyrian purple factory processing the shells of a nearby island.  (Tyrian purple is an imperial purple produced by the secretaion of several species of predatory sea snails.)  The dye was used in the togas worn by the Senators of Rome.  The Portuguese built a fort in the 16th century.  The present day city was built in the mid-18th century by the Berber king, Mohammed III.

Mohammed III encouraged Jews to settle in Essaouira.  At one point they represented 40% of the population.  We visited the old Jewish synagogue and the large Jewish cemetery.  There was the annual international commemoration of the death of Rabbi Haim Pinto (1748-1845) during the few days that we were in Essaouira.  Our hotel must have hosted several hundred.

In the early 1950s Orson Welles stayed at a hotel just south of the town walls during the filming of his 1952 classic version of “Othello” which contains several scenes shot in the 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. A bas-relief of Orson Welles was located in a small square just outside the medina walls close to the sea but recently it has been destroyed by weather.  Beginning in the late 1960s, Essaouira became something of a hippie hangout.

We visited the fish market early in the day as fresh fish were being sold.  A local fisherman guided us, pointing out the various species and how to tell if the fish was fresh.  Sardines are very popular and abundant.  The sardine boats go out at 2 or 3 in the morning and return about 10 am.  Other boats may go out for several days.  It was hard to image being in one of those small boats for several days in the ocean!  From the port we also had a good view of Mogador Island, used as a slave hold and a jail, and Iles Purpuraires, having the purple shells.

We picked out some fresh fish.  It was cleaned at the port and taken to an interesting restaurant where we had lunch.  We bought food at the market and also took it to this restaurant where they then prepared our whole meal from items we had bought.

We visited the fort of the city, likely from the mid-18th century.   The ramparts still hold a number of Dutch cannons.

We walked through the medina and saw many similar scenes to the many other medinas we have visited but each one seems to have some unique sites.  We saw an older man making beautiful lutes.  He cut fine narrow strips of aluminum and then pounded the strips into the base of the lute.

Essaouira is known for its wood-working activities, using mostly Thuya wood.  We stopped in one workshop and saw beautiful pieces.

We stopped for coffee mid-morning and listened to a busker singing Beatles’ songs.  We met our guide’s mother and nephew.  The fisherman from the port also came to say goodby after delivering the fish we had chosen to the restaurant.

Various scenes in the medina.

Our last evening we walked along the beach and watched a beautiful sunset.  Essaouira is known for its wind—and it lived up to its reputation.  There were several windsurfers.  The islands made for a beautiful background for the sunset and it was hard to choose just one photo!!!!


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