Essaouira is generally acclaimed as one of the most enchanting spots along Morocco's Atlantic coast
It enjoys this status because of a unique combination of factors: its sunny and temperate climate which hardly varies from one month to the next, the generosity and warmth of its inhabitants, its inheritance of treasures both architectural and cultural and, most crucially, the liberal and tolerant atmosphere which so strongly characterises the mood of its streets. Here, fishermen, locals, tourists especially Moroccan and European, merchants, craftsmen, musicians, and artists of all kinds come to share their work, perspectives and amity.
Getting there and getting aboutTop of the page
Essaouira is equidistant from both Marrakech and Agadir International Airports and travel time by car / taxi is 2½ hours. There are two methods of travelling from these airports: a taxi, or a bus. Presently the cost of a 'Grand Taxi' which seats five is 750 dirhams (approx £60.00). There are buses from both cities at approx. 60dhs per person.
Once in Essaouira, most places can be easily reached on foot. The Medina itself can be traversed in about 20 minutes. The nouvelle cité outside the ancient ramparts is somewhat larger, but is also accessible on foot. If however you need motive transport outside of the medina (which is not open to cars), local petits taxis can be used at a standard cost of 6dh (50p). These are particularly good should you wish to travel to the opposite end of the 6 mile long beach without filling your shoes with sand.
The address is: 10, Rue Tripoli, off Rue Agadir. After booking, we’ll send you more detailed instructions.
Activities & sportsTop of the page
There are plently of activities on offer, both cultural and sporting.
Camel and horse riding:
Golf de Mogador
Atelier Madada Cooking School, Madada Mogador Hotel (7, bis rue Youssef El Fassi, Essaouira 44000)
Suggested one-day itineraryTop of the page
'Maybe it was the kebabs smoking on sidewalk grills or the layer of fog that colored the afternoon sky a pale gray, but when I walked through a stone archway into the walled city of Essaouira, being in Morocco began to feel as mysterious and unfamiliar as I had hoped. It was a feeling that had eluded me in better-known Marrakech.'
- Carol Pucci, Seattle Times
Spend the morning...
- Trawling the medina. Three souk-flanked “avenues” criss-cross Essaouira's grid layout, and are packed with an enormous variety of goods, sights, and sounds. You could happily spend a fortune here, but if you prefer simply to look, the shopkeepers can generally be relied upon to keep hassling to a minimum.
- Venture into the souk for some excellent fresh food (and more shopping, should you prefer!). The spice market, where stalls display colourful pyramids of pimento, cumin and harissa, is supremely photogenic, and prices are generally cheaper than elsewhere.
- Freshly caught langoustines, prawns and sole at one of the open-air fish shacks – an Essaouiran institution – decked out with blue-and-white awnings opposite the port. Prices are based on weight: about £5 buys a salad, bread, water and grilled sole.
In the afternoon, stroll around...
- The cannon-bristling battlements of the northern ramparts, where Orson Welles filmed the opening shot of 'Othello' in 1952 and from where you can enjoy stunning views of the sea.
- Beneath, visit the town's woodworkers. Here, in tiny vaulted caverns below Kasba Scala, skilled woodworking craftsmen toil in their dimly-lit shops to produce intricate marquetry boxes, chessboards, tables and other ornaments from richly-grained Thuya wood (a type of oak which is found in the Essaouira region). Some may polish the wood to a glossy finish; others may inlay it with ebony, cedar, lemon-wood, mother-of-pearl and silver in floral or geometric patterns.
- Then pop into a gallery or two; Essaouira has spawned many talented artists. Try Alliance Franco-Marocaine
(9 rue Mohammed Diouri); or Galerie Othello (9 rue M. Layachi).
- Take coffee at the Gelateria Dolce Freddo café (Place Moulay Hassan), and snap up delicious pastries from the boys who trail the square with laden trays.
In the evening...
- For a superb view of the city by night, try chilled rooftop club Taros (Place Moulay Hassan, 00212 244 76407, www.taroscafe.com). Comfortable candlelit corners overlook a dance floor, and cocktails cost around £5.
WeatherTop of the page
Average daily temperatures in Essaouira, by month, are as follows:
Temp in C°
- Jan 20
- Feb 20
- Mar 22
- Apr 22
- May 23
- June 26
- July 27
- Aug 27
- Sep 25
- Oct 23
- Nov 22
- Dec 21
Essaouira enjoys sun all year round – on average, 320 days of the year to be precise. The sea temperature is also fairly constant, going from 16ºC in January to 20ºC in late summer.
Between November and March however, it can get rather nippy at night, particularly if there are clear skies, and between May and September the wind can get quite strong. Please note that it can be windy at any time of the year, so it is therefore a good idea to take a fleece jacket or similar.
View next 5 days Essaouira forecast on BBC Weather:
About EssaouiraTop of the page
'Essaouira is an exceptional example of a late-18th-century fortified town, built according to the principles of contemporary European military architecture in a North African context. Since its foundation, it has been a major international trading seaport, linking Morocco and its Saharan hinterland with Europe and the rest of the world.'
Essaouira is not only a visually beautiful site, with its stunning Medina set into the sweeping beach, but also a thriving, active city full of culture, history and unique experiences. It is both a place to relax and to engage.
As a visitor, you may be there simply for the beautiful weather, scenery, and laid-back atmosphere. But scratch the surface and you will find a bustling city going about its business independently of the tourist trade. Indeed, Essaouira has plenty to do if you decide to seek it out, centered largely around the city’s wonderful and gregarious people.
