Suitcase and World: Essaouira. الصويرة

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Essaouira. الصويرة

Essaouira ("ess-ah-weer-ah") is a walled city located on the Atlantic coast.  Since New Year's Day is a holiday in Morocco and establishments in Marrakesh might be closed that day, I decided to sign us up for a day tour.....a long day tour, to Essaouira. I think it will be a nice break from the hustle and bustle of Marrakesh.

Essaouira was settled by Phoenician and Carthaginian traders around the 7th century BC.  In Roman times, it became an important source Tyrian purple dye which is made from grinding up the shells of sea snails. It was the dye that was used to color the clothes of wealthy Roman emperors and aristocrats.

Since the 16th century, the city has also been known by its Portuguese name of Mogador or Mogadore,
reverting to its Arab name, Essaouira, in 1956, when Morocco became independent.

 "Medina and Ramparts "
Within the walls lies the Old City with its medina and the mellah which is the Jewish quarter.

Beyond the massive Marine Gate erected by Sultan Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdellah in 1769 lies the fortified port.

In 2001 the walled medina of Essaouira was inscribed as a  UNESCO World Heritage site for being a well-preserved 18th-century example of European military architecture in North Africa.

The guide books recommend taking a walk around the ramparts of Essaouira which are built upon seaside cliffs and offer spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean.

"Sqala de Ville & Sqala du Port " is a sea bastion built upon the cliff of Essaouira that at one time helped protect the town against invaders.
Sqala du Port

Today, it provides wonderful views of the ocean, the medina and the ramparts beyond.  The structure is lined with 18th and 19th century brass cannons and are still a striking symbol of defense and national pride.  A walkway from the Sqala de Ville leads to its twin, the Sqala du Port which once shielded the town's harbor from invaders from the north.

 "Fish lover's delight "
Essaouira’s fishing harbor is truly one of a kind and according to the guide books is an experience that should not be missed especially since at least two of us in the group (Soon and I) are fish lovers.

The seafood is fresh but supposedly not necessarily cheap.  No matter, if we can enjoy some, we will! 

 Everything from sardines and sea bass, to conger eels and crab can be found within the market, but the true fun lies in selecting the daily catch from local fisherman and having it cooked in one of the open air restaurants within the market.  Lei and I did this when we were in Fethiye, Turkey; it was such an enjoyable experience.

"Orson was here " Just a block or two inland from the fish market is a tiny garden square featuring a bust of the filmmaker Orson Welles who in 1949 he spent several months here filming scenes along the ramparts for "Othello".  I'm not sure why the town chose to immortalize Welles but when in Essaouira, you must see the bust :-)

 By the time we arrive into Essaouira, it will be mid-morning.  I'm presuming that the tour will take us around to see all the major attractions.  I do hope that we get time to just wander around - especially the medina and the harbor.

Really looking forward to visiting this walled city by the ocean!