Raissouni Palace – Historical Building Built by the Pirate, Pasha Raissouni

Asilah is situated on the northwest tip of Morocco on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. It is a trading town with a history going back thousands of years. The town was initially used as a base for trade by the Phoenicians in 1500 B.C. Then, during the 15th century, Asilah was occupied by the Portuguese who built defensive walls around the town. It once again came under Morocco rule in the 1500s and between 1912 and 1956 Asilah was part of Spanish Morocco. The town thus joined the rest of the country when it finally gained its independence in 1956.

One of the notable historical buildings in Asilah is the Raissouni Palace, built by the pirate Pasha Raissouni. In the 19th and 20th centuries Asilah served as a base for pirates. The history of piracy dates back more the 3,000 years, but there was some dissension as to the definition of a pirate. In 100 A.D. the Greek historian Plutarch gave a clear definition of piracy. Pirates were described as persons who illegally attacked ships and maritime cities. In medieval England the term “sea thieves” was used when referring to pirates. By definition then, pirates were outlaws. Pasha Raissouni had chosen piracy as his trade and by all accounts excelled at his job, having gained the means to build his own palace – Raissouni Palace.

After centuries of virtually being forgotten, Asilah is being transformed into an oasis of culture. A great restoration work was started in the mid 1970s by a group of local intellectuals headed by Mohammed Benaissa and Mohammed Melehi. Local craftsmen and masons have carried out the bulk of the work in which mostly traditional methods and materials were used. Historical sites that have been restored are the Portuguese fortifications, the Al-Kamra Tower and the Raissouni Palace.

Tourists are attracted to Asilah throughout the year due to the history, ancient buildings and the temperate climate. In addition to this, musicians, theatre groups, singers and artists from around the world have been gathering here each year to perform, teach and learn from one another since 1978. This has proven to be an enormous boost to this almost forgotten town. The restoration of historical sites, such as the Raissouni Palace, has added to the cultural richness of this annual event known as the “moussim”, which is a French translation of the Arabic word for “festival”. Whether it is festival time or not, Raissouni Palace is a fascinating attraction to visit whilst in Asilah.

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