Essaouira: The Mighty Mogador
Essaouira is located in the southwest region of Morocco, and is a grand escape from the more
tourist-centered beaches of Agadir. Its original name was Tassort, which refers to its kasbah,
fortress-like walls. Its name is derived from Tashelhit, the southern, Souss Berber language.
In Moroccan Arabic, it’s called Saouira, which literally means ‘picture’.
This relaxed, hippie and wind-surfers’ paradise is just that – picture perfect. It is one reason
that Orson Wells chose to shoot scenes for Othello on its coast. Essaouira has attracted foreign
visitors, expats, and artists for decades. Even Jimmy Hendrix was attracted to its mystical qualities
when he hung out and even tried purchasing the entire nearby village of Diabat. Therein, the muse of
the French or Portuguese ruins led him to write his song, “Castles in the Sand”.
Essaouira is undoubtedly the most relaxed small city of Morocco. Some say it’s the constant wind,
others claim it’s the calm spirits that surround it. Its history is similar to that of many coastal
towns and major ports throughout the country, one that has changed hands quite often. In the 7th
century, the Phoenicians dubbed it Migdal. Later, the Romans came searching for the famous purple
dye of the region. The Portuguese were only able to hold onto the port from 1506 to 1510 because of
the surrounding Berber tribes who came together under Arab leadership to defeat them. The Portuguese
called this region Mogador, a name that is still used today.
The city then changed hands again when Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdellah had the Essaouira medina designed to
bring great commerce to this region of Morocco. Thousands of Moroccan Jews came to the region for
commerce and stayed until most of them departed for Israel in the mid-1900s.
Essaouira’s medina portrays the Portuguese influence in architecture with its light brown stone. A
good example of this can be seen when you enter into the city’s main portals. Awe-inspiring Arabic
calligraphy adorns the centerpiece and reads “baraka,” which literally means “divine attention”.
UNESCO has also given the city a lot of attention and has funded the painstakingly careful task of
restoring its walls, ramparts, and Catholic church.
While we will talk more about the region’s crafts and wares later on, one must stop and see the s
killed wood carvers along Rue de la Sqala, working in shops that align the street. Along the arched
doorways, the hassle-free, low-key bargaining zone is the place to admire the cool blue and whitewashed
walls of the medina and find great deals in the vast selection on the area’s rare, thuya wood products.