Excursion to Essaouira

Nestled away on the Atlantic Coast a two and a half hour drive away from Marrakech lies the small picturesque Moroccan city of Essouira. It is one of the number one destinations for Marrakchi to take a break from the heat of the inland areas, and rightly so as the city is a wonder to visit. It is in many ways the opposite of Marrakech in that it is a sleepy, provincial and coastal city, but this is not in any way to its detriment. Indeed if one is visiting it from Marrakech the change can be very refreshing as particularly during the hot North African summers it can be very pleasant to go somewhere cooler for a brief period in order to wind down, indeed Essouira fulfils exactly such a role in respect to Marrakech as after a while spent in Marrakech, Essouira can provide an interesting variation and a refreshing short break. As well as the reprieve that Essouira can provide from the hustle and bustle of Marrakech it is also a major historic centre who’s ramparts have been in place for hundreds of years and traces of the town itself go back into prehistoric times. However the town was developed under the Romans and many archaeological artefacts can be found in the Sidi Mohammed ben Abdellah museum in Essaouira itself and this was not the only passage in Essaouira’s history later on it was colonized by the Portuguese, who gave it the name Mogador, which the city is still occasionally referred to as, it was then controlled by a local fraternity who took the city only four years after the fortress was completed. Subsequently there were several attempts by various colonial powers to wrest control of Essaouira until the French eventually took over the vast majority of the whole country in the 20th century. However it was during the 18th century that Essaouira made it’s major ascension to notability as it was deigned the major port of Morocco by the then Sultan Mohammed III who wished to construct a port with which he could conduct trade with Europeans and in order for most of the trade to travel through Marrakech as Agadir had been favouring his political rivals of late. Indeed Muhammed III closed the port of Agadir in order to further encourage trade to be directed through Essaouira, this included relocating a number of Europeans and encouraging the local Jewish population to move to the city to further facilitate trade. The port dealt with items brought from the deserts on the caravan routes and items from Timbuktu and the sub-sahara.

All these factors contributed throughout history to give Essaouira a rich and interestingly mixed heritage. Therefore a trip to this seaside city is not just an excuse to hit the beach but can also be a very cultural experience too, as previously mentioned the Sidi Mohammed ben Abdellah museum is a prime example of this and due to the good value that nearly all of Morocco’s public museums present it is certainly not to be missed out by anyone interested in Essaouira’s interesting heritage.

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