After spending a whole very stormy day confined indoors in our hotel, eating good food and lazing around, we decided that no matter how bad or stormy the weather will be tomorrow, we were determined to go out and explore Essaouira.
It was a rainy morning when we woke up, but we packed our raincoats and borrowed an umbrella from the hotel and went to explore Essaouira.
We parked by the old fishing port, and walked around this very lively port town.
The storm and the winter season, meant that most of the boats were docked in the port, and were not out fishing at sea.
It was such a picturesque fishing port, with the old wall running along the coastline, the fishermen cleaning fish and feeding the guts to the fat stray cats and seagulls….
Men were working on the larger boats, painting them and repairing these old and worn-out vessels that carry fishermen to sea, day after day for many years…
There was a long line of wooden shacks that are actually seafood restaurants, painted blue and white, offering the catch of the day grilled and served right there on wooden benches during lunchtime.
They weigh the fish, lobster, shrimps or the crabs that you choose, and charge you by the weight.
Then they grill it for you to eat right there.
Along the old wall that surrounds the old port and the Medina, there are the old cannons that were placed there by the Dutch, and were used to protect this costal city.
The name Essaouira is derived from the word “Souira”, which means “a small fortress”.
Since early times, the city has also been known by its Portuguese name of “Mogador,”
It is thought that it got the name Mogador, in the Middle Ages, when a Muslim saint named Sidi Mogdoul, was buried in Essaouira.
In 1506, the king of Portugal, ordered a fortress to be built on this coast, and he named it: “Castelo Real de Mogador”.
At that time, the Portuguese had seized six Moroccan towns, and built six fortresses on the Moroccan Atlantic coast.
Following the 1541 fall of Agadir, the Portuguese had to abandon most of their settlements between 1541 and 1550, although they were able to keep Ceuta, Tangier and Mazagan.
But Essaouira was a city that was lived in, way before the Portuguese occupied it.
In fact, it is known to have been continuously lived in since prehistoric times.
Probably because the bay at Essaouira is partially sheltered by the offshore island of Mogador, making it a peaceful fishing harbor protected against strong marine winds.
Archeological pottery found beneath the city, points to an early Phoenician settlement in this area.
Phoenicia was an ancient civilization known as an enterprising maritime trading culture that existed from 1550 BC to 300 BC.
The Phoenicians were known as ‘traders in purple’, referring to their monopoly on the precious purple dye extracted from the Murex snail, which was used, among other things, to dye royal clothing, and for their spread of the alphabet (or abjad), upon which all major modern alphabets are based.
During the 16th century, various countries including Spain, England, the Netherlands as well as France, tried in vain to conquer Essaouira.
Essaouira remained a haven for export from Africa to Europe of sugar and molasses, and was known as an anchoring port of pirates.
Hand carved Dutch cannon from 1740 still stand on the wall of Essaouira today.
From the time of the rebuilding of the city by Muhammad III until the end of the nineteenth century, Essaouira served as Morocco’s principal port, transporting the goods of the caravan route trade to the world.
The caravan route brought goods from the sub-Saharan in Africa to Timbuktu, and then through the desert and over the Atlas mountains to Marrakech.
It was a stormy day, as we walked the streets of Essaouira, and we were grateful for the stretches of sun that we got.
We found a lovely place and had a late brunch.
Fresh juices, tea, salty Crepes, three kinds of goat cheese, toasts, and a fruit salad scented with orange flowers.
Since we are nearing the end of our trip, I bought more of the wonderful extracts of orange flowers.
I made sure to buy the kind that is food grade, which you can use for scenting cakes, teas, and desserts.
We strolled among the many craft shops, and admired the specialty of inlay wood that is done in this region.
I bought some natural indigo pigment rock, to use in future art projects, and when the rain intensified, we found shelter and continued later on.
We saw the Jewish quarter, called Mellah, which has houses from the 1800 and is mostly in rubble now. (you can see the destroyed buildings in the photos)
The ruler Mohammed ben Abdallah, encouraged Moroccan Jews to settle in this town and to handle the trade with Europe.
Jews once comprised almost 45% of the population, and the Jewish quarter, or Mellah, once contained many old synagogues.
We still spotted two small synagogues that had signs on their doors.
Essaouira beach stretches outside of the Medina.
It was a rainy day, so no surfers were out, but we could see the cafes by the beach, where the surfers normally hang.
On sunny days, these beaches are also filled with people kitesurfing and windsurfing.
With the powerful trade wind blowing almost constantly onto the protected beach, there are many thrills to be found here.
Essaouira hosts a yearly Gnaoua music festival (also spelled Gnawa music) in June, which attracts a huge following.
Walking around the Medina, we could hear a group practicing Gnawa music on the second floor of a building.
Both of the main streets in the Medina have souks in them.
One caters more to the tourists, with the usual Moroccan offerings of Babouches slippers, an assortments of oils and natural perfumes, leather bags and clothing.
There were stalls selling freshly made Crepes with chocolate Nutella on them, as well as a great choice of small restaurants and Riads and Dars to stay in.
The other market has fresh produce, including heads of sheep, fruits and vegetables, as well as all sort of household goods.
We found a lovely cafe right off the souk, which served a rare selection of teas and fresh juices, and we rested there for awhile.
The weather had been crazy all day, running from extremely stormy with strong winds and rain, to sunny and so bright that we had to put on sunglasses.
By early evening we headed back to our hotel.
Maybe it would have been better to try some of the many small and wonderful restaurants around town for dinner, but places here close between lunch and dinner, and did not open until 7:30 in the evening.
We were wet and a bit cold and we needed a shower and some dry clothes.
So we ate a fabulous meal at our hotel and retired early to bed.
Tomorrow we leave this most enjoyable city of Essaouira and head north, towards Safi, Oualidia and El Jadida.