Essaouira, located on the Atlantic Ocean, is a great side trip from Marrakech, either for the day or for an overnight stay. The drive is about 2.5 hours on a paved road, with some interesting sights on the way. The city, with about 80,000 residents, is beautifully situated on the sea and has become a very popular tourist area as well as being the most important commercial port in Morocco. The crescent beach combined with trade winds is a mecca for surfers. The medina is protected by 18th century ramparts called Skala de la Kasbah. Old brass cannons line the walls, and the ocean views are lovely.
The site was an important trading port in the 5th century BC. Around the beginning of the CE the Berber Juba II established a tyrolian purple factory to produce dyes from local sea shells for the Romans. The city was known as Mogador in the Middle Ages. In fact Roman ruins have been unearthed on the island of Mogador which lies just offshore from the beach. In 1506 the Portugese king ordered the construction of a fortress. In the 16th century Mogador was a haven for the export of sugar and molasses, and an anchorage for pirates.
Jewish people once represented the largest part of the population, and there are many old synagogues in the “mellah” or Jewish quarter. Almost all of the Jews left once Israel became an independent state.
Highlights of the Drive
Several miles outside the city one comes across a tourist version of “goats in trees“, where several goats are ensconced in argan trees for the purpose of eating the argan nuts. In other parts of the area this is in fact a natural occurrence.
A few miles later, one can visit a local winery Domaine du Val d”Argan, established in the 1990’s by Charles Melia, a Frenchman from Chateuneuf du Pape; he still owns a small vineyard there as well. The winery grows a variety of grapes and produces several types, mostly in the Rhone style. We had a delightful lunch, with wine, in the sunny courtyard by the pool. One can also stay there.
We also visited the Afous Argan cooperative operated by Moroccan women, selling argan oil and a wide variety of products made from the oil.
The City Tour
We engaged a guide for half a day. Highlights included a visit to a Jewish synagogue, a tour of the souks and the fish market and a visit to a cooperative making all kinds of marquettry from a hard wood grown in the area called thuya.
The Harbor and Ramparts
Muhammed’s Spice Shop
One visit we really looked forward to was a return to this spice shop, located just beside the fish market. Karen and I visited Muhammed Seddiki six years ago, and enjoyed seeing him again and buying an assortment of spices. These included several of his spice mixtures for fish, chicken and vegetables, and of course saffron.