Art, music & culture
Essaouria produces much by way of art, music, and culture. It is known as a town of artists, called by its fans 'an eternal cradle of art'. Not only Moroccans but also foreign artists can be seen at work throughout the city, and their work can be purchased (or even just admired!) in the city’s many art galleries. Some of it is spectacular, some of it odd; but there is a great abundance of styles and mediums and the city’s artistic heritage is visible everywhere. This sense of artistry is carried over into some of the city’s other famed productions, namely thuya wood and textiles, and the artisans’ workshops lining the ramparts could rival any museum for visual spectacle. The city's massively popular Gnoua festival (which happens annually in June) showcases the Berber music of the region, but even away from the festival the city reverberates with sound.
Architecturally, Essaouira is the most developed of Morocco’s cities on the Atlantic coast. It possesses a classical European 'Grand Place,' beautifully preserved ramparts and naval fortifications, one of the finest remaining fortified ports in the world, and numerous monuments of historical interest. The medina itself is a UNESCO World Heritage site, recognised as ‘an outstanding and well preserved example of a late 18th century European fortified seaport town translated to a North African context.’ This melting pot of influences has literally shaped the city’s fabric, and continues to inspire its atmosphere, architecture, artwork, cooking - and even the citizens themselves, most of whom are multilingual, welcoming, and fiercely proud of the city's multicultural heritage.
Pace of life
Everything happens in a distinctly lower gear, and a wonderful air of insouciance prevails. Fish-fed cats snooze in carved Moorish horseshoe archways; graffiti is scratched on medieval doors; glimpses of shady courtyards and dim passageways lure you to yet another mint tea. Contented, cosmopolitan and cool without caring about it, Essaouira is a jaded urbanite’s delight.
History of EssaouiraTop of the page
Essaouira's history begins in the 7th century B.C., when the Phoenecians used the Isle of Mogador as a stopover on their sea routes down towards the equator.
Many years later Juba II, the king of Mauritania, established a dye factory here to produce the purple colors much sought after by the wealthy Roman Empire. In the 15th century the Portugese arrived in force, establishing what would become one of the three most important bases in their expanding maritime empire.
Transforming the city
Although the town was occupied for a time by the Saadian sultanate, it was the Alaouite Sultan Sidi Mohammed Ibn Abdallah who, in the 1760s, transformed Essaouira from a regional backwater into an open trading city, attracting merchants, scholars, and foreign populations including numerous Christians and Jews. It was at this time as well that the Sultan entrusted the planning of his new city and its fortifications to French architect Théodore Cornut, who is responsible for much of Essaouira's enduring order and grace.
Essaouira, known then as Mogador, was for centuries a key trading centre between Timbuktu and Europe, overseeing flows of manufactured goods streaming south in exchange for African salt, spices, sugar, feathers and gold. In recent years however the exchanges have been more cultural in nature: in the 1950's Orson Welles famously shot "Othello" on Essaouira's streets and Skala, while in the 1960s and 70s Essaouira would provide inspiration for musicians such as Jimmy Hendrix and Cat Stevens. At that time, innumerable hippy travellers and local residents developed an almost unique relationship that persists to this day, making Essaouira one of the friendliest and most laid-back beach resorts anywhere.
Guide to shoppingTop of the page
Essaouira is particularly renowned for its beautiful Thuya wood boxes. Thuya is a wood indigenous to the Atlantic coast, and boxes to be found throughout Morocco are almost all made here. Consequently, the selection within Essaouira itself is second to none, and a visit to the many co-operative sellers, or to the rampart workshops of the wood-crafters is highly recommended. Small inlaid boxes start at around 20dh, right up to several hundred (or even thousands!) for enormous pieces of intricately crafted, unique, furniture. Larger pieces can be posted for you at reasonable rates, and work can also be commissioned, if you have something particular in mind. The argan tree is also native to the region, and through a painstakingly labour-intensive process produces an oil which is used for cooking and cosmetics.
Camel leather, straw baskets & shoes
However, being a major city, Essaouira also stocks many of Morocco's other famous products. Sturdy camel leather bags are in abundance, hanging from the rafters of shops throughout the main streets. Raffia work is also popular, and woven straw baskets can be bought in many colours. Shoes (babouches) are everywhere and start at around 60dh; if you prefer something less traditional there are also many brightly-dyed leather pumps, sandals and courts to be found.
There is a huge production in the region of colourful woven rugs and textiles (made of cotton, wool, eucalyptus fibre and silk, and available in a dizzying array of shades). Scarves can be bought for around 60dh, with large blankets/bedspreads around 250dh. Rug sellers abound in the side streets and sell typical North African designs with strong geometric patterns and lush colours.
Food market & crockery
If your taste is more culinary, hit the souk. The spice markets sell everything under the sun, including some excellent blends (melanges) for cooking tagines and other Moroccan food. On that note, tagines themselves are also available everywhere, from the very cheap (50dh or so will buy you a simple terracotta dish) to painted and detailed versions at a higher cost. There is also a beautiful variety of sturdy crockery in striking colours, often edged and detailed in silver: bowls and plates start at around 30dh each.
Antiques & vintage
Essaouira also has an incredible array of antiques and vintage objets d’arts. In North Africa, the 1960s are alive and well, and it is possible to find a vast number of impeccably preserved pieces of furniture, lighting, and decorative bits and bobs for prices that are often far below those in the UK. Shops selling these things are almost shockingly numerous and any wander down a side street is likely to connect you with a dimly-lit treasure trove of sputnik lamps and leather lounge chairs.
LinksTop of the page