Essaouira Mogador Cultural and Historical heritage
Where Marrakech is a uniform Atlantic coast is blue and white. The prosperity of the place peaked in pink, this sun-beaten town on the 18th and 19th centuries, when it was the most important port on the North African coast. It faded from consciousness in the 20th century, but drew plenty of travelling hippies in the 1960s and early 1970s. Its agreeably languid atmosphere is stirred only in late afternoon when the fishing fleet returns. It is known as the Wind City because of the constant winds.
Essaouira‘s current layout can be traced back to 1765. That year, the town’s local ruler captured a French ship and hired one of its passengers, an architect, to rebuild his port. He had the city surrounded with a heavy defensive wall, much of which still stands. The most impressive stretch is the Skala de la Ville, where you can walk along the top of the ramparts and examine several ancient cannons.
Guarded by a toy-like, square fortress, Essaouira’s port, the Skala du Port, is still a working concern complete with a boat yard, where vessels are still constructed out of wood. A daily market kicks into life between 3pm and 5pm with the arrival of the day’s catch. Visitors can watch as the fish are auctioned off and follow that up by feasting on fresh sardines, grilled to order at the port end of Place Moulay Hassan.
As in Marrakech, Essaouira’s medina is a labyrinth of narrow streets. It is, however, not as hard to navigate, bisected as it is by one long, straight street. This street begins at the port and runs all the way up to the north gate, the Bab Doukkala, undergoing two name changes along the way.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, a Jewish community gained prominence in Essaouira, becoming the most important economic group. They have all long since left and the town’s Jewish quarter is in a dilapidated state. You can reach the mellah by following the alleys just inside the ramparts beyond Skala de la Ville. You can still identify the former Jewish residences, fronted as they are by balconies. In some cases, the Hebrew inscriptions on their lintels are also visible.
At the heart of the medina is a lively market, the new market (Souk Jdid), divided into four quarters by the intersection of two main thoroughfares. There is a daily souk for fish, spice and grains and a cloistered square, known as the Scrap ( Joutia), where secondhand items are auctioned.
Essaouira’s beach, to the south of the medina, is one of the finest in Morocco. However, the strong winds that batter this part of the Atlantic coast frequently make it a little too cold for comfort – not that this bothers the windsurfers or the boys who gather here to use the compact sand of the beach as a Football pitch.
For about a quarter of a century, a generation of painters and sculptors have made Essaouira an important center of artistic activity. Many of these artists were brought to public attention by Dane Frederic Damgaard who used to run this influential gallery, but has now retired.
